Oil on canvas; 66.0 x 56.0 cm.
Gertler was born in London, the child of Jewish immigrants. At an early age Gertler showed a talent for drawing. He enrolled in art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic. Due to poverty, he was forced to drop out after a year and he began working at a stained glass company. While there he attended evening classes at the Polytechnic. In 1908 he placed third in a national art competition. He applied for a scholarship from the Jewish Education Aid Society to resume his art studies. The application was successful and he enrolled at the Slade School of Art. At Slade, he met Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth, C.R.W. Nevinson and Stanley Spencer.
Gertler was patronized by Lady Ottoline Morrell through whom he became acquainted with the Bloomsbury Group. She introduced him to Walter Sickert, the leader of the Camden Town Group. He was soon enjoying great success as a painter of society portraits, but his temperamental manner led to increasing frustration and the alienation of sitters and buyers. As a result, he struggled frequently with poverty. In 1914 Edward Marsh became Gertler's patron. The relationship between the two men was difficult, as Gertler felt that the system of patronage and the circle in which he moved was in direct conflict with his sense of self. In 1916 Gertler ended the relationship.
His earliest still-lifes show the influence of Dutch 17th-century painting and the work of Chardin. Gertler's later works developed a sometimes very harsh edge to them, influenced by his increasing ill health. In 1920 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which hospitalized him on a number of occasions. Gertler gassed himself in his London studio in 1939, having attempted suicide on at least one prior occasion in 1936. He was suffering at the time from increasing financial difficulties, his wife had recently left him, he had held a critically derided exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery, he was still depressed over the death of his mother and he was filled with fear over the imminent world war. Gertler’s obituary in The Times described his death as ‘a serious loss to British art. Opinions of his work are likely to vary,’ it conceded, ‘but it is safe to say that a considered list of the half-dozen most important painters under fifty working in England would include him'.