Polish Hamlet. Portrait of Aleksander Wielopolski, 1903
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
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.