Samuel Hirszenberg was born into a Jewish family in Łódź, Poland in 1865. He entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow at the age of 15 and studied there for two years, afterwards completing his training at the Royal Academy of Arts in Munich (1885-1889). A traditional history painter in the realist tradition, he was influenced by the Polish masters Jan Matejko (1838-1893) and Maurycy Gotlieb (1856-1879). Hirszenberg returned to Poland in 1891 and re-settled in Łódź two years later. He went on to become well-known for his monumental paintings depicting the condition of impoverished Jews in Poland, where frequent anti-Semitic pogroms caused many to flee to the West. He exhibited regularly in Paris before moving to Jerusalem in 1907, where he taught at the newly-established Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts until his death in 1908.


Hirszenberg's 'Sabbath Rest' is a key painting in the Ben Uri collection, and one of the earliest acquisitions, purchased in 1923 for £143 through subscription and the support, principally, of Moshe Oved. It was the opening exhibit in the first collection display when 'Ben Uri Gallery and Club' opened in May 1925 at 68 Great Russell Street, opposite the British Museum, and was also loaned to the Whitechapel Art Gallery's 'Exhibition of Jewish Art and Antiquities' (17 May - 26 June 1927). The Ben Uri minutes record that in 1924 Isaac Lichtenstein, one of Ben Uri's founders, delivered a lecture on Shmuel Hirszenberg.