Death of Ellenai”, 1883 by Jacek Malczewski (1854 - 1929)

This painting was inspired by the poem Death of Anhelli by Juliusz Slowacki. The woman represents Poland and the subdued colors enhance the melancholy thoughts of losing hope for Poland’s rebirth during the Partitions of Poland.

Jacek Malczewski was one of the most revered painters of Poland and was associated with the Young Poland Movement. He is regarded as the Father of Polish Symbolism.  

Polish Hamlet. Portrait of Aleksander Wielopolski, 1903 by Jacek Malczewski, National Museum, Warsaw.

■ It was painted in 1903, and is one of the most famous works of Malczewski. It presents the painter’s grandson as Aleksander Wielopolski who was a Polish politician, a member of the Polish Kingdom government in the early 1860s, who tried to maneuver between the interests of the invaders and the Polish population. The figure is located in the center of the composition, surrounded by two women; two different visions of the fate of the Polish nation. He is dressed in yellow-green dress and belted pouch, in which instead of bullets are tubes of paint, and he thoughtfully pulls on the petals of chamomile.

■ The painting is symbolic and patriotic. The two women placed on both sides of the picture are an allegory of two different visions of the fate of their homeland. Located to the right is an elderly woman with white hair, dressed in dark robes, his hands cuffed no shackles, and her face takes on an expression of sadness, despair and awareness of their situation. She embodies an enslaved Poland, experienced by fate, remained under the yoke of others who can not be liberated. On the left side there is a young girl, half-naked, shown at the time of breaking the shackles. She is full of energy, and her face has the expression of reaction with her mouth open. She symbolizes the “young Poland” - capable of action and of escaping from the long-term captivity.

■ The image can be interpreted as a dilemma of choosing the right and wrong for the homeland. This dilemma clearly refers to the title character of Hamlet from William Shakespeare’s drama and his choices. Alexander Wielopolski is an example of the person making the difficult decision, and carrying the consequences of that choice, resulting from the need to accept or reject the situation. The artist does not show his own views on the topic. The man in the painting is pensive, lost in melancholy. And his indecision is highlighted even more by the flower in his hand and the belt on the body. The work is an expression of Malczewski’s concern for the future of Poland at the time.


Selection of paintings by artists from Poland.

  1. Kazimierz Stabrowski (1869-1929)
  2. Władysław Teodor Benda, also known as W.T. Benda (1873-1948)
  3. Edward Okuń (1872-1945)
  4. Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938)
  5. Józef Mehoffer (1869-1946)
  6. Stanisław Wyspiański (1869-1907)
  7. Kazimierz Sichulski (1879-1944)
  8. Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929)