Zatruta studnia Malczewski, Jacek (1854 - 1929)

Zatruta studnia


Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929) had a love for art and romantic literature, especially the poetry of Juliusz Słowacki, which he inherited from his family. He came from a szlachta family, albeit not a wealthy one. His father, Julian, supported him on his artistic career. The events of 1863, the January Uprising and subsequent repression, had a special imprint on the young artist. His first teacher was Adolf Dygasiński. He spent his youth from 1867 to 1871 at the Karczewski manor in Wielgie. In 1873 he began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow under Jan Matejko‘s tutelage. He was a student of Władysław Łuszczkiewicz. He also studied at the École des BeauxArts in Paris. He traveled to Italy, Vienna, Munich, Greece, and Asia Minor. From 1896 to 1900 and 1910 to 1914, he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. From 1912 to 1914 he was its rector. He began with a romantic realism, then a naturalism, and his works in this period were mainly about the fate of exiles to Siberia and the inspiration of Juliusz Słowacki‘sAnhelli“. At the same time, fantastic and allegorical images began to appear in Malczewski‘s work. After the death of his father in 1884, the recurring motif in Malczewski‘s work was Thanatos the god of death. After 1890, his art became completely symbolic. Works manifesting the turn towards the symbolism style areIntroduction 1890,Melancholy 18901894,Vicious Circle 18951897. The artist tackled existential, historical and artistic themes, intertwining ancient and biblical motifs with local folklore and the Polish landscape so important in his works. The form, color, monumentality of the representations and their expressiveness became his distinctive signs.

Description of the painting:
In a letter to Karol Lanckoroński, Edward Aleksander Raczyński wrote:I found out that I know three out of five parts that make up this set and that I even told Malczewski that I would be very happy if I became its owner*. The creator of the Rogaliński Gallery purchased thePoisoned Well cycle in 1906. Less than a year later, Lucjan Rydel released an album containing reproductions of Jacek Malczewski‘s works from thePoisoned Well series, accompanied by his own poetic commentary. He clearly accentuated the patrioticmartyrological meaning that was to be indicated by the background of the Kościuszko Mound, the Siberian fur coat, and the handcuffs.

The well becomes a symbolic mirror of knowledge, in which visitors can look at themselves. I wrote about its significance on the occasion of discussing Jacek Malczewski‘sFairy Tales cycle. It is the goal of a pilgrimage of weary travelers. The access to the lifegiving water it contains is guarded by a guard. In Malczewski‘s view, wells often offer pilgrims hope of quenching the thirst of life and healing wounds. Not themselves become the main character of the performances, but the attention of the viewer is focused on the road that will lead them to them. It is she who shapes them and allows them to appreciate the power of a lifegiving source. Something else is a poisoned well. It becomes a place of connection between the underworld, filled with evil forces, and everyday reality. By taking water from it, we establish dangerous relationships between good and evil, which tempt our senses and enslave us. What then has changed? How has the lifegiving source been contaminated, unfit to drink? Lucjan Rydel tries to solve this riddle.

“On the land of our ancestors, a crystalclear fountain
Sprang from its source;
[…] But an evil Witch poisoned our well,
Enchanting her with her gaze.
And since then, sons and daughters of this unfortunate Fatherland,
We drink poison from this well since childhood.”.

The beginnings of history are therefore found in Malczewski‘s 1905 workChimera at the Well“, which is not part of the Rogalinski cycle. Continuing, let us look at the paintings discussed today in the arrangement proposed by Lucjan Rydel: woman in Ellenai costume at the well 1906 (part III L.R.), man in shackles 1905 (part IV L.R.), old man at the well 1905 (part V L.R.), old man, two women and jug with a frog 1905 (part VI L.R.), girl at the well 1906 (part VII L.R.).

On the first image we see a woman in a Siberian coat and a Yakut cap, who has settled on a cembrzyński well. She turns to the past. Her burden carries on her shoulders, regardless of time or place. She reminds Ellena from Juliusz Słowacki‘s poem, who is wandering through the Siberian hell until death. The woman is braiding her hair. The background shows a winter scenery. The next representation presents a man in his prime. His hands are tied in shackles. On his shoulders he wears a coat. He returned from a long journey but did not regain his freedom. With a wet piece of white fabric he wipes his wounds. A girl comes to him to draw water from the well. Holding an empty jug, she looks at the man with his chains and his bleeding wrist. In the background nature comes alive in the springtime.

On the third painting, an old man is depicted, tipping an empty bucket. The man has handcuffs on his hands, the chain connecting them has already been broken. His and the young woman‘s guardian of the well gaze is directed to their left. The flowers held by her and the stretching view inform us that summer is ending and autumn is coming.

At the fourth performance, the largest group of three characters, an old man and two women, was captured. Despite the fact that the water was poisoned, the man decided to draw it from the well. Unnoticed, a frog also appears in the jug. This caused laughter from the women guards watching the event. The old man looks at the creature with resignation. The water is not fit to drink. In the background, a spring landscape stretches out. The changing of the seasons becomes a symbol of a closed cycle of life, which is crowned by the fifth and final work, depicting a girl. She crouched on the yew of the well, similarly toEllenai from the first picture. She is alone. She too is braiding her braid. She looks in the direction of the empty bucket. Her young age and opposition to the woman in the Siberian cloak allow us to look at the girl as a hope for a more optimistic future.

In all five performances, a sketch of the Kościuszko Mound appears. National liberation references seem obvious. The poisoned well may symbolize the heavy burden that those fighting for the Fatherland and their descendants had to bear after years of slavery, suffering, and struggles.