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Alfréd Justitz (July 19, 1879, Nová Cerekev – February 9, 1934, Bratislava)
Self-portrait, 1904
Included in the JMP’s collection on May 18, 1944, selected from the warehouse of the Prague Treuhandstelle, prior ownership history undocumented
Visual Arts Collection

July 19 of this year marks the 135th anniversary of the birth of Alfréd Justitz, who was a leading figure of Czech Modernism. Next to Otto Gutfreund (1889–1927), Justitz was the Czech Jewish artist most actively engaged with the domestic arts scene. He was born on July 19, 1879, in Nová Cerekev in the Pelhřimov district as one of three sons of the doctor Adolf Justitz and his wife Terezie, née Pollaková. His study of art began in the Architecture Department at Prague Technical University under the tutelage of Jan Kotěra (1871–1923), but he soon decided to pursue painting instead. He first studied under professors Maximilian Pirner (1854–1924) and František Thiele (1868–1945) at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, and then in 1905 he went to Germany, where he continued first in Karlsruhe under Ludwig Schmidt-Reutte (1862–1909) and later in Berlin under Wilhelm Trübner (1851–1917). To broaden his learning, in 1910 he left for Paris, where he became enthralled with the work of Honoré Daumier (1808–79), as he did with the work of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and André Derain (1880–1954). From that time on, all of Justitz’s work exhibited the distinct thumbprint of French Post-Impressionism as well as of Cubism. His output, however, was cut short by his untimely death in 1934 in Bratislava after a year of fighting illness. His beloved wife, Anna, fourteen years his junior, survived him only by a few years. Nearly three months after the Nazi occupation she committed suicide by taking an unknown poison.

Justitz created this self-portrait in the final year of his studies in Prague, at a time he was being instructed in the special class of František Thiele, himself a skilled portraitist and figural artist albeit academically oriented. Though this painting clearly reveals the teacher’s influence, also evident is a loose brushwork and an emphasis on light that enlivens and creates a literal vibration of the surface in a way quite unlike a realistic conception of form with firmer contours. The typically concentrated expression, indeed the entire physiognomy of the painter’s face, is virtually identical to a later photographic portrait from 1919, which for comparisons sake we are displaying here in horizontal reverse, that is, with the face captured as it would be in a self-portrait executed with the use of a mirror.

JMP 82.229
Oil on canvas, 64.5 x 52 cm
Signed lower left (in red): A. Justitz 04 and upper right (inscribed on the painting): Alfréd Justitz 04; the author’s signature appears on the reverse side of the canvas as well.

1. Photograph of Alfréd Justitz (1879–1934), 1919

2. Photograph of Alfréd Justitz, 1919 (horizontal reverse)

3. Photograph of Anna Justitz (1893–1939), 1923

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