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Polish Hamlet – Portrait of Aleksander Wielopolski

Jacek Malczewski1903

The National Museum in Warsaw

The National Museum in Warsaw
Warsaw, Poland

The complex symbolism running through Jacek Malczewski’s work has its roots in religion, mythology, folk tradition and, above all, in the artist’s unique imagination. Inspiring awe with their unrestrained inventiveness and depth of meaning, the paintings of this main exponent of Polish Symbolism reveal a central interest in man and his eternal dilemma in choosing his path.

This portrait bearing the suggestive title The Polish Hamlet depicts Aleksander Wielopolski, an amateur painter, wearing an ammunition belt loaded with paint tubes and faced with a choice of two ideals of Poland. For the titular figure, the choice between Poland of the past, personified by an old women with hands shackled wearing a crown of twine, and the revolutionary new nation, shown in the painting as a young woman breaking free of her shackles, is not at all obvious. The dilemma between the need to act and the necessity of maintaining a contemplative stance is symbolised by the daisy flower that the subject clutches as the last spiritual virtue of the waning era. The uncertainty that invariably pervades Malczewski’s work allows us to surmise that this image of Wielopolski reflects a dilemma that in fact torments the artist himself.

Jacek Malczewski produced an exceptional gallery of portraits of eminent figures connected with the art world, many of whom are shown accompanied by symbolic voluptuous female figures in the foreground. The elegiac mood is often set against the background of a picturesque landscape, an exceptionally important element in all of this artist’s works.

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