Two Breton Women with a Basket of Apples

Władysław Ślewiński1897

The National Museum in Warsaw

The National Museum in Warsaw

In the 2nd half of the 19th century, the northern French region of Brittany became a hotbed of international artistic life. In 1888, Paul Gauguin settled in the fishing village of Pont-Aven, where a pleiad of artistic personalities soon gathered.

One of those artists was Władysław Ślewiński. In his painting we see two young women in characteristic Breton bonnets sitting below a sprawling apple tree a moment after picking its fruit. Their ordinary rural faces seem to be contemplating some kind of sadness. Yet, the primary concern here is not the subject per se but the atmosphere of quiet concentration and emptiness emanating from the painting. Much like Gauguin, Ślewiński did not intend to produce a realistic picture, choosing instead to compose it of colour patches defined by contours outlining the figures and the landscape. The resulting painting becomes a decorative surface of contrasting colour zones. Having adopted the French Symbolists’ view of art as a reflection of the artist’s emotions as well as an attempt to capture and demonstrate the surrounding world via subjective impressions, Ślewiński quickly abandoned the practice of trying to produce an illusionary imitation of reality.

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