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Images of Death

  • In remembrance of the exhibition organized by the National Museum in Krakow in the year 2000, and All Saints' Day which falls on November 1, we would like to present a selection of works of art from our collections which illustrate the broader topic of death. The theme of death inspired the creation of numerous masterpieces of Polish art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – including those by Artur Grottger, Aleksander Gierymski, Jacek Malczewski, Andrzej Wróblewski, Tadeusz Kantor and many others.

    The exhibition titled 'Images of death', which was displayed in the Main Building from 19 September to 12 November 2000, was devoted to death as an art theme in painting, sculpture, printmaking. Its main objective was to present the characteristics of Polish attitude to death and the transformations that occurred in this area over the period of the last two hundred years. The exhibition features three distinguished approaches: the traditional one – presenting death as a destructive force that is external in relation to man, most often personified; the existential one – depicting death as existential experience of every human being, and the metaphorical one – using the theme of death and resurrection as a kind of key to understanding and interpreting the fate of Poland and the Polish people in the past two hundred years. It did not only emphasize the pessimistic and repulsive image of death. It was complemented and somewhat contextualized by works of art, displayed in a separate section, which reflected the variety of interpretations of life: as a creative force, eternal existence, or finally as everyday life and ritual.

    Compiled by:
    Michalina Pieczonka – works for the New Media Department, where she creates and implements the communication strategy of the Museum in the social media.

  • Antoni Pleszowski, Sadness rzeźba odlana w brązie, między 1885 a 1889

  • Maurycy Gottlieb, At the Deathbed oil on canvas, 1876

  • Maksymilian Antoni Piotrowski, Death of Wanda oil on canvas, 1859

  • Marian Wawrzeniecki, Death Appeases Everyone oil on canvas, 1898

  • Jacek Malczewski, Death of Ellenai oil on cardboard, 1907

  • Aleksander Kostis, A Highlander's Funeral oil on canvas, 1860

  • Stanisław Wojciech Bergman, Stanisław Oświęcim at the Body of Anna Oświęcim oil on canvas, 1888

  • Kazimierz Alchimowicz, Gedymin's Funeral oil on canvas, 1888

  • Felix-Joseph Barrias, Death of Chopin oil on canvas, 1885

    While working on this painting forty-six years after the composer's death, the French artist Barrias may have used the description of Chopin's last moments which was noted for posterity by Solange, the daughter of George Sand and the wife of the sculptor Clésinger: 'One October evening in 1849, the 16th, approximately twenty people were fearfully waiting in the living room (...) Chopin had someone ask whether Countess Potocka was also in the living room, and if she would sing. The piano was moved closer, the doors were opened, and the beautiful Countess began to sing. She sang with a broken heart, a voice full of tears! The gathered guests fell on their knees, stifling a sob'.

  • Jacek Malczewski, Death of Ellenai oil on canvas, 1883

    Juliusz Słowacki's poem titled 'Anhelli' had inspired Malczewski for nearly forty years, from the time of his studies at the Krakow School of Fine Arts until 1918, when Poland regained its independence. The content and spirit of the piece inspired a series of images presenting both the fate of a young exile called Anhelli and his companion in misery – Ellenai, and the more broadly interpreted nightmare of Siberian penal servitude. The artist endowed the scene of Ellenai's death with monumental expression. The shape of the deceased girl's body, reflected in horizontal lines of the background elements, as well as the figure of Anhelli, petrified with pain and helplessness, reflect the stillness and silence of death.

  • Stanisław Grocholski, Death of an Orphan oil on canvas, 1884

  • Zbigniew Pronaszko, Death of Ellenai oil on canvas, 1957

  • Andrzej Wróblewski, Son and His Killed Mother, Killed Husband (double-sided painting) oil on canvas, 1949

    The painting depicts a little boy embracing a woman, portrayed from arms down, her head invisible. The woman is dead, although it seems that she reciprocates the caress with a limp gesture of her hand. The artist painted her in greyish blue and dressed her in a blue dress. This is how – using the symbolism of blue: the realm of shadows, immateriality and transcendence – he painted all the victims of the war as well as the dead.

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