Ukojenie Malczewski, Jacek (1854 - 1929)


Jack Malczewski (1854-1929) was brought up in a szlachta family, although not wealthy. His love for art and romantic literature, especially the poetry of Juliusz Słowacki, came from his family. The events of 1863, the January Uprising and subsequent repressions, had a significant influence on the young artist. His first teacher was Adolf Dygasiński. The period of 18671871 he spent at the mansion of his uncle Karczewski in Wielgim. In 1873 he began studying at the School of Fine Arts in Krakow under the tutelage of Jan Matejko. He was a student of Władysław Łuszczkiewicz. He also studied at École des BeauxArts in Paris. He travelled to Italy, Vienna, Munich, Greece and Asia Minor. In 18961900 and 19101914 he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. In 19121914 he was its rector. He started with idealizing realism, then naturalism, with the special topic of his works in this period being the fate of exiles in Siberia and the inspirations of Juliusz Słowacki‘sAnhellim. At the same time, fantastic and allegorical interpretations began to appear in Malczewski‘s works. After his father‘s death in 1884, the recurring theme in Malczewski‘s work was Thanatos the god of death. After 1890, his art became purely symbolic. The works manifesting the turn towards symbolism areIntroduction from 1890,Melancholy from 18901894 andVicious Circle from 18951897. The artist dealt with existential, historical and the artist‘s position topics, his obligations to the homeland and the condition of art. He intertwined classical and biblical motifs with native folklore and the very important Polish landscape in his works. Form, color, monumentality of presentations and their expression became his trademarks.

Description of the painting:
In “Solace”, Jacek Malczewski depicted a scene of death. Thanatos – the ancient god of death takes the form of a sensuous woman, the forbidden love of the painter – Maria Balowa, who brings eternal sleep with a gentle touch of her fingertips. It arouses no fear or grief. She is an angel, a divine messenger. She seems to be expected. Her coming is a foretaste of a return to the Arcadian land of childhood, beauty, and peace that is depicted in the background of the painting. It is the fulfillment of a promise, a solace. Malczewski used a characteristic combination of motifs in his work: death and sleep, as well as Eros and Thanatos.

In Greek mythology, Thanatos was usually depicted as a young man with beautiful features. He was then presented as a boy more reminiscent of Eros than a god of death. He appeared at night. He stood over the bed of the dying and cut their lock of hair with a golden knife. This ritual offered the body of the deceased to the underworld. Thanatos was portrayed as a winged figure, lighting up the darkness, with a torch in his hand*.

Perception of death has changed over the centuries. In a secular sense it is part of a linear view of life, the beginning of which is marked by birth. According to Christian tradition, death in physical terms does not mark the end of life. It only opens up the next stage of waiting for resurrection, that is, eternal life. In preChristian times it was a transitional moment that could be properly managed with the help of appropriate rituals and ceremonies.

Jacek Malczewski, in creating his representation of Death, draws partially from Greek imagery. However, the Thanatos of the Polish Symbolist is enthralling with its female charms. Often it takes the form of the great love of the painter‘s life Maria Balowa. It does not always come with a scythe or an hourglass. The Malczewski‘s Thanatos is an angel, a messenger.

On the foreground ofSoothing two figures were presented. To the left a winged silhouette of death angel was painted. His delicate, female face was adorned with piercings. His redhaired were carefully tied up. His head was crowned with the wings of a moth. An insect associated with darkness but striving towards the light, the symbolism of which partially coincides with the general meaning of the butterfly being a sign of the human soul and a promise of resurrection. The angel looks at the kneeling figure of an old man with tenderness. He held his beard with his left hand and gently brought it closer to his eyes. A golden ring adorned the loving finger of his left hand. The painted man kneeling next to him is dressed in a brown jacket and a cloak resembling a Siberian outfit, so often appearing in Malczewski‘s paintings. The old man‘s hands are folded in prayer. Eyes downcast. Peace is painted on his face. He completely submits to the gestures of Thanatos. He was not surprised by him. The presence of the man testifies that he expected the soothing that was to come.

The symbolism of the sides assigned to the figures is significant. The side of death angel is to the right of the man. Since the Middle Ages this side was intended for the divine sphere, full of virtues. The right side symbolized the soul, the left earthly sinful life, which on Malczewski‘s painting is coming to an end.

Two figures were presented on a very charming rural manor backdrop. The death motif which often appeared in his works was placed in the setting of a childhood home. It is a sort of wellknown Arcadia, decorated with flowering plants in the most beautiful season of the year. The land of youth becomes a vision of the promised paradise. A place of eternal wandering. A return to carefree and happy times. The unceasing and lush nature is juxtaposed with death. It is an obvious and inevitable element of the unbroken circle of life.

Through the gesture of touching and closing his eyes, Malczewski‘s view becomes a metaphor between death and sleep.Both states are the liberation of the soul, as they enable it to be known without the errors, illusions and passions of our physical nature.” In mythology Thanatos was the brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep. And just as it is obvious that human nature is dual spiritual and physical, so only sleep, and then death, allow the full expression of the spiritual side of man.

Death in Malczewski‘s painting has been tamed. It does not come suddenly. It seems to be expected. It does not evoke fear or anxiety. It does not repel with its appearance. The perfect reflection of correct body proportions and beautiful facial features is contrasted with its assigned function. Eros and Thanatos: love and death, two forces to which man is subordinated. Dualism characteristic of the Young Poland symbolism. Thanks to it, death inSolace does not bring grief, but relief and peace.