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Jacek Malczewski, THANATOS, ca. 1917

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Lot description Show orginal version
Estimations: 139 909 - 209 864 EUR
98,0 x 68,5cm - oil, cardboard Other title: Death II

On the back dedication from the author: To the Honorable Mrs. Lucyna Ziembicka | in memory of her kindness to my grandson in 1917 - the year of my son's wedding | very grateful | Jacek Malczewski.

P.g. and l.d. two stickers, upper one fragmentarily preserved (print, blue pen): TOW. PRZYJACIÓŁ SZTUK PIĘKNYCH W KRAKOWIE | Author Jacek Malczewski | Title of work Death II | Type of work ol.-tekt. 97 x 67 | Price | Signature of the author Mrs. Ziembicka; next to it a press clipping with information about the manor house in Luslawice and a photo.


The painting comes from the collection of Lucyna and Zygmunt Ziembicki (information about the collectors at item no. 21). Their intimate relationship with Malczewski is evidenced by the dedication on the back of the offered work, in which the artist thanks Lucyna for her help and support. This probably refers to a very difficult situation for the artist, threatening his family with great scandal. In 1917, Jack's son Rafal began an affair with Bronislava Dziadoszówna. When the woman became pregnant, the young Malczewski was not eager to marry. Only a dramatic accident in the mountains, during which his friend died, while Rafal waited almost around the clock for help, prompted him to put his personal affairs in order. On October 3, 1917, the young couple took their wedding vows, while on November 11 their son Christopher was born.

Image on display:

- Jacek Malczewski (1855-1929), cat. exhibition TPSP in Krakow, 1939, p. 19, cat. no. 190 (as Death, owned by Zygmunt Ziembicki).

As an 11-year-old he survived the death of his younger brother Teodor, his aunt was Wanda Malczewska, a famous mystic - this is how biographers try to explain the death motif constantly present in Jacek Malczewski's work. The artist, who painted the triptych My Funeral a few years before his passing, was not afraid of death. For the deeply religious Malczewski, it was a solace, a vision of passing into eternity.

Researchers of Malczewski's work have paid particular attention to the theme of Thanatos, the genius of death, which runs through his paintings. It is worth recalling here Kazimierz Wyka's book Thanatos and Poland (published in Krakow 1971), whose author analyzes in detail the motifs and content of the work: The series of paintings with Thanatos opens with canvases from 1898-1899, then the motif recurs for years more, and no other series by Malczewski had such permanence and continuity. His canvases had already been depopulated of goats, mermaids and chimeras, and it persisted and recurred again and again. In Malczewski's work, however, the figure of Thanatos, although taken from Greek myth - where the genius was the son of Night, the twin brother of the Dream god Hypnos - acquires a specific expression, proper only to his works, an image that does not fit into any existing iconographic pattern - [Thanatos] is a woman and at the same time an ephebe.

A close analogy for the offered work is Death, created in 1917 (oil, cardboard, 100 x 74 cm). The painting, from the collection of the Museum of Art in Lodz, depicts a female figure with anemones pinned in her hair - flowers symbolizing vanitas, the impermanence and fragility of life. Thanatos stands wielding a scythe, leaning against the wall of the court. Just behind him is an open window, in the depths we see the head of an old man immersed in prayer. The window is, in Malczewski's work, a metaphor for the transition from the earthly world - symbolized by the twilight-obscured interior of the manor - to eternity, the light-filled land of happiness.

The offered work could be another sequence of this scene. Again we see the wall of the mansion, but already from a further perspective. In the foreground we see a section of the garden illuminated by the rays of the summer sun with blooming agapanthus - flowers symbolizing love and beauty. Under the open window we see the same figure - the genius of death stands here immersed in the silence that accompanies a peaceful passing away.

Jacek Malczewski (Radom 1854 - Krakow 1929) - a prominent representative of Polish modernism painting, began his artistic studies at the School of Fine Arts in Krakow, where in 1872-1875 he studied under Feliks Szynalewski, Władysław Łuszczkiewicz and Jan Matejko, whose studio he attended again in 1877-1879. He then studied at the Paris École des Beaux Arts under E. Lehmann (1876-1877).

In 1880 he traveled to Italy. In 1884-1885, he took part - as a draughtsman - in Karol Lanckoroński's scientific expedition to Pamphylia and Pisidia in Little Asia. At that time he was also in Greece and Italy. In 1885-1886 he stayed in Munich for several months. Upon his return, he settled permanently in Cracow, from where he made further trips to Munich and Italy. In 1896-1900 he taught at the Cracow School of Fine Arts, and from 1911-1922 he was a professor and twice rector of the Cracow Academy. He spent the years 1914-1915 in Vienna, and returned to Krakow in 1916. In the last years of his life he stayed mainly in Luslawice and Charzewice near Zakliczyn. He was a co-founder of the Society of Polish Artists "Art" (1897) and a member of the "Zero" group (1908).
In his early period, he painted portraits, genre scenes and - above all - paintings with themes related to the martyrdom of Poles after the January Uprising (Death of Ellenai, Sunday in the Mine, On the Stage, Christmas Eve in Siberia). Later, from the 1890s, he created paintings with symbolic content with intermingled patriotic, biblical, fairy-tale, literary and allegorical-fantastic themes.
Early Art Auction
16 June 2024 CEST/Warsaw
Start price
116 591 EUR
139 909 - 209 864 EUR
Hammer price
no offers
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Early Art Auction
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