June 1, 2022

Master and his Outstanding Student. Malczewski and Hofman

Martyna Gąsiorowska

 


Jacek Malczewski is undoubtedly the most famous figure among modernists from the Young Poland movement. His paintings are always of exceptional artistic and aesthetic quality. Our auction "Old Masters. 19th Century and Modern Art" features unique works by the most important Polish modernists, including master Malczewski, as well as his outstanding student, Wlastimil Hofman. The offer includes both mystical paintings by Malczewski and folkloric compositions by Hofman. The mystery and complexity of the canvases by these masters of painting continue to intrigue enthusiasts of art until these days.

Young Poland saw the rise of various artistic movements. Polish modernists had reached the pinnacle of their abilities at the time, and they could confidently compete on the international European stage. During the partitions of Poland, these artists reminded people of national ideals and kept the memory of the divided homeland, frequently referring to ethnic and folklore themes. Symbolism was the most well-known modernist movement, enjoying popularity until the interwar period. Jacek Malczewski is undoubtedly one of its most important representatives, just as is Wlastimil Hofman, an outstanding continuator of Malczewski's ideas and artistic legacy. Malczewski dealt mainly with themes of Polish martyrdom, which he rendered through references to ancient mythology, Slavic legends, and Juliusz Sowacki's romantic poetry. His self-portraits, which usually ponder the fate of an artist, showing the recurring theme of life and death, are inseparable elements of his oeuvre. Malczewski frequently featured fantastic creatures in his art, such as angels, chimeras, fauna, and Medusa, as well as animals, e.g. birds, grasshoppers, and crickets. His self-portraits were distinguished by the model's characteristic costumes, such as armor, nobility kontush overcoats, white overalls, black coats, and Franciscan frocks. Malczewski often depicted himself holding a palette or surrounded by flowers and trees. The artist's greatest muse was Maria Balowa, his true love and favorite model. She was depicted as Eros, Death, Chimera, Nike, Polonia, Eurydice, Eloe, or Ellenai. 

The art of his student, Wlastimil Hofman, is a continuation of the master's work. Hofman's compositions retained the symbolic and allegorical character of his teacher's artwork. Malczewski's pupil was particularly prone to melancholy and nostalgia associated with Young Poland, which dominated his sacral and genre scenes. The recurring characters in Hofman's compositions include Madonna dressed in folk costumes, rural women, vagrants, and, above all, children, set against oneiric landscapes or near modest sacral figures. This Polish-Czech artist, like his master, painted self-portraits that represented the passage of time and the states of his own psyche. These depictions also feature creatures from the fantasy world set in Polish landscapes. Hofman stripped the characters of divinity and excessive sublimity by moving them from the sacrum sphere to the profanum. The artist also made references to Gothic art, manifested by placing field flower studies in the foreground of his compositions. Hofman engaged in a constant artistic dialogue with his master's achievements, placing his characters in the foreground and allegorical images and objects in the background. 

Both painters were associated with Krakow's art scene. Krakow, along with Warsaw and Lviv, was one of the most important, if not the most important, centers for the development of Polish art and artistic thought at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Wlastimil Hofman began his studies under Jacek Malczewski in 1898. Despite the fact that the painters were 27 years apart in age, they managed to see eye to eye and work together. Hofman was shaped by his mentor in the same way that Adolf Dygasiński, a naturalist writer, and Jan Matejko shaped Malczewski's personality and set his artistic direction. While studying under Malczewski's supervision, Hofman experienced both the satisfaction of working with the artists and the shakiness of the master's character. The student valued his professor highly and earned his friendship. The two artists shared many interests, including drawing mastery, which was very important to them, and a predilection for symbolic themes.  What sets the two artists apart is the sensualism typical of Malczewski's canvases, which contrasts with the asceticism present in the compositions of the younger artist. Paintings of both artists have remained iconic on the Polish auction market until the present day,  breaking sales records year after year. The painting oeuvre of Malczewski and Hofman is well-received in terms of both artistic and commercial value, making the works a sound investment for many years. 

 The June auction will feature as many as six works by the artists in question. Without a doubt, the mystical "Selfportrait. Ezekiel's vision" from 1914 arouses great interest among the audience. The second self-portrait, in which Malczewski appears with the sinister Erinyes, goddesses of vengeance and chaos, is equally intriguing, similar to the painting "Return from the Fields," which reflects the artist's interest in Young Poland's "peasant-mania." As regards Wlastimil Hofman's works, the atmospheric and affectionate portrait of the artist's wife appears to be particularly noteworthy. In the image, Ada is holding a tiny lark in her left hand. Another Hofman composition, a portrait of a little Krakow girl, also features a motif related to the natural world – this time, a catkin held by a little girl. The motif of children, eagerly applied by the artist, reappears in his other allegorical triple portrait.