Old Masters, 19th Century and Modern Art (results)
12 December 2019 7 PM CET

Maurycy Gottlieb (1856 - 1879)
Self-portrait in Polish nobleman's dress, 1874
Hammer price: 2,650,000 PLN
LOT number
Maurycy Gottlieb (1856 - 1879)
Self-portrait in Polish nobleman's dress, 1874

Hammer price: 2,650,000 PLN

oil/lined canvas, 81.3 x 63.7 cm
signed lower right: 'M Gottlieb.'
ID: 77957
Taxes and fees
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  • before 1888 purchased with the help of Marian Gorzkowski by "landowner from Congress Poland"
  • collection of Jakob Felsen, Vienna (until 1936)
  • private collection, New York
  • Maurycy Gottlieb. W poszukiwaniu tożsamości / In search of identity, katalog wystawy, ed. by Maria Milanowska, National Museum in Krakowa, Art Museum in Lodz, Kraków-Łódź 2014, p. 16 (25, eng.), p. 33 (ill.)
  • Dariusz Konstantynów, „Znakomity malarz i ożywiony najlepszymi chęciami obywatel". Maurycy Gottlieb w oczach prasy polskiej (1877-1880), in: „Biuletyn Historii Sztuki" 2014, no. 1, p. 158, p. 159 (ill.)
  • Natasza Styrna, Artyści żydowscy w Krakowie 1873-1939, in: Artyści żydowscy w Krakowie 1873-1939, exhibition catalogue, Historical Museum of Krakow, Kraków 2008, p. 33 (ill.)
  • Ezra Mendelsohn, Painting a People. Maurycy Gottlieb and Jewish Art, Hanover 2002, p. 110, ill. 65
  • Jerzy Malinowski, Maurycy Gottlieb, Warszawa 1997, p. 11 (15, eng.), 13 (ill. 6)
  • In the Flower of Youth. Maurycy Gottlieb 1856-1879, exhibition catalogue, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, National Museum in Warsaw, Tel Aviv 1991, p. 21, 29-30, 70, 95, ill. 10
  • Andrzej Ryszkiewicz, Malarstwo polskie. Romantyzm Historyzm Realizm, Warszawa 1989, ill. 82, p. 307
  • Zofia Sołtysowa, Dzieło Maurycego Gottlieba, "Rocznik Krakowski" 1976, no. 47, p. 158, ill. 12
  • Andrzej Ryszkiewicz, Gottlieb Maurycy, in: Słownik artystów polskich i obcych w Polsce działających, v. II, Wrocław 1975, p. 428
  • Mieczysław Wallis, Autoportrety artystów polskich, Warszawa 1966, p. 184
  • Tadeusz Dobrowolski, Nowoczesne malarstwo polskie, v. II, Wrocław-Kraków 1960, p. 95
  • Maria Rogoyska, Maurycy Gottlieb, "Przegląd Artystyczny" 1954, no. 3, p. 8
  • Jerzy Sandel, Maurycy Gottlieb uczeń Matejki, "Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego" 1953, no. 4, p. 119
  • Mojżesz Waldman, Maurycy Gottlieb 1856-1879. Biografia artystyczna, Kraków 1932, p. 15
  • Maurycy Gottlieb 1856-1879. 26 reprodukcji według obrazów mistrza, tekst Feliks Kopera, Wiedeń 1923, pos. 2, ill.
  • J. Wiesenberg, Maurycy Gottlieb (1856-1879). Szkic biograficzny, Złoczów 1888, p. 16 (as "Pole")
More information
‘Self-portrait in Polish nobleman's dress’ is one of the earliest works by Gottlieb. The context surrounding the painting creation remains only a presumption. The painting is considered to have been created in 1874, at Matejko's atelier at the Fine Arts Academy. That period brought intensive work to the young painter, his first depictions of history: ‘Cavaliers asking King Sigismund August for protection from Cesar Ferdinand’ and ‘Prince Albert of Prussia receiving investiture from Sigismund I the Old'. According to Jerzy Malinowski, both paintings were heavily influenced by Matejko's ‘Stefan Batory at Pskov’ and ‘Union of Lublin (“Maurycy Gottlieb’ by Jerzy Malinowski, Warsaw 1997, page 11). Simultaneously, Gottlieb dedicates his time to painting portraits: he creates a series of oils which were later on presented during the students' exhibition. And that is how Gottlieb's exhibition debut was reviewed in ‘Time’ by Lucjan Siemienski: ‘(...) Mr. Gottlieb's brush seems to hit with full on force. His talent has already been recognised but perhaps it is too early for him to copy Matejko's significant creations. They are certainly worth emulating, but an emulation might become a habit if it starts too early’ (‘Time’, 1874, no 169, July 27th, page 2). Had ‘Self-portrait in Polish nobleman's dress’ been presented during that exhibition? There is no way of confirming it. However, a strong, Matejko-like spirit is clearly present.

Gottlieb depicts himself frontally; from the waist up. He presents the main features of his face: big, dark eyes, protruding lips, arched eyebrows. The side-eyed look manifests as him not being fully present. The physiognomy of a young, Jewish boy is strictly contrasting with the Polish period dress. As Moses Waldman, the painter's monographer wrote, wrote: ‘Gottlieb painted himself dressed in fabulous clothing - that of a nobleman's’ (Moses Waldman: Maurycy Gottlieb 1856-1879. Artistic autobiography, Krakow 1932, page 15). ‘Gottlieb depicted himself dressed in a Polish attire, with a solid belt, his hand resting on the karabela sabre, a gloomy sky in the background. Ha has a delia coat wrapped around his arms; the golden chain buckle is fully on display, contrasting with the dark background’ (Zofia Soltysowa, ‘The Artwork of Maurycy Gottlieb’, ‘The Krakow Year Society’ 1976, no. 47, page 158).

Gottlieb reimagines himself in a period attire but most likely it was manufactured by his contemporaries. There was a number of tailors in Galicia and in Congress Poland specialising in making period clothing. An opportunity to place an order at such speciality atelier was conditioned on the grounds of heritage and connections (we thank Mr. Wlodzimierz Kalicki for disclosing that information). In conclusion, Gottlieb's outfit must have come either from Matejko or from someone else within his circle. Not only dressing oneself in a ‘holy’ Polish attire but also depicting oneself in one, must have been at that time seen as radical, starkly contrasting with the cultural conservatism of the era; although the 18-year old seemed to manifest his artistic ambitions in an ostentatious manner, it surely did appeal to Matejko's sensibility. What certainly sets an even more dramatic tone is the sky: dim, multi-coloured, with dark, ruffled clouds. ‘Self-portrait in Polish nobleman's dress’ is a showcase of the artist's predilection for colour: dark shades are enlivened with touches of pink in the sky, the greenness of the coat, the warm undertones of his complexion, the golden belt.

Going back to as far as the end of the 19th century, numerous commentators have been interpreting ‘Self-portrait in Polish nobleman's dress’ as the painter's manifestation of patriotism. That early Self-portrait could have been one of his symbolic images, in which he was trying to stress his Polish, not Jewish identity (which he in turn would express by painting strictly Jewish, or even oriental and Arabic themes). The nature of the image is definitely optimistic; today it could be interpreted as an affirmative presentation of own persona within Krakow's artistic circles, an artistic credo of sorts - that of a painter who is trying to deepen the Polish tradition. Gottlieb's tendencies brought him in fact disappointment. After just one semester of studying under Matejko's eye at the Fine Arts Academy in Krakow, Gottlieb is faced with anti-Semitism from one professor and from another student. Discouraged by the lack of acceptance at the academy, Gottlieb quits and returns to Vienna.