Gottlieb may have suffered from depression, and in fact referenced his own suicide in the painting. Moshe [Maurycy’s Hebrew name] Gottlieb, the righteous of blessed memory.” A year after the painting's completion, the aforementioned Laura married another man, breaking her engagement with Gottlieb.
The mantle of the Torah scroll is inscribed with a Hebrew dedication: “... He became ill and died shortly thereafter; some believe as a result of physical ailment, but others suspect it was death by suicide due to deep depression. "Gottlieb, Maurycy." Grove Art Online, accessed March 19, 2017, Painting a People: Maurycy Gottlieb and Jewish Art.
Most of the 20 figures depicted here represent people close to the artist.
There are many characteristics that create a somber tone within this painting.
Author Jonathan Boyarin described motifs present in the image as “sadness, nostalgia, and beautification.
There is no religious ecstasy, no intensity of emotion, only a pervasive melancholy.” The holiday of Yom Kippur is a solemn holiday when it is said that the Book of Life is sealed, and the fates of all those living are decided for the coming year.
Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur was painted by Polish Jewish artist Maurycy Gottlieb in 1878.
It depicts Jews in the midst of the Yom Kippur service, on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.
Certainly this aspect of the occasion would contribute to the sobriety of its depiction.
The somber character of the painting may also reflect the time in which it was painted.