Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jacek Malczewski: Melancholia (1894)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Like the Hodler painting I recently posted, this astonishing work by the Polish symbolist Jacek Malczewski seems to capture the zeitgeist of the moment, albeit on a grander scale. Although it could be argued that it also captures the human condition to the extent that it is truly universal in scope.

Here's an excellent description of the painting I found at the website of the Polish Academic Information Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo:

It is a painting of a totally fantastic vision, yet concrete and precise in its expression of that vision. Singular in the division of its coloristic areas, expressive in its use of perspective, its symbolism underscored by the linear axises and spatial vectors in the artistic composition's tensions. The interior of the painter atelier forms the scene on which is played out the drama of history, fate and artistic creativity. The subject of Malczewski's synthesis is the whole century of liberty lost. A period of ineffectual struggles for liberty, renewed over several generations, is encompassed in a parabola of human life from childhood, through maturity unto death. The tumultuous action arises on the left from the canvas on the easel in the depth of the atelier, thins out in the center, quiets down under on the right the partially open window, only to once again spiral back in a somnambulistic whirl.

There, on the far right edge of the composition, is shown a female figure darkly cloaked. The only person outside the atelier, leaning on the window's outside sill, she stands between the luminous surroundings of the garden - symbolic of the dreamt of goal and freedom -- the crowd whirling towards the partially open window and the artist lost in a daydream by the just commenced painting.

And here it is (it is incredibly complex visually -- there's a much larger image at Wikipedia Commons):


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