This intimate studio self-portrait can be convincingly dated to the winter of 1906-07 based upon the presence of the Richard Gerstl’s earlier picture, Professor Ernst Diez (1906), hanging in the background. This painting was most likely completed in Gerstl’s individual studio at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, where he was a student in Heinrich Lefler’s Systematized Special School of Landscape Painting. Notably, there is a second, and most likely earlier, self-portrait on the reverse of this canvas. Both share a similar handling of light. In this version, almost half of his face is obscured by shadows. Gerstl portrays himself in the act of painting; a portion of his palette is visible along the lower edge of the scene.
This work was created during a transitional period in Gerstl’s career. In the spring of 1906, Gerstl became acquainted with composer Arnold Schoenberg and was soon enveloped in his circle and even embraced by his family. In time, a clandestine love affair began between Gerstl and Schoenberg’s wife, Mathilde. She ultimately broke off relations with the young painter and returned to her family. In despair and estranged from the Schoenberg Circle, Gerstl committed suicide in November 1908. Although only about 70 drawings and paintings are known to survive, Gerstl was one of the most gifted practitioners of Austrian Expressionism in the early twentieth century.