The other day I found a Russian Live Journal, that of sensen, with an arresting display of art by a guy with a Polish name only slightly different from mine: Jacek Malczewski. His paintings here are entitled “Death of Ellenai, 1907.”
Now, my name in Polish, before it was slightly Americanized, is Janek Palczewski. How could I not be intrigued? A few mouse clicks brought up a wealth of information, which I’ve put beneath the cut.
BTW, full disclosure. I'm a quarter Polish (paternal grandfather, Casimir Palczewski), a quarter German (paternal grandmother, Josephine Hoffmann), and half Irish (mother, Elizabeth Jean Joyce).
Jacek Malczewski made his only statement in painting; his immensely rich oeuvre remains ever intriguing and artistically uneven. The first stage was the so-called Siberian cycle, illustrating the torment of Polish deportees, portrayed naturalistically or filtered through the mystical poetry of Slowacki. During the Young Poland period, Malczewski created his own unique symbolic vocabulary in which corporeal and robust figures of chimeras, fauns, angels, and water sprites appear both in allegorical portraits, innumerable costume-clad self-portraits, landscapes, genre and religious scenes and, finally, in compositions which do not correspond to any thematic conventions. The art of Malczewski is dominated distinctly by two motifs, recurring and assorted painterly embodiments: the vocation of art and the artist, and death, under the antique form of Thanatos. The Malczewski oeuvre is the most vivid example of an intermingling of folk motifs and an anti-classical, Dionysian vision of antiquity, typical for Polish modernism; the artist achieved a peculiar polonisation of ancient mythology, not only by placing chimeras and fauns in a Polish landscape but also within an historical-national context, which ultimately proved to be regarded as the most important by this pupil of Matejko. [*]
Polish Website with a collection of Malczewski’s paintings, excluding Death of Ellenai.
Wawel Royal Castle website Scroll down to see:
Leon Pininski’s Portrait, with a view of Wawel in the background. Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929), 1906. Oil on canvas. One of the most famous works from a large collection of Malczewski’s oil paintings and drawings, which belong to the castle collection. The portrait presents the benefactor of a great collection of works of art to the Wawel museum. From Leon Piniński's collection.
Secession and symbolism are represented by works of Jacek Malczewski, Julian Fałat, Jan Stanisławski, Wojciech Weiss, Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Stanisław Lentz, Vlastimil Hoffman and Włodzimierz Jarocki. The Wawel collection of paintings also includes works by other Polish artists; Zygmunt Waliszewski, Jan Cybis, Eugeniusz Geppert, Kazimierz Mikulski and Jerzy Nowosielski.
Poland on the Web
In a review published in the Warsaw Voice of a 1996 Malczewski exhibition in the Krakow's Czartoryski Counts' Museum, Marcin Grota wrote:
"The exhibition stresses Malczewski's phenomenal success in combining two different sources of inspiration: the Christian and the Greek traditions. But the exhibition's effect is also very personal; it includes a Christ with Malczewski's facial features, and paintings showing Madonnas with faces and figures characteristic of the type of beauty that in Malczewski's times could times be seen in the villages scattered along the Vistula river: mature, strongly-built women with fair hair.
One of the paintings shows the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts' professors digging a grave; the artist gave them the faces of fauns-half-human, half-goat forest creatures from Greek mythology. From what is known about Malczewski's relations with his artistic contemporaries, there is no doubt that he envisaged himself in that grave. Malczewski painted his lovers as half-woman, half-cat, sensually stretching their bodies. Death, for which he used the Greek name Thanatos, was shown as an alluring, full-figured woman (Woman with Scythe, 1917).
"Malczewski himself appears in many of the paintings, most often accompanied by his friends, wife, children, or lovers, (Erynie, 1910), who are quite often fantastically portrayed. Perhaps no other artist ever painted so many self-portraits, or showed himself in so many different forms, wearing such a variety of masks and costumes-the exhibition includes one of his most famous self-portraits, Self Portrait as St. Francis (1908).
"Many contemporary art critics draw parallels between his bizarre and alarming imagination and that of Salvador Dali. Malczewski's contemporaries compared his works to those of Arnold Bšcklin, one of his heroes, famous for his sinister The Island of the Dead. Malczewski's paintings also resemble the works of Gustav Moreau, who was only slightly older than Malczewski. To create his artistic fantasies, Moreau drew on similar plots, characters and areas of interest. Both were painters and literati. Moreau once complained: "I have suffered too much in my life because of this unjust and absurd opinion that I am too literary for a painter."
"Malczewski, too, was for quite a long time perceived as a maker of puzzles. Fortunately, his art has its own life-he simply made excellent paintings, which can be fully appreciated without puzzling out all the symbols and allusions. Besides, there have been very few painters with such great senses of humor, whose works are so full of irony and self-deprecation."
The work of Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929) - one of the greatest individualities in the history of Polish art - derives from the late Romantic tradition and is closely linked with the art of the Symbolists and Expressionists. Saturated with deep and complex philosophical and psychological meaning, the basis for much of Polish art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, his works are an outstanding expression of the entire array of Polish realities and myths, referring to eternal subjects like death, patriotism, and religion. Jacek Malczewski's life consisted of an eternal search for the truth, meaning, and sense of the Polish nation's struggle for freedom, of passionate reflection on the role of the artist and the cognitive functions of art. His creative path was marked in a singular manner by milestones like his grand cycles "ZATRUTA STUDNIA / THE POISONED WELL" and "THANATOS", and paintings like "BLEDNE KOLO / VICIOUS CIRCLE" and "MELANCHOLIA / MELANCHOLY".