Jakob Nussbaum was born in Rhina in Oberhessen, the son of a Jewish merchant family. In 1883, the family moved to Frankfurt am Main. He enrolled at the private art school of the Hungarian painter Simon Hollósy in Munich in 1893. One year later, Nussbaum continued his studies under Gabriel Hackl at the Academy of Fine Arts in the same city. He also visited the painters’ colony founded by Hollósy in Nagybánya (today: Baia Mare) in Transylvania, where he practised outdoor painting. In 1901/02 he began a long-standing friendship with Max Liebermann, with whom he travelled to Holland in 1908. In 1904 he joined the Berlin Secession. During these years, he commuted between Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, participating in many exhibitions including that of the Berlin Secession in 1902.
Nussbaum settled in Frankfurt am Main, where he painted the portraits of prominent local personalities. In 1907, he had a joint exhibition with artists of the Frankfurt-Cronberger Artists’ Union; Nussbaum was their chairman from 1919 to 1929. In 1922 he founded the Frankfurt Association for the Support of Artists. Nussbaum moved into a studio of the Frankfurt School of Arts and Crafts in 1924, and ran a master studio there from 1926 onwards. In 1929, he was awarded the Honorary Prize of the City of Frankfurt am Main alongside Max Beckmann, Reinhold Ewald and Richard Scheibe. Shortly after the Nazis assumed power in 1933, his professorship was annulled, his master studio taken away and he was dismissed for being Jewish. Nussbaum relinquished all his posts and hid his paintings in the Städel Institute. In October 1933, Nussbaum emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine.