The painting is considered as one of the best examples of Chełmoński's animalist work. Contrary to the realistic trends, he expressed here his pantheistic beliefs that surrounding world composes an all-encompassing, immanent God. The scene was observed one winter morning of 1891.
Precise study of the birds and almost monochrome background of the endless field adds to the harmony and artistry of the image. "White snowy plain and a flock of quietly scurrying, anxious partridges in the foreground - nothing more!", as described the work Zenon Przesmycki-Miriam in 1901 in his review published in "Chimera". "Chełmoński created herein, as nature itself creates", he added and emphasized "wonderful intuition" in depicting the nature.
Inspiration by Japanese art, with its fine watercolor studies of birds, is clearly visible in the composition and tones. The snow covering the field is pearl-gray, with a slight glare of pink. The birds, masterly observed in a variety of poses, lose their readability in floating snow dust. They are succumbed to the to the power of nature, and yet they are an integral part of it. Their Latin name Perdix perdix is similar to the word perditus signifying lost, hence interpreted sometimes as a symbol of human's fate or as an allegory of the nation after Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Alternatively just as mythological Perdix, an ingenious inventor turned into a bird by goddes Athena, who mindful of his fall avoids high places, as an incentive to bold acts against oppressors.
The composition was created in Kuklówka, near Grodzisk Mazowiecki in Mazovia, where the artist retreated at the height of his fame in 1887. It was awarded with honorary diploma at the International Art Exhibition in Berlin in 1891 and in Vienna at the exhibition of the Society of Polish Artists in 1902. Reception was very enthusiastic and Chełmoński was compared with the famous Swedish animalist Bruno Liljefors. In 1902 the Partridges were also exhibited in Zachęta in Warsaw.
The piece was donated to the National Museum in Warsaw in 1946 by Józef Jasiński and included in the collection under the number 128112. The canvas was signed and dated by the artist in lower right corner - Józef Chełmoński / 1891.
oil on canvas, 1891, 123 × 199 cm (48.4 × 78.3 in), inventory number MP 424, on permanent display in the Gallery of 19th century art, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (MNW)
The painting depicts naked Venus resting in a sophisticated pose on a background of a landscape with river and a mill. Beauty of the Goddess is not artifical hence we can assume to portray a real model, possibly a courtesan with elaborately cascading bleached-blond curls. Amor, with malicious and capricious expression on his face, hands over two arrows to his mother - one brings love the other one unhappiness. Love is blind, and sometimes cruel, and Cupid, son of Venus, cannot spare even his own mother from such unpleasant experience.
The model introduced by Giorgione in his Sleeping Venus had a prototype in a woodcut of a sleeping nymph propagated in Francesco Collonna's romance "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili" published in 1499, which itself derived from an ancient statue depicting sleeping Ariadne or Cleopatra. Images of Venus and Cupid in the landscape were a favorite motif of the golden age of Venetian painting, especially in the circle of Giorgione and Titian. The artist studied briefly with Titian from whom he acquired the concept of reclining nude, possibly poetically inspired and with epithalamic meaning. Bordone become one of the most successful followers in the type known as Titianesque nude.
According to Keith Christiansen the ancient marriage poems known as epithalamia were reflected in visual arts in depiction of Amor urging his mother to raise from her bower and give her blessing to the brides. The goddess is holding a myrtle wreath. The plant is specifically associated with matrimony as stressed in Catullus poetry freely translated in 1538 by Venetian author Ludovico Dolce. Such paintings were usually commissioned as a wedding gift to ensure happiness and fertility of marriage. The Arcadian landscape was frequently linked with the subject of love in the mid 16th century. Venus in the foreground seems to be a natural inhabitant of Arcadia - the embodiment of the secrets of nature. Naked Venus was also conceived as a personification of the innate beauty - pulchritudo innata, as opposed to artificial charms - ornamentum.
The painting is softly modelled, harmonious and full of scattered light and vivid colors. It was possibly created for Francis, second duke of Guise for the chamber shared by the duke and his wife Anna d'Este of Ferrara. This provenance would also arrange later history of the painting in geographically logical order, however the date of creation should be moved to the years 1558-59, when according to Vasari the artist painted uno da camera di Venere e Cupido (one of Venus and Cupid for his bedroom), during his stay in France. In first half of the 17th century the picture came into possession of a renowned painter Sir Peter Lely in London, and in 1682 it was purchased at an auction of Lely's collection by Anthony Gray, 11th Earl of Kent for £105. Later it was in the collection of Ayerst Hooker Buttery, to be acquired by Karl Haberstock from Otto Neumann in 1928, and then by Adolf Hitler from Haberstock in 1936. The painting adorned Führer's residence at Berghof near Berchtesgaden. In postwar chaos the painting was mistakenly identifed as one of the paintings looted by the Germans from the National Museum in Warsaw. Since such property evidently cannot be reclaimed it was not returned to Germany and included in the museum's collection under the number 187158.
oil on canvas, 1545-1550 (1558-59), 95 × 143 cm (37.4 × 56.3 in), inventory number M.Ob.628, on permanent display in the Gallery of Old European Painting III, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (MNW)
The image shows a family gathered in the garden of a suburban residence. Beautiful garden with a fountain is an allusion to the jardin d'amour - the Garden of Love, medieval motive which thanks to a combination of symbols becomes a representation and substitute of Eden. Painter arranged the figures in a natural way, gazing towards the viewer, especially a little boy in the foreground, who turns to see the guest. The composition is based on the diagonal line, which in order to obtain depth intersect the vertical elements and further underlined areas of light and shadow. Light comes frontally to emphasize the central figure of the proud mother of the family.
According to signature, the painting was created by the artist shortly after his arrival to Spain in 1679. It is one of two versions of the composition preserved, the other one, previously dated 1680, is in Prado. Despite the efforts of Juan Ramón Sánchez del Peral y López to force the earlier dating of the Prado's version (El retrato español en el Prado. Del Greco a Goya, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2006, p. 128), there are certain details which proofs that the Warsaw's painting is the original verison of the composition, that was remodelled after the death of one of the protagonists. It is the elder man dressed in black in the right corner at the door. The man in his fifties and in attire typical for older generation that was fashionable in 1640s to 1650s is probably a husband of richly dressed lady in the center. This man is not present in the Prado's version, while the younger man, playing the guitar and hidden behind the husband in Warsaw's painting replaced the deceased in Prado's version. It seems that his death also marked the features of the sitting lady. Her face is sad and marked by grief in Prado's painting. The younger man with consolable features and strongly resembling the sitting woman, a brother probably, is now the head of the family.
The attires of the protagonists are typically Spanish for the period. Also the features are more likely to represent people from the south, possibly representatives of a merchant family of Dupont from Tournai well integrated into the Spanish society of the epoch.
The artist portrayed himself with a palette at the window in upper center in the act of writing his signature. The signature below the window states Van Kessel 1679 Pinxit Matriti with the place of execution also indicated (Madrid). According to Acisclo Antonio Palomino de Castro y Velasco and his An account of the lives and works of the most eminent Spanish painters ... published in 1739, the artist arrived to Spain in 1680 and was employed by his countryman. For his protector, he painted "a large Family-piece (...) representing him to the life with his wife and children (...) and in it, himself, likewise drawn to the life, putting his head out of a window, to write his name on the wall (pp. 161-162).
The painting is filled with symbols. Servants carrying various meals is a personification of joy and abundance. Conjugal love is represented by pairs of birds and young brides who hold their hands in solemn shake. They may be the parents of two children portrayed at the bottom of the scene. Horse is associated with prudence, loyalty, fidelity and zeal, in addition to pride, physical strength and power, doves are symbol of peace, hollyhocks symbolize fertility and sweetness, while cranes could have a heraldic meaning, they symbolize good governance and prudence to direct vassals and representing the ecstatic and transcendent life. Fidelity would be another virtue that adorns good families. Thus, the old man with the dog at his feet could be related to marital virtues like loyalty and companionship.
Colors and technique are typical for the Flemish painting of the period while depth of characteristic, bordering on caricature, is typical for contemporary Spanish painting and its grotesque naturalism.
The painting was purchased in 1956 from private collection and included in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw under the number 211910.
oil on canvas, 1679, 126 × 167 cm (49.6 × 65.7 in), inventory number M.Ob.813, currently not on permanent display, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (MNW)
The painting is one of the most remarkable works by the artist. On the background of the lowland landscape with a meadow and a pine forest, some unrealistic, luminous forms with shackled hands were placed in a floating cloud of dust.
The main character is frequently identified as Polonia, personification of Poland, although the woman is not anymore a beautiful vivid young woman known from other works. The specter emerges from a sandy road supported by her offspring, becoming the emanation of the nation and a reference to the fate of the enslaved homeland. Alternatively, the female figure is identified as Południca (Lady Midday), dangerous demon of the field causing heatstrokes and madness.
The landscape is monotonous and simplified almost to the limit. In the 1890s Malczewski defined his own style of landscape composition, creating a synthesis of landscape pictures based on real nature studies, intentionally remodelled to convey additional meaning, and haunted by real and otherworldly beings.
A stripe of dense trees opens to the sky only at its extreme end, like a hermetic hope in a war that, through pain and suffering, is leading to a well-deserved liberation. No more Congress Kingdom, no more vassal states under the tsarist autocracy, Poland wants independence that guarantees the democratic order. It can be also interpreted as purely eschatological perspective, the ultimate destiny of humanity or the nation.
The work was created for Count Edward Raczyński, during the artist's stay at his estate in Rogalin and inspired by local landscape. Malczewski signed and dated the work in upper right corner of the canvas Rogalin 1893 J Malczewski and inscribed on reverse with the titleW tumanie / J Malczewski 1894.
oil on canvas, 1893-1894, 78 × 150 cm (30.7 × 59.1 in), inventory number Mp 1386, on permanent display in the Hall of Polish Painting of the Rogalin Palace Gallery, Muzeum Narodowe w Poznaniu (MNP)
Hans Baldung Grien leads the viewer to the cruel death of Antaeus in a moment full of physical tension. In a landscape encircled with ruins from one side and a rocky hill from the other side, Hercules in a lion skin is holding his adversary in a fierce grip. Anateus, son of Poseidon and Gaia (Earth) challenged and killed genuine travellers to built a temple to his father from their sculls. Hercules hauled his opponent to the ground three times, but each time he regained forces revived by his mother Earth. Knowing this Hercules is finally finally putting him up and strangling in his arms.
The theme, popular among humanists of the period, derives from Apollodorus, Bibliotheke2:5-11, Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica 4 and Ovid's Methamorphosis IX, 182-183, and was introduced in Northern Europe through Italian graphic. It gave a unique opportunity to study human body and muscles strained in the struggle. The subject was developed and distributed in printing by such artists as Antonio Pollaiuolo, whose small picture created for Lorenzo il Magnifico preserved in Uffizi (oil tempera on panel, 16 × 9 cm (6.3 × 3.5 in), inventory number 1890, 1478) was converted into print by Cristofano Robetta, and Raphael, whose drawing was recorded by a chiaroscuro print by Ugo da Carpi (before 1520) and by an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi. It seems that the artist known both compositions and took the pose from Pollaiuolo and the concept of the background from Raphael.
In this work Grien is not paying great attention to details, the line is superior. The figures, inseparable in their passionate wrap, are contrasted in colour to emphasize the defeat and death of Antaeus.The painting is filled with some level of homo-eroticism and according to Gert von der Osten can be interpreted as victory of virtue over carnal desire. It was included in a list of pictures shown in the temporary exhibition of homoerotic art - Ars Homo Erotica between 11 June 2010 and 5 September 2010 in Warsaw's museum as an allusion ''to some man-man physical contact in dynamic, sensuous or sadomasochistic mise-en-scene" (Paweł Leszkowicz).
Inscription in upper part of the pillar DIVO HERCULI (Divine Hercules) is in some way ironic. The artist is opposing destructive, ruthless and raw force represented by a rock to creative inventiveness and intelligence represented by partially destroyed architecture, forces of nature to the human activity, previous epoch to the new one of the Renaissance. It was dated by the artist on a stone block on bottom left - 1530.
In the context of Christian humanism interpretation and due to similar dimensions the work can be placed among the cycle reconstructed in 1959 and depicting virtues in antique entourage - Pyramus and Thisbe, Death of Marcus Curtius, Mucius Scaevola before Porsenna and Lucretia. According to the authors of Malarstwo niemieckie do 1600 roku (German painting till 1600), Bożena Steinborn and Antoni Ziemba, the reduced, stage-like space can indicate the inspiration from theater.
Grien painted the battle of Hercules against the giant Antaeus several times, another version is in the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel (oil on limewood, 1531, 153.5 × 65.3 cm (60.4 × 25.7 in), inventory number GK 7, inscribed and signed DIVO HERCVLI/1531/HBG), while a drawing preserved in the Cabinet des estampes et des dessins in Strasbourg (watercolor and ink on paper, ca. 1530, 27.8 × 15.7 cm (10.9 × 6.2 in), inventory number CE XXXXVI.46 ; 77.R.2009.0110, not signed). Strasbourg coposition is in some way a transition between earlier Warsaw painting and later Kassel version. Pose and presence of a rock makes it more close to Warsaw version while other details are similar with Kassel picture (background, frontality, position of lion's skin and more studied muscles). It seems that in Warsaw's painting the artist focused more on background to convey additonal meaning.
Between 1807 to 1852, the painting was in the possession of Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts in Prague, to be acquired in 1928 by the Silesian Museum of Fine Arts in Wrocław from B. Kolowrat Krakowský-Liebsteinsky collection in Rychnov Castle (Drey Auction House in Munich). It was transferred to the National Museum from the Nazi German Repository in Kamenz (Kamieniec Ząbkowicki, Polish Regained Territories) in 1946.
oil on limewood, 1530, 98.5 × 72.6 cm (38.8 × 28.6 in), inventory number M.Ob.837, on permanent display in the Gallery of Old European Painting III, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (MNW)
The Digging potatoes, also known as The Women by the fire, is a painting by one of the most distinguished symbolist painters of the Young Poland movement. The topic inspired by his journey to Brittany between 1893-1894 depicts two women working in the field. The somber and nostalgic landscape, possibly at the sunset or early in the morning, was created with several tones of brown and gray.
Barefoot woman in Breton costume is adding wood to the fire or baking potatoes. Her companion in yellow jacket is waiting at the back. Her pensive pose, possibly a reflection on hard work, is also adding to the ambiance of the painting.
Painted with photographic exactness, his genre scenes from Brittany are described as close to the series of American painter John Singer Sargent (Les nouveaux cahiers franco-polonais: publication du centre de civilisation polonaise de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne (Paris-IV)., Volume 6, p. 104). They are moving and pleasing to the eye. Foggy texture is typical for Wankie’s style, which is described as uneven and placed on margin to the Symbolist movement (Agnieszka Morawińska, Symbolism in Polish painting, 1890-1914, p. 126). The evaluation of artist’s oeuvre was hampered by the fact that much of his work was destroyed or dispersed during or after World War II.
Similar painting, now in private collection, depicts six women harvesting potatoes among endless landscape (oil on canvas, not dated, 67.7 × 101.5 cm (26.7 × 40 in), Agra Art auction 30/05/1999). Both of them can be treated as a direct reference to the Jean-François Millet’s works which drew international acclaim at the Exposition Universelle in 1867. Similarity of topic, as well as technique of thickly applied pigments present in the Millet’s The Potato Harvest (oil on canvas, 1855, 54 × 65.2 cm (21.3 × 25.7 in), Walters Art Museum) place the Warsaw’s painting in the same representation of man's harmonious union with nature and peasants' struggle for survival. The canvas was signed by the artist at the bottom right.
The painting was transferred to the National Museum in Warsaw from the collection of the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Warsaw after 1940.
oil on canvas, after 1900, 93 × 72 cm (36.6 × 28.3 in), inventory number MP 4355, currently not on permanent display, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie (MNW)
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