Isidor Kaufmann was one of the most successful artists at the turn of the century in Vienna. Jewish subjects form a large part of Kaufmann's oeuvre. These paintings were highly sought after by Jewish collectors during the artist's lifetime. From the 1890s he travelled to Eastern Europe to depict the traditional places of worship and personalities of this insular world. Upon his return he would work on his sketches and develop them into evocative compositions.
"Kaufmann glorified the unshakable piety and the warm intimacy of the religious traditions of the Shtetl. For him, this was something 'exotic' that he did not belong to ... Kaufmann's paintings fulfilled the function of reminding their owners of the world of their parents, and in particular of their grandparents, of a 'home' they had left as children ... Kaufmann's paintings became 'windows' through which the assimilated bourgeoisie in the capitals of central Europe could peer into their past" (G.T. Natter, "Scribblings and Sugared Water", in Bilder des Weiner Malers, Isidor Kaufmann 1853-1921, Vienna, 1995, p. 37). Yeshiva boys, elderly scholars and beautiful Jewish women feature prominently in these richly detailed panels.
The present painting bears a close resemblance to another work by Kaufmann, published in the artist's print portfolio of 1925 (see Fig. I). In both paintings Kaufmann depicts a scholar in front of the "Jewish bookcase" of scholarly writings. Although the background is similar, the sitters are different and face different directions.
The present painting has been with the same family since the 1930s (see Fig. II). During World War II it was deposited for safe keeping, and returned to the owners after the War. Fig. II shows Hassid in Gedanken, as photographed in the present owner's grandparents' home in Bratislava, circa 1937.