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December 14, 2006

Self-Painted Pole

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I saw a number of nicely-done, interesting paintings when I was in Poland in September. The most intriguing work was done by Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929), an artist categorized as a Symbolist.

One of Malczewski's conceits was making numerous self-portraits where he placed himself in unusual costumes or settings -- not the quotidian surroundings we expect.

I haven't been able to find much biographical information on Malczewski in English, so what follows is sketchy in the extreme.

He was born in Radom and spent much of his childhood on an uncle's estate at Wielgie where he witnessed events in the 1863 uprising against the Russians. He was trained in Krakow (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) where he eventually became a professor. At the outbreak of the Great War, he moved to Vienna, probably because Krakow was only a few miles from the Russian border. He spent his final years in Krakow, by then in the reconstituted Poland.

Roughly speaking, his earliest work featured historical and patriotic themes. At the peak of his career he did allegorical and symbolic works. In later life he did a number of paintings based on his childhood (in my opinion, the weakest of the lot).

The paintings I saw in Warsaw and Krakow tended to be thinly-painted: little or no impasto.

Malczewski Gallery

Malczewski - Melancholia - 1890-94.jpg
Melancholia, 1890-94.
A rumination about partitioned Poland.

Malczewski - Death - 1902.jpg
Death, 1902.

Malczewski - Self - 1892.jpg
Self-portrait, 1892.

Malczewski - Harpia We Snie - 1907.jpg
Harpia We Snie, 1907.
Another self-portrait, but with Symbolism.

Malczewski - Self - 1918.JPG
Self-portrait, 1918.

Malczewski - Self - 1919.jpg
Sel-portrait, 1919.

Conclusion? I think Malczewski needs to become better-known outside Poland. And I hope a big, splashy museum show gets in the works soon.



posted by Donald at December 14, 2006


It's interesting that as the clock ticked in the late 19th and 20th century, the Western part of Europe expressed itself in formalism (cubism, fauvism, futurism, etc.) while central Europe expressed itself through heightened sexual content (Symbolism, Expressionism) and Eastern Russia went for transcendance (Abstraction). Well, that's a little too neat, but the overarching pattern is definitely there. It's interesting to think what that divergence of strategies meant about the divergence of the various underlying cultures. Apparently, the "modern age" wasn't nearly as homogenous as often presented. Which of course implies the often suggested notion at 2blowhards that the canonical MOMA narrative of modern art (which eschews all notions of regionalism)is, um, wrong.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 14, 2006 12:44 PM

Thanks - I had never, ever heard of him. But you're right; he's not bad at all. He should be at least as well-known as (say) Ferdinand Hodler. Makes you wonder how many more artists there are out beyond the standards textbooks. . .

Posted by: Derek Lowe on December 14, 2006 2:16 PM

I thought that he looks familiar: lots of his works are in Lvov Art Gallery.
Here're some more sources for you, Donald.
Freidrich, your theory IS a bit too neat. I'll give you 2 examples of 1-st class Russian Symbolist painters (not Abstractionists) of about same period as Malczewski: Michail Dobuzhinsky and Michail Nesterov. Both, in tradition of Russian art criticism, are considered of "style Moderne".

Posted by: Tat on December 14, 2006 5:13 PM

There is a great catalogue of the exhibition of the works of Jacek Malczewski in Paris at the Musee d"Orsay in 2000. There is also a new book (2006):
"Die Entwicklung der Kunst des Jungen Polen put out by Das Frauenbild im symbolistischen Werk von Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929)" put out by Logos Berlin.
Check it out at in the used and rare section. Great artist. I first saw him in a book you turned me on to, "1900 Art at the Crossroads".

Posted by: steve on December 26, 2006 11:30 PM

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