Neo-romantic metaphor, mythology & symbolism remixed and reappropriated by the Polish patriot, adulterer & master of the selfie in oils, Jacek Malczewski.
Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929), is regarded as the father of Polish Symbolism. His creative output took in the predominant style of his times; historical motifs of Polish martyrdom, the romantic ideals of independence, mythology, folk tales and an evident love of the natural world.
Born under the under the Russian Empire’s occapation, in Radom, Congress Poland, Malczewski was greatly influenced as a boy by his father, a Polish patriot and social activist who introduced him to the world of romantic literature inspired by the November Uprising. After moving to Kraków and attending the workshop of Władysław Łuszczkiewicz at the School of Fine Arts, he enrolled formally at the school in 1873. In 1876 he made the ubiquitous pilgrimage to Paris and studied for a year in the studio of Henri Lehmann at the École des Beaux-Arts. He next moved to the Académie Suisse.
Unsurprisingly given his background, Malczewski was greatly influenced by and drawn to historical painting, especially of the kind imbued with neo-romantic metaphor and patriotic themes. He was equally impressed too with the dramatic art of earlier Polish romantic painters like Artur Grottger. His painting revolved around a few carefully selected motifs, constantly retold and expanded upon according to mythology and brimming with national symbolism. His own imagination enabled Malczewski to channel his creativity and let new aesthetic ideas emerge giving rise to what became Poland’s school of Symbolism.
Over the course of some 30 years between 1885 and 1916, Malczewski regularly visited Paris, Munich and Vienna. He made several trips to Italy, Greece and Turkey. He also took part in an archaeological expedition and drew inspiration from a wide variety of sources often exotic or biblical, then repurposed and remixed them back into Polish folklore and motifs in his work. His most famous canvases include Vicious Circle (1895–97,) Melancholia (1890–1894), Natchnienie malarza (Painter’s Muse, 1897), Wizja (A vision, 1912), the Thanatos series, and Bajki (Fables). Many of his paintings prominently feature self-portraits in elaborate costume, a trademark of his style, often displaying a great sense of self-depreciating humour.
His paintings won numerous awards at exhibitions including at Berlin (1891), Munich (1892), and Paris (1900).
Malczewski was married to Maria née Garlewska and they had two children, Julia and Rafał. A girl and a boy. His son Rafał, who also became a painter of note, later sold off all of his father’s works left to him, to the National Museum in Warsaw before World War II.
He lost his sight towards the end of his life and died in Kraków on October 8, 1929.
It’s believed that the subject of his many nude studies, Maria Bal (Balowa) née Brunicka, was also his long-time lover. He lost his sight towards the end of his life and died in Kraków on October 8, 1929.
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