Simka Simkhovitch was born in Novozybkov, Bryansk Oblast, Russia on 9 May 1885 and attended the Odessa Art School from 1905 to 1911. On completing his studies there, he was recommended to the Imperial Academy of Art and, in September 1911, entered the preparatory Art School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. However, in December of that same year, his studies were cut short when the number of Jewish students exceeded the allotted quota of 3 and he was asked to leave the school.
Called up for military service, Simkhovitch served as a private in the 175th Baturinsky Regiment and, after demobilisation in 1912, attended classes at the Imperial Academy of Art as a non-enrolled student. It is interesting to suppose that the academic figure study on the reverse of the present work might relate to this period of his work.
Participating in the Paintings and Sculptures of Jewish Artists exhibition in Moscow from July to August 1918, Simkhovitch also took part in the Great Russian Revolution art competition in 1919 and was awarded first prize. It is likely that the self-portrait of the present lot dates from this period revealing as it does the cubist influence prevalent at this time. The change in style from the academic image on the reverse is particularly marked.
In May 1922, Simkhovitch exhibited two illustrations for Maxim Gorky's prison at the International Book Exhibition in Florence and, in 1924, Simkhovitch was sent to America to study with a view to returning to Russia to design illustrations for Soviet textbooks. Sensing the opportunity provided by the trip, Simkhovitch rushed to take out his first citizenship papers, supporting himself through commercial art, scene painting and portrait commissions.
Gaining full residency on his marriage to an American citizen, Simkhovitch began working in New York as an illustrator for the Hollywood film writer, Ernest Pascal, who subsequently introduced him to the gallery owner, Marie Sterner. It was to be at her gallery that the majority of Simkhovitch's solo shows were held.
In the 1930s, Simkhovitch moved to Greenwich, Connecticut with his wife, the model Elsa Fornel, and their three daughters. He became a member of the Brooklyn Society of Artists and the Greenwich Art Society and started teaching from his studio. In February 1949, having purchased a home in Milford, Connecticut, Simkhovitch became critically ill with pneumonia during the move and passed way two weeks later on 25 February 1949.