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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jacek Malczewski

The Vicious Circle, (guess the date), Jacek Malczewski.                     
The Painter's Inspiration,
(guess the date), Jacek Malczewski
One of the greatest difficulties a painter faces (and many other artists as well) is the threat that in fifty to a hundred years, his or her work will appear "dated." That means the artist's style will be so identified with that of their era as to appear, even at a glance, to be antique in appearance. Virtually anyone with a reasonably thorough familiarity with art history can look at a painting, sculpture, or building and place it accurately within the century during which it was created. In fact, when I'm on the road, I play a little game with myself in looking at houses, trying to place them within a decade of the time they were built. Of course, alterations and restorations complicate this pastime, and usually there's no way to ascertain how accurate my guesses might be, but over time, I think I've gotten pretty good at it. However with painting, that kind of historic precision is more difficult. Guessing the right century is good, the right half-century requires some real skill or else a ready recognition of the artists' work, and the period during which they worked. If you haven't noticed already, I've deliberately left out any date references associated with today's paintings. See how accurately you can guess their dates. (The answers are at the bottom.)
Christ before Pilate, (guess the date), Jacek Malczewski.
Self-portrait with Thistle Flower,
(guess the date), Jacek Malczewski
"Dated" is not necessarily bad. In fact, it's largely unavoidable for artists painting genre, the urban landscape, portraits, and work having social references. Likewise, style and content involving Expressionism, Abstraction, Impressionism, Surrealism, and religious works very often do not appear to be a "period" piece except insofar as suggesting it was painted after the period when that style emerged. No one but an art appreciation class dropout would purchase a 18th-century "Impressionist" work. Though he painted in one of the most "dated" periods in the art history of periods, the work of Polish artist, Jacek Malczewski, with few exceptions, rises above any attempt to date it based upon style, or even content to a large degree. He achieved what every artist should strive toward, a timeless quality in his work.

Respite, (guess the date), Jacek Malczewski. Guess the meaning.
Jacek Malczewski was born in Radom, Poland (south of Warsaw). His father was a Polish patriot and social activist who introduced him to the world of Romantic literature at a young age. At the age of seventeen, Malczewski went to Krakow where he studied at the School of Fine Arts under the best artists Poland had to offer. Later he studied privately under several other outstanding Polish artist before moving on to Paris and the Academy Suisse. Over the next thirty years or so he lived and worked in Paris, Munich, and Vienna as well as Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Later in life Malczewski drew inspiration from a wide variety of exotic mythological, symbolic, and biblical sources which he translated back into traditional Polish folklore. His most famous canvasses include The Vicious Circle (top), Melancholia, and several works involving the Painter's Muse. In many of his paintings Malczewski feature his own self-portrait, often in elaborate costumes; a trade-mark of his style and great sense of humor.

Melancholia, (guess the date), Jacek Malczewski
Malczewski's Melancholia (above) is fascinating in that he painted two nearly identical version, one with light overall tonal qualities, and a second with a much darker vision (below). I've no idea which came first, and in any case, it doesn't matter. Here, there are few clues as to the dates the works were painted, even which century. The style doesn't help, appearing to be rather surrealistic. The setting and apparel offer little in the way of suggesting a date. There are simply too many different historic eras indicated. At best they show that the artist felt free to change his mind.

Melancholia, (guess the date), Jacek Malczewski
A similar "I can do better" mindset pervades two other Malczewski paintings, this time depicting a visual scene of Christ and the Samaritan Woman (below, left and right). Again, there is no record I could find as to which came first, but it would seem that here Malczewski's second thoughts must have varied considerably from his original conception (which ever it may have been). Perhaps the key to creating timeless work rests in the ability of artists to, first of all, avoid the timely, and second, in taking the time to change their mind.

Christ and the Samaritan Woman,
(guess the date), Jacek Malczewski.
Christ and he Samaritan Woman,
(guess the date), Jacek Malczewski

Dates for the works above:

The Vicious Circle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1895-97
The Painter's Inspiration. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1897
Christ before Pilate. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1910
Self-portrait with Thistle Flower . . . . . . . . . 1911
Respite. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ca. 1925
Melancholia (both versions). . . . . . . . . .1890-94
Christ and the Samaritan Woman . . . . . . 1920s

Jacek Malczewski was born in  1854.
He died in 1929 at the age of seventy-five.


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