Isidor Kaufmann, perhaps the most important of the Jewish genre painters of the 19th Century, was born in 1853 in Arad. His artistic career began at the age of twenty-one when he copied a head of Moses and displayed it in his relatives' tobacconist shop. The drawing drew the attention of Baron Aczél, the Arad chief of police, who convinced the young Kaufmann's mother of the artistic talent of her son and supported the artist financially at the Budapest State School of Drawing. Kaufmann later attended the Imperial Academy of Visual Arts in Vienna, where he studied with Josef Trenkwald, a historical painter who was associated with the Nazarene movement.
Kaufmann's earliest paintings date from 1883-1884, and the Viennese art dealer Frederick Schwartz, who represented many of Vienna's burgeoning artists, handled a majority of the artist's work. The work presented by the Schwartz's gallery was characterized by depictions of the simplicity of everyday life, small formats and amazing attention to detail.
In these early genre paintings it is often assumed that Kaufmann initially painted secular scenes later followed by his works with Jewish-themes. Yet there are a number of examples such as Die Schachspieler from circa 1886 and Schachproblem from circa 1889 where the secular version of the same genre scene appears after the execution of the Jewish themed version. This is an example of the interchangeability of the figures, whether secular or not, in Kaufmann's early genre paintings. Kaufmann's abilities as the consummate draughtsman are clearly evident in the virtuoso handling of the still life and other objects in the room. The artist delights in depicting everything exactly as he sees it and has no need to concentrate on the psychology of the sitter.
The present painting, Das Einfädeln der Nadel, is filled with passages of incredible virtuosity highlighting Kaufmann's skills as an astounding draughtsman. The still life is consistently detailed, precisely outlined and realistically modeled. The basket full of clothes and linen, the used shoes placed on a shoe rack on the right, as well as the pottery and the gas lamp above the dresser all are testaments to Kaufmann's delight in flawless execution. A similar handling of still life can be seen in a contemporary work titled Zwei Paar Schuhe (fig. 1) which illustrates a rather analogous design in its compositional elements, as well as the general mood and appearance of the work. Both works exhibit a passion and a strong suit for vivid and luminous surfaces, meticulously and highly finished naturalistic detailing and a delight in personal, comfortable and ordinary surroundings.
The sitter in the present painting is the same as the lady in the far left of the work titled Im Wartezimmer des Bezirksgerichtes painted in 1888 (Christie's, New York, 22 April 2004, lot 37). Also, the bench in the present work is also depicted in other works such as Der Besuch des Rabbi, Die Schachspieler, and Alter schützt vor Torheit nicht.
Dr. Hubert Adolf attributes the change of style in Kaufmann's signature from slanted to block lettering to a new found level of confidence as a result of his recent offical acknowledgements.
This work has been authenticated by Dr. Hubert Adolf.
(fig. 1) Isidor Kaufmann, Zwei Paar Schuhe, Private Collection.