According to the catalogue raisonné, František Tkadlík painted no more than twenty portraits. To this day, only thirteen have been located – all are either state or church-owned. The selection of portrayed persons suggests that the paintings were not merely commercial commissions. In fact, it is more likely that Tkadlík only painted portraits of people he held in high regard or those he owed a debt of gratitude. This approach also informed Tkadlík’s overall stylisation of his models. They are represented without the usual accompanying attributes, normally employed to depict the portrayed person in a required manner. Tkadlík’s pantheon is dominated by the likenesses of his parents, the Austrian emperor Francis I, members of the aristocracy, František Palacký and Josef Dobrovský. Many of those he portrayed ranked among his closest friends, including e.g. František Palacký. As for the portrait of Josef Dobrovský, his Viennese admirers were asked for contributions to finance its execution, whereupon the painting was disseminated in the form of prints. In the first half of the 19th century, portraiture was not considered a high art form in the artistic genre hierarchy; instead, it was viewed as a craft dominated by specialised portrait painters. Academic painters such as Tkadlík viewed it as a peripheral activity and only produced portraits under more or less exceptional circumstances. After all, Tkadlík considered himself a painter of historical scenes, which represented the culmination of artistic achievement at the time. Tkadlík created this portrait of an unknown man at the end of his first stay in Vienna in 1824, a year which brought about significant changes in the artist’s life. In addition to becoming established on the Viennese art scene, Tkadlík was also finally granted a state scholarship enabling him to study in Rome, obtained thanks to a recommendation provided by Prince Clemens Metternich in the autumn of that year. Metternich’s words of recommendation read as follows: “[…] however, beyond any doubt, I believe him to possess a much higher degree of artistic education than all of the younger artists currently dedicated to historical painting in Vienna […]”. The format of the painting is analogous to the portrait of František Palacký and represents a young man dressed in a state officer’s uniform. His identity remains unknown, though he may be one of the artist’s Czech friends or perhaps one of the patrons who significantly contributed to Tkadlík’s social advancement prior to his long-desired Italian journey.
Born in Prague’s Lesser Quarter, František Tkadlík was one of a handful of Czech painters respected outside of their homeland. After finishing his studies at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts he moved to Vienna in 1816 and then journeyed on to Rome, where he became associated with the Nazarene movement. After eight years in Italy, he returned to Vienna in 1832 and, four years later, moved back to Prague, where he was appointed third director of the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. In Prague, he achieved some success with respect to academic education reform – and was thus fondly remembered by his students. His qualities as a teacher were later perceived as being in sharp contrast with those of his successors.