Maurycy Gottlieb was a Jewish painter, the son of Polish speaking Galician Jews from the western area of Ukraine. He was born in Drohobych (at that time Austria-Hungary), Galicia, modern Lviv region, western Ukraine.
At fifteen, he was enrolled at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy. Later, he would study under Jan Matejko in Kraków. After experiencing anti-semitism from his fellow students, Gottlieb left Matejko's studio after less than a year, returning to Vienna to explore his Jewish roots, having been raised as a secular Jew.
At twenty, he won a gold medal from a Munich art competition for Shylock and Jessica, showing a scene from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. He painted the face for Jessica based on a woman, Laura Rosenfeld, whom he had proposed marriage to. However, Rosenfeld rejected his proposal, and wed a Berlin banker. It is believed that he then committed suicide by exposure to the elements, dying of complications from a cold.
Despite the early age of his death, more than three hundred of his works survive, though not all are finished. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, many Polish collections unknown in the West were discovered, and his reputation grew greatly. His brother, painter Leopold Gottlieb, was born five years after his death.