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Witold Wojtkiewicz occupies a special position among the Young Poland painters. His paintings, typical of the decadent fin de siècle, were described by André Gide as the “personal fusion of Naturalism, Impressionism and grotesque.” The artist created his own painting world, astonishingly expressionistic, as if from some somnambulistic vision.

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Witold Wojtkiewicz occupies a special position among the Young Poland painters. His paintings, typical of the decadent fin de siècle, were described by André Gide as the “personal fusion of Naturalism, Impressionism and grotesque.” The artist created his own painting world, astonishingly expressionistic, as if from some somnambulistic vision. Here, sleepy dreams interweave with images from fairy tales, and the characters are crippled dolls, repulsive dummies, puppets or “ugly and rude women” participating in weird ceremonies. 
Medytacje [Meditations] is probably the last piece of work by the prematurely deceased artist (he died at the age of just 30), which made the cycle of seven paintings (incomplete, today) called Ceremonie [Ceremonies]. Wojtkiewicz presented the works in the autumn of 1908 at the exhibition of Grupa Zero [the Zero Group]. Nonetheless, individual compositions of the cycle – Śmierć dziewczyny (Wyzwolenie) [Death of a Girl (Liberation)], Asysta księżniczki [Assistance for a Princess], Wezwanie (Hołd) [Invocation (Homage], Idylla (Swaty) [Idyll (Match Makers)], Zjawisko (Bajka) [Phenomenon (Tale)], Chrystus i dzieci [Christ and Children], Medytacje (Popielec) [Meditations (Ash Wednesday)] — did not make a thematically consistent entirety. Each of them is an independent, mysterious and melancholic piece of work, saturated with its own fairy-tale-like atmosphere.
The painting, Meditations, depicts the Lenten ritual of sprinkling ash on the head, taking place at the foot of a Baroque altar. The woman presented here is dressed in finely decorated robes in contrastive white and black colours and an equally elegant two-coloured hat, decorated with a black ostrich feather. She is supporting her head in a gesture typical of allegorical depictions of melancholy. The woman is separating two worlds; on the right, on the altar steps, elegant, white-robed figures sit; whereas on the left, there is a sorrowful and bereaved group dressed in black robes of mourning. However, the colours dividing the compositions into joyful and sorrowful parts are not the only features that build this peculiar dissonance; it is also the juxtaposition of moods: the tranquillity of the characters is contrasted with their ceremonial robes, in their kitschy extravagance typical of children’s imaginations. The dissonance of moods is also suggested by the title — Meditations — referring to meditation on the vicissitudes of human life, or to the reflection on the ceremonial character of Lent.

Elaborated by Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Painting “Meditations” (“Ash-Wednesday”), from the Cycle: "Ceremonies" — VII

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