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Gallery of Polish Masters - 7. Fire and water – fascinating elements

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7. Fire and water – fascinating elements

Nature, especially its four elements, has always intrigued the imagination of artists. For a long time painters, sculptors and illustrators have searched for appropriate forms of expression to capture the essence of earth, water, air and fire. In this sequence we can observe the way Polish artists of the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century viewed elements of nature.
The review starts with Cabin on a Palisade by Ferdynand Ruszczyc, an intimate miniature, having the character of an Impressionist sketch from nature. The artist often travelled to the north of Europe, to the coast of the Baltic Sea. That is probably the place where he painted the Cabin. The windy and cool climate of Scandinavia was conveyed by the striking contrast of warm and cool colours. The internal expression of the painting is emphasised by small vibrant patches of colour.
The image of another element – fire was presented by Wojciech Gerson, an academic and Realist strongly rooted in the tradition of Romanticism. Thus the ruins and ashes depicted in the painting Fire in Solec (Fire in a Steam Mill in Solec in Warsaw)  from 1868 are both realistic and romantic at the same time. The work was created for the Warsaw weekly „Tygodnik Ilustrowany”, which the artist worked for at that time. However, finally, another version of Fire was published. Gerson painted the one in Krzysztof Musiał’s collection for himself, probably because he had been fascinated by the view of smouldering ruins. The artist used colour to show the effects of the devastating power of fire.
Beneath Fire there is a sinister and disturbing painting Sea Landscape by Konrad Krzyżanowski. It is probably the result of the artist’s journey to Finland, where he painted gloomy and tense views of sea waves, capturing their ferocity and menace in a beautiful way.
The dramatic character of the struggle of man against rough seas can be observed in the subsequent painting titled Storm, painted by Leopold Gottlieb. Stylized silhouettes of fishermen fight to keep their boat afloat as it is battered by wild waves. The artist, a representative of the École de Paris, drew our attention to man’s helplessness and vulnerability when confronted with the power of nature. We should add that the theme of the storm often appeared in Gottlieb’s artwork, and Krzysztof Musiał bought the version included in the Gallery of Polish Masters at auction in New York.   



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