Portrait of a Banker - Kaufmann, Isidor

Fine Art

Kaufmann, Isidor

1853 – 1921



Portrait of a Banker

Oil on canvas
18 3/4 x 14 1/2 in. (47.6 x 36.8)
Signed: Isidor Kaufmann


Isidor Kaufmann was an Austro-Hungarian painter of Jewish themes. Born to Hungarian Jewish parents in Arad, Kingdom of Hungary (presently in Romania), Kaufman was originally destined for a commercial career, and could fulfill his wish to become a painter only later in life.

In 1875 Kaufmann traveled to the Landes-Zeichenschule in Budapest, where he remained for one year. In 1876, he left for Vienna, but being refused admission to the Academy of Fine Arts there, he became a pupil of the portrait-painter Aigner. He then entered the Malerschule of the Vienna Academy, and later became a private pupil of Professor Trenkwald. His most noted paintings refer to the life of Jews in Poland. They include: Der Besuch des Rabbi (the original of which was owned by Emperor Franz Joseph I, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum), Schachspieler, Der Zweifler (for which he received the gold medal at the Weltausstellung of 1873).

Kaufman’s other honors include: the Baron Königswarter Künstler-Preis, the gold medal of the Emperor of Germany, a gold medal of the International Exhibition at Munich, and a medal of the third class at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.

In his mature work Kaufmann developed motifs of the world in which he was raised. Every summer he would return to his native region and there he explored with some nostalgia the imagery of his traditional community. His artistic roots were in old style Viennese painting, and his images of Viennese Jewish life established him a leading Jewish genre painter of the city. In effect he worked in two traditions, one of the cosmopolitan Vienna and the other of the religious world of the shtetl. According to biographer G. Tobias Natter, “But it seems and this is remarkable – that Kaufmann never experienced the tensions between these two worlds strongly enough to fell impelled to decide from one side or the other. In the end, what Kaufmann wanted to create from the wealth of impressions was a true picture of the greatest possible purity. He did not see his paintings as souvenirs from a dying world but rather as distillations of its spiritual values.”

With our painting, Portrait of a Banker, Kaufmann has created a detailed portrait of a solid and respected member of society. With his body positioned in profile facing left, the banker turns toward the viewer, meeting our gaze with utmost sincerity and interest. Holding a document in his left hand, the well-dressed banker exudes a sense of accomplishment. The desk behind him reveals an ordered professionalism. The landscape painting above the desk hangs on the wall in perfect symmetrical precision, but its distant vistas seem in marked contrast to the weighty sense of present realities of the banker’s space. Kaufmann shows a great command of detail in this painting, carefully depicting the textures of the desk lamp, the curve and sheen of the wooden chair, the shine of the leather shoes, and the fine lines of the sitter’s face.

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