The Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst (Society for Art Reproduction) commissioned Gustav Klimt to paint a portrait of a well-known actor of the Vienna Hofburgtheater for their publication Die Theater Wien's (Vienna's Theaters), Volume II, Part 3. Klimt decided on Josef Lewinsky (1835–1907). In the painting, the then sixty-year-old theater star Lewinsky is confidently playing Carlos in Goethe's drama "Clavigo," one of the outstanding roles of his decades-long theater career. In contrast to other commissions by the society for this work, completed by Hans Temple, Andreas Groll, Adolf Hiremy-Hirschel, and others as grisailles in a historic style, Klimt opted for a significantly more modern style for his painting.
Lewinsky appears on a darkened stage in a black costume. Only his face and white shirt stand out against the dark background. There is almost the impression that Klimt's style of painting, with its overuse of realism and strong color tones, aims to invoke the feeling of a black-and-white photograph. Klimt pursues an almost miniaturist style of painting, right down to the almost imperceptible facial features and tiniest clothing details. Even the slightly elevated position of the actor in front of a dull and empty background precisely matches a typically arranged photo studio. The tall, dark, narrow rectangular shape of Lewinsky's portrait looks almost like a photo collage in front of a brightly painted frame. Plant vines can be seen on the left side. The right section shows an allegory of theater in the form of a young lady with a mask who emerges behind the smoke of an antique incense burner.