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Monthly Archives: november 2017

A spectacular painting with a special creative force, by Józef Chelmoński, 1881

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oil on cloth, 275 x 660 cm, Muzeum Narodowe, Sukiennice Building, Kraków

This gigantic painting dominates the Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art in Kraków. The width of 6,6 meter exceeds that of most paintings in the more famous Galerie des Batailles in the Château de Versailles. The paintings in Versailles are monumental in the history of France, but this Polish painting only renders the exploit of one man, who enjoys the running of his four horses. He has chosen a four-in-hand team, harnessed next to each other, like a Roman quadriga. It is not a race against competitors, only a race for individual pleasure. The whole painting is designed to impress the viewer  with speed and action. The frontal point of view on the level of the horses’ noses makes that the viewer becomes scary. The harness of the horses is decorated with small shiny ornaments and the big round buckles are markers of the movement. Another important aspect of this painting is the position of the horses’ legs. In 1881 the stereotype position with stretched legs in the flying gallop was still common. Chelmoński, however, did not use the stereotype rendering, but applies a new position with one or two legs bent over. This posture is not correct either (the scientific proof of the real movements dates from 1874), but very suitable to give the impression of extreme action and speed, better than the conventional stretched legs. Here the artist has added a new feature to the possibilities of the horse painter.