Towards the end of 1914 Gertler met Samuel Solomonovich Koteliansky, 'Kot', when he spent Christmas of that year in Cholesbury, where D.H. Lawrence and his wife had moved to. Kot was another guest staying and had met Lawrence on a walking tour of the Lakes in August. Kot became a close friend of Gertler's, one of the few people that Gertler relied on as a friend and confidant, and the two corresponded regularly until Gertler's death in 1939 (see N. Carrington (ed.), Mark Gertler: Selected Letters, London, 1965). Gertler wrote to Kot in 1916, 'Your friendship is simply invaluable'. The present work, painted in 1930, is one of two portraits that Gertler painted of Kot.
Sarah MacDougall writes, 'He [Kot] was a Russian emigré whose childhood had been spent in a small village in the Ukraine undergoing 'a round of religious observances, pogroms and sufferings', and he had spoken only Yiddish until the age of nine, when he rejected the Jewish faith, asked to learn Russian and attended a Russian school. Later he became a student in Kiev, where he organised a revolution against the ruling regime, but was so devastated when no one turned up (or so Katherine Mansfield liked to claim) that he began walking and continued until he reached Tottenham Court Road (a hotbed of anarchy and insurrection in the 1890s). 'I came for three months', Kot once said, 'and I stayed for ever'. Although he later became an acclaimed translator of Russian novels for the Woolfs' Hogarth Press, Kot's first attempts to fit in with London life were as unsuccessful as his revolution. In an effort to look more like an Englishman he wore a Panama hat and white tennis shoes with his usual embroidered Russian blouse, and was astonished at the reaction of his neighbours, who became helpless with laughter whenever he appeared ... Kot's fierceness could be frightening, but he was not without a sense of humour and a streak of wildness which was never particularly far below the surface and liable to raise its head in a very particular party turn: the ability to howl like a dog' (Mark Gertler, London, 2002, pp. 104-5).