Monday, January 5, 2015

Henryk Siemiradzki

Dance amongst swords
oil on canvas
155 x 77 cm
Private collection

Henryk Hektor Siemiradzki (1843-1902) was a Polish 19th-century painter active in the period of foreign Partitions of Poland, and best remembered for his monumental Academic art. He was particularly known for his depictions of scenes from the ancient Graeco-Roman world and the New Testament. He is one of the best representatives of the late European Neoclassicism. Many of his paintings depict scenes from antiquity, often the sunlit pastoral scenes or compositions presenting the lives of early Christians. He painted biblical and historical scenes, landscapes, and portraits. The democratic critics took his art very negatively, noting the lack of psychological analysis and deep thought under the beautiful surface.

He was born into the family of a Polish military physician-officer in the service of the Russian Tzar. His childhood and youth were spent in Kharkov, then part of the Russian Empire, now the territory of Ukraine. In 1860, under pressure from his family, he entered the Kharkov University. After graduating with a BA in science, he abandoned his scientific career and moved to Saint Petersburg to study painting at the Imperial Academy of Arts. The Academy at that point did not accept students older than twenty. Very soon, however, the professors paid attention to the talented young man and he was admitted as a student, despite the age limits. He impressed his classmates with his knowledge of science and ancient history. His teachers remarked that he was an excellent colorist and draftsman. Upon his graduation he was awarded a gold medal. In 1870-1871 he studied in Munich on a grant from the Academy. In 1872 he moved to Rome.

St. Petersburg Academy granted him with titles and awards, he received large official commissions, his works represented the Russian art school at various world exhibitions. His work brought him the Grand Prix at the World exhibition in Paris. He was accepted also into the Legion of Honour. He painted a cycle of murals devoted to the life of Alexander Nevsky, and some episodes from the life of Christ. In 1931, the Communists blew up the Cathedral. All murals by outstanding artists, including Siemiradzki, were lost forever.