Henryk Siemiradzki, Landscape with Figures from Antiquity, 1877

Henryk Siemiradzki (1848 – 1902)
Landscape with Figures from Antiquity, 1877
oil on canvas, 49.5x64.5cm

Henryk Siemiradzki is a Polish painter best-known for his figural compositions with themes from ancient Roman history, and biblical and mythological motifs. He was born in a Polish family that moved to the Kharkov region, then part of Tsarist Russia. He went to school and university in Kharkov, which probably influenced his worldview during a time of the proliferation of great national messages and ideas, as reflected in the choice of themes in his paintings that are not particularly related to Polish history. Siemiradzki also painted motifs from Russian history, which rigid guardians of national values have not forgotten to this day.

Regrettably, the breadth he showed in choosing themes and motifs of his works was not accompanied with equal artistic breadth – he stubbornly persisted in the conservative academic way of painting even when artists with a more progressive realistic visual expression, gathered around the Peredvizhniki Movement, were working near him.

Henryk Siemiradzki obtained a degree in painting from the St. Petersburg Academy in 1871, having previously obtained a degree in natural sciences in 1864. He spent some time in Munich, and then in 1872 moved to Rome where he would have a studio in his villa, which became an important place of social gathering of nobility and persons from public and cultural life of the time, especially the Slavs. A certain duality of artistic conception marked his entire painting oeuvre. On the one hand, an affinity for the academic style of painting, and on the other, a suppressed intuitive interest in painting in plein air and an interest in the visual language, that is, the so-called “pure painting”. Taken by the atmosphere of the Italian landscape, he also painted a number of small landscapes in plain air that are characterised by the immediacy of experience and expression. He thus occasionally painted small landscapes of Italian provinces that were devoid of embellishment in the studio and affectation, such as, for example, the painting Landscape with Figures from Antiquity, 1877. The stone bridge, rocks and architecture are painted in different shades of grey as well as the trees on the hillside overlooking the bridge. A large dark green tree that casts an afternoon shadow closes the colouristically elegant composition. The scene is not burdened with decorative details or luminescent effect that abound in figurative compositions. He painted concrete archaeological, architectural and landscape motifs and, where appropriate, incorporated them in larger figurative compositions.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, Museum advisor of the National Museum of Modern Art©National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Photo: Goran Vranić©National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

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