POLISH HISTORICAL PAINTING
Patriotism as a characteristic feature of Polish historical painting.
A specific kind of realism, for the painterly interpretation of historical events, brings Polish painting. Interest in historical topics, manifestations of which we already found in the art of the Age of Enlightenment, and then in the period of Romanticism, lasts far into Poland. XIX. During the partitions, the idea of national liberation was actively expressed in two great uprisings, as well as in the form of numerous political writings, literary and painting works. Painters of that time, like the Romantics, still reach for topics related to the history of the Napoleonic wars, legions, but also to more distant history, finding in it the justification of Poland's right to independence and national independence. They were learning history at the same time, they propagated patriotism and raised noble national pride.
The life and work of JAN MATEJKO (1838—1893) it is a panorama of great and fierce toil, the constant struggle of an extraordinary talent with the immensity and breadth of topics, carried out in the name of a deep conviction of duty to the homeland, torn apart by partitions.
It is a generous and lavish creation, yet insightful and focused. The romantic power of the vision of the national past and painterly bravado combine with the patience of a researcher of the past, for whom the truth of survival is equally not indifferent, visible in the faces and gestures of the characters in the paintings, what the appearance of the smallest detail: type of fabric, from which the garment is made, armor ornaments, buckles, ring, pyoropus, part of a horse row. The power of Matejko's vision is reflected in his paintings, about daily patient toil - stacks of sketches preserving the appearance of objects specially collected and viewed in the museum, drawings that are a hasty record of the appearance of the face, cancer, entire figures of the future heroes of the works and the designed compositional arrangement.
The visionary power of Matejko's paintings, their ideological passion — these are the features of romanticism. But the artist's workshop is already realistic.
In a large series of his historical works, Matejko stigmatized the noble past (Stanczyk, Complaint's sermon, Regent), raised the former glory of the Polish army (Battle of Grunwald), it reminded of great moments in the history of the nation (Lublin Union, Prussian Homage, Constitution 3 house, series History of Civilization in Poland) and triumphs of Polish culture and science (Copernicus).
Let's look at the big one, albeit still a youthful work of the artist: Complaint's sermon. Matejko was only twenty-four when he started it. The topic was taken from the Seym Sermons, whose author, Piotr Skarga, he was a fiery patriot, stigmatizing the arbitrariness and selfishness of magnates, oppressing the people and indifferent to the fate of the homeland. Matejko's idea - although its symbolization in the form of Piotr Skarga is, according to new historical research, unfortunate - is expressed in the very composition of the work. A group of magnates with King Sigismund III in the foreground is dominated by two figures of ardent patriots who clearly see evil and its effects: it is Piotr Skarga with his arms raised on the right side of the painting and Jan Zamoyski on the left. They are the main focus of the viewer's attention, next to the figure of the king. Matejko's mastery in the psychological drawing of characters is incredible. The fervor of the speaker, fear in Zamoyski's eyes, gloomy reverie of the monarch, Wolski's hypocrisy, who nervously twirls his hat in his hands - all the great variety of human thoughts, of sensations and feelings towards the words of truth makes Matejko - as the author of this painting - one of the greatest masters of Polish realism.
The idea of the image, the mood of the scene expressed by it is also served by its color - not as warm and vividly contrasted as in others, historical especially, artist's canvases, but serious, strict; black people play it, red to purple, rusty red colors, violets, broken blues.
But the work of Jan Matejko - when we also look at his later canvases - is a complex phenomenon and cannot be summed up - as is often done - only with adoration of the extraordinary mastery of the psychological characteristics of the characters, for an excellent drawing, for the almost tangible materiality of painted brocades, shiny satins, fluffy fur, dull shimmering armor. All this testifies to the excellent workshop of the painter, just like the subject matter of the canvases, it testifies to his sense of national dignity and pride, about patriotism at the moment, when the nation was waiting for refreshment.
A thorough analysis of the composition of some of the artist's leading canvases, such as Battle of Grunwald or Rejtan, however, it reveals contradictions, which everyone, knowing the basic principles of realistic painting, can easily see. These contradictions consist in this, that preliminary, the precise composition of the work is growing under the influence of emotions and creative passion during its creation, gets richer, and finally the initial one, clear intention to complicate and confuse. Let's listen, what they say, analyzing the Battle of Grunwald, two researchers of Matejko's work: Mieczyslaw Porębski and Janusz Bogucki. Mieczyslaw Porębski writes:
“Grunwald is a very complicated picture. The main compositional and ideological idea of the work, defined by a triangle: Witold - Żizka - the killer of the great master, it is entwined with a multitude of more or less important episodes. It takes a lot of effort, to extract, to tidy, and then reconnect the individual groups and characters, to notice the attack of royal knights developing in the background, to read in the confusion of the foreground all the vicissitudes and mortal struggles of riders and pedestrians.
The artist does not help the viewer in this at all. He doesn't follow his gaze, on the contrary - it deceives with a whole lot of glamorous ones, attention-grabbing and eye-catching details, which all come to the fore, they are all equally important, equally alluring, equally aggressive”.
And Janusz Bogucki:
“This painting is similar to an overflowing element falling on the viewer's head in a huge wave, inside which the bodies of warriors and horses, entangled in battle, toss and turn, uncounted, multiform weapons, armor, saddles, plumes, saddle pads, ruffled cloaks and precious robes all bundled together in one jumbled mass and thrown to the very front of the picture. Under natural conditions, it would be completely impossible, seeing people and things up close, in which Matejko showed them, to take in the sight of an equally vast crowd at the same time.
The second improbability resulting from the combination of so many figures and such a vast view is the fact, that this mass of people seething with violent movement and fighting fury stops before us as if held back by some invisible barrier. In the way of painting this huge crowd, the artist also disregards the completely natural influence of the world and the air in the landscape on the appearance of the viewed objects..
Although some characters lean out from behind others, there are no nearer and farther things in the picture, that is, more and less visible. They've all been recreated so accurately, as if we were watching them from a few feet away (…) As a result, Grunwald is actually a non-spatial painting, developed in one plane".
Similar accusations could be made against Matejko's other great work, Rejtan, showing the dramatic protest of an envoy from the Nowogródek region, Rejtan, against the consent to the partition of Poland by Targowica leaders: Potocki, Poniński and Branicki. everyone, who looks closely at this work, hard to believe, that a small corner of the hall could actually accommodate such a large crowd, as the artist crammed into it carried away by an overwhelming vision of a historical event.
These are clear departures from the principles of linear perspective, air and color, which we have characterized as characteristic of realism and which have been respected by all painters since the Renaissance. Many times we do not see this, carried away by the power of the vision, mastery of characteristics, almost tangible materiality of costumes and props.