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Malczewski's Mythology

In a review published in the Warsaw Voice of a 1996 Malczewski exhibition in the Krakow's Czartoryski Counts' Museum, Marcin Grota wrote:

"The exhibition stresses Malczewski's phenomenal success in combining two different sources of inspiration: the Christian and the Greek traditions. But the exhibition's effect is also very personal; it includes a Christ with Malczewski's facial features, and paintings showing Madonnas with faces and figures characteristic of the type of beauty that in Malczewski's times could times be seen in the villages scattered along the Vistula river: mature, strongly-built women with fair hair.

One of the paintings shows the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts' professors digging a grave; the artist gave them the faces of fauns-half-human, half-goat forest creatures from Greek mythology. From what is known about Malczewski's relations with his artistic contemporaries, there is no doubt that he envisaged himself in that grave. Malczewski painted his lovers as half-woman, half-cat, sensually stretching their bodies. Death, for which he used the Greek name Thanatos, was shown as an alluring, full-figured woman (Woman with Scythe, 1917).

"Malczewski himself appears in many of the paintings, most often accompanied by his friends, wife, children, or lovers, (Erynie, 1910), who are quite often fantastically portrayed. Perhaps no other artist ever painted so many self-portraits, or showed himself in so many different forms, wearing such a variety of masks and costumes-the exhibition includes one of his most famous self-portraits, Self Portrait as St. Francis (1908).

"Many contemporary art critics draw parallels between his bizarre and alarming imagination and that of Salvador Dali. Malczewski's contemporaries compared his works to those of Arnold Bšcklin, one of his heroes, famous for his sinister The Island of the Dead. Malczewski's paintings also resemble the works of Gustav Moreau, who was only slightly older than Malczewski. To create his artistic fantasies, Moreau drew on similar plots, characters and areas of interest. Both were painters and literati. Moreau once complained: "I have suffered too much in my life because of this unjust and absurd opinion that I am too literary for a painter."

"Malczewski, too, was for quite a long time perceived as a maker of puzzles. Fortunately, his art has its own life-he simply made excellent paintings, which can be fully appreciated without puzzling out all the symbols and allusions. Besides, there have been very few painters with such great senses of humor, whose works are so full of irony and self-deprecation."

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