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The art of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century is rich in symbols from the realm of concepts referring to artistic creativity, inspiration and artistic freedom. Among them there is the frequently used motif of Pegasus.
While designing a fragment of the frieze for the building of the Krakow Society of Friends of Fine Arts in 1899, Józef Mehoffer depicted Pegasus surrounded by Muses with stylised shapes; they imitate meandering rhizomes, entwine and bind him. Composition „Pegasus and Muses” was a painting sketch and is known thanks to its more popularised graphic version.
The motif of the winged horse – a symbol of inspiration, somehow bound by floral and anthropomorphic forms, decorative and ominous to a certain extent, became one of the recurring themes in Mehoffer’s art.
As the artist’s wife Jadwiga recalls, "Pegasus Among Flowers" was painted during summer holidays in 1901; „in the unfinished painting, a Pegasus imprudently burst into the patches of a countryside garden surrounding a white house with wide-open green shutters. It came to a halt surprised because its legs had been entwined and transfixed by brown, spread stems of red dahlias. It is buried in their tangle (…). The black horse lowers its head in an elegant bow. The head is decorated with a bushy panache of wind-blown, crimson ribbon, of the kind that used to be popular during village weddings”.
The same “black four-year-old” appears in Józef Mehoffer’s watercolour composition "Pegasus and Muses", presented at the exhibition of the Society of Polish Artists “Sztuka” in Munich in 1905 (currently the property of Österreichische Galerie in Vienna). Two later, most well-known paintings by Mehoffer with the motif of Pegasus are "Portrait of the Artist’s Wife with Pegasus" (Museum of Art in Łódź) and "Portrait of the Artist’s Wife with Pegasus in the Background" (National Museum in Krakow, the Mehoffer House), painted in 1913.
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