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Józef Chełmoński’s Team of Four is the best known and most frequently referred to example of peak achievements of naturalism in Polish paintings. This large-format canvas depicts a team of four horses tearing towards the viewers while driven with passion by a Ukrainian peasant. The animals, painted in their natural size, seem to be bursting the surface of the painting, causing the illusion of unstoppable, constant movement.

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Józef Chełmoński’s Team of Four is the best known and most frequently referred to example of peak achievements of naturalism in Polish paintings. This large-format canvas depicts a team of four horses tearing towards the viewers while driven with passion by a Ukrainian peasant. The animals, painted in their natural size, seem to be bursting the surface of the painting, causing the illusion of unstoppable, constant movement. This impression is intensified by the contrast of vehemence of the main motif with the static background of the boundless and monotonous landscape, and the employment of a limited colour scheme boiling down to the optically highlighted brown of the team of horses and the neutral greys of the background.
The illusionist character of the depiction may cause sensitive viewers to have hearing associations, such as the sound of brass rings of the harness, heavy thumps of the horses’ hooves, mud squelch, rattle of wheels at the pits and bumps, whip swish and the cries of the driver.
The work was created in Paris where Chełmoński stayed in the years 1875—1887 and where he created paintings devoted only to Polish themes inspired by his impressions of his stays in Ukraine and Podolia. The artist had a phenomenal memory and an extraordinary sensitivity to colour.
Chełmoński copied the motif of horses dashing towards the viewers directly from the 1873 work of his professor from the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, Alexander (Sándor) Wagner, Chariot Race in the Roman Circus.
The earlier version of the painting, Team of Four Foaming Horses in the Snow, displayed in 1878 at the annual Parisian Salon created a sensation and opened Chełmoński’s path to an international career, recognition and wealth. The artist often repeated the motif of a dashing team of horses rushing through boundless winter, autumn and summer spaces.

Elaborated by Wacława Milewska (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Painting “Team of Four” by Józef Chełmoński

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Obraz „Czwórka” Józefa Chełmońskiego odc. B Tells: Piotr Krasny
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Obraz „Czwórka” Józefa Chełmońskiego [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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Obraz „Czwórka” Józefa Chełmońskiego odc. A Tells: Piotr Krasny
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