The Jews

Piotr Michałowski1845/1855

The National Museum in Krakow

The National Museum in Krakow
Kraków, Poland

Contrary to what might be the first impression, it is not a group portrait but separate portrait studies of five Jews of different ages and appearances, put together in one work. “This masterpiece of truth and excellent characterization captures on canvas all the representatives of the Jewish population inhabiting Polish small towns” – Jerzy Mycielski wrote about this work towards the end of the 19th century. Two images in the foreground are the portraits of a venerable old man with a grey beard and a bearded man in his prime. Ritual shawls on their heads, referred to as tallits, and their vacant expression make them look deep in prayer. The others, from a man wearing sidelocks to a slightly smiling youngster, are wearing dark gabardines and yarmulkes, almost invisible against a dark background. Focussing on the faces of his sitters, Michałowski showed a different psychophysical identity of each of them in an excellent way, with the painterly freedom unique to him, including even such details as different layouts and colours of stripes (traditionally deep blue or black) decorating the tallits. The faces of these people, highlighted with warm, golden light against the dark background, as if suspended in the space, emanate a special aura.

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  • Title: The Jews
  • Creator: Piotr Michałowski
  • Date Created: 1845/1855
  • Provenance: Gift of Józefa Michałowska, 1902
  • Medium: oil, canvas