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Maurycy Gottlieb. In search of identity 13.02-03.05.2015 Maurycy Gottlieb. In search of identity

Maurycy Gottlieb's life lasted only 23 years - too short to enjoy the same fame as his younger brother Leopold Gottlieb did. And yet, Maurycy Gottlieb is the most important Jewish painter active in the Polish circles of the 19th century. The exhibition in The Szołayski House – Branch of the National Museum in Krakow – presented 46 works by the artist on loan from Polish and foreign institutions. It constituted the artist's symbolic return home.

I am a Pole and a Jew, and I want to work for both, should God allow me - Maurycy Gottlieb wrote in a letter to a friend. Why did the artist make this statement? Jews could not be involved in figurative art due to the commandments of their faith. However, since Maurycy Gottlieb was raised in the spirit of Haskalah – the Enlightenment movement whose main precept was openness and assimilation with non-Jewish communities – he was able to pave the way for the development of Jewish art.

Gottlieb was educated in Vienna and Munich, but it was his stay in the Krakow School of Fine Arts that played a special role in his education. The Drohobych Painter was one of Jan Matejko's favourite students. Matejko's patriotic works had impacted Gottlieb's search for identity – he began to clearly emphasize his Polishness, which was expressed in his Self-Portrait in a Costume of a Polish Nobleman or compositions referring to Polish history and literature.

In Munich, Gottlieb became fascinated with Rembrandt's painting. The Dutch master's influence inspired Gottlieb to apply chiaroscuro and undertake themes related to Jewish history, culture and religion. Through his painting, the young artist contributed to the popularization of figurative art in the Jewish community. Faithful to both nations, the painter proved to be an excellent portraitist. In 1876, he created the excellent painting Ahasuerus, in which he portrayed himself both as Ahasuerus – the king of Persia, and the mythical "Wandering Jew". This work can be admired at the exhibition in the Feliks Jasieński Szołayski House among 45 other paintings on loan from the collections of the Borys Woźnicki Lviv National Arts Gallery, Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris, the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, the Upper Silesian Museum in Bytom, the National Museum in Kielce, the National Museum in Poznań, the National Museum in Warsaw, the National Museum in Wrocław, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, the Silesian Museum in Katowice, the Wojciech Śladowski Polish Art Auction House, the Israel Museum, the Friends of Fine Arts Society in Krakow and the Jewish Historical Institute.

The key, symbolic painting presented at the exhibition was Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). In this canvas, the artist portrayed himself three times: as a child, a teenager and a young man. The work has been loaned from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The exhibition at the National Museum in Krakow was a continuation of the display which was held since October 2014 at the Herbst Palace Museum – a branch of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. It was the first monographic retrospective of Gottlieb's art since 1991.

Maurycy Gottlieb (1856-1879) was raised in a wealthy Jewish family in Drohobych. Four out of twelve of his siblings became painters (the most famous – Leopold – was born in the year Maurycy died). In the years 1871 – 1873, the artist, who died prematurely of complications from pharyngitis, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he discovered Jan Matejko at the Universal Exhibition. In 1874, he became Matejko's student at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts. After two years, as a result of the anti-Semitic attitudes of his colleagues, he decided to move and continue his studies in Vienna and Munich. He travelled to Pest, Lviv, Drohobych, and lived in Rome for a year, where he rented an atelier together with Henryk Siemiradzki. At the beginning of 1879, he returned to Krakow, where once again he became Matejko's student. He died in the summer of the same year and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Miodowa street Krakow.

Exhibition curator: Maria Milanowska (Muzeum Sztuki in Łodzi)
Consultant: Aleksandra Krypczyk-de Barra, the National Museum in Krakow
Coordinator: Grażyna Kulawik

Autor: Katarzyna Bik

MNK The Szołayski

pl. Szczepański 9, 31-011 Kraków
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  • Monday: closed
  • Tuesday: 10.00-18.00

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