Recently discovered in a private collection, Jacek Malczewski’s work “Reality” was last publicly displayed in 1926. Now – until 8 December this year – it can be viewed in DESA Unicum as part of the exhibition for the “Old Masters. 19th Century and Modern Art” auction. This is one of the most important paintings recently restored to Polish culture. Its estimated value amounts to PLN 14–22 million (EUR 3–4.7 million). The largest auction house in Poland is also presenting you with rare works by such artists as Hipolit Lipiński, Stanisław Wyspiański, Tadeusz Makowski, and Józef Brandt.
The presentation of Jacek Malczewski’s “Reality”, a large-scale piece of significant meaning for Polish culture, is undoubtedly a sensation in the world of Polish art and culture. This canvas is one of the greatest paintings by the artist and one of the most important artworks of the 20th century. For many decades, it remained in the collection of a Polish-German family. It was publicly displayed for the last time in 1926. Since then, its existence had been evidenced only by a black-and-white photograph taken by Amalia Krieger, a Krakow photographer, who documented the paintings in Malczewski’s studio at the beginning of the 20th century. Soon after having been painted, that is as early as 1908, “Reality” was exhibited both in the Krakow and Lviv Society of Friends of Fine Arts.
This very personal piece by Malczewski, impressive in size, artistic mastery, and full of symbols, was painted a few years before Poland regained its independence, at the height of the artist’s creative career. The large work, presenting almost a Baroque composition, touches on the most important themes that intrigued Malczewski throughout his artistic path: the artist’s mission, the patriotic mission of art, as well as romantic and national myths. It shows a multithreaded scene with a large number of characters. The painter used Poland’s religious, symbolic, and historical themes as well as motifs from his own life.
The artist is a representation of the then present-day on the canvas. He portrayed himself in a painting wearing a black vest, a hat and having painting tools. In the second part of the painting, Malczewski placed the figure of Stańczyk in a scarlet jester costume, which may be interpreted as a reference to his critical views on the causes of Poland’s fall. Further, there are three old men in uniforms, which symbolizes the insurgent history of the enslaved country. Malczewski set the scene in a crib with the newborn Christ and the Mother of God, whose figures emerge from the darkness from behind the panels in the back of the composition. He modelled the characters of his painting drama after people dear to him. The faces of the angels, the Mother of God, and baby Jesus were based on the family members of the artist: daughter Julia, wife Maria and, son Rafał.
Real Collector’s Rarity
In the last thirty years, the history of the Polish art market has been continuously witnessing discoveries of the master’s paintings as well as their record-breaking prices at auctions. Since the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Jacek Malczewski’s works have been one of the most sought-after rarities among collector’s items, constituting the core of the most outstanding collections. In recent years, DESA Unicum auction house has had the honour of presenting such outstanding and rare pieces as “Nativity Play” (1888), “Orpheus and Eurydice” (1914), and “Spring” (1914). In 2021, the discovery of the lost “Portrait of Stanisław Witkiewicz” (1902) was a huge sensation.
“Nativity Play” was the most expensive piece among these works; it was sold for PLN 4 million (EUR 855,561). Last year, art market experts were flabbergasted by the hammer price of Malczewski’s “Mill Girl” (“Prządka”), the starting price of which amounted to PLN 1.7 million (EUR 363,613) and was eventually sold for PLN 5.6 million (EUR 1,197,786). The museum-quality painting “Reality,” which will be put up for auction at DESA Unicum on 8 December, maybe the most expensive Polish painting ever sold at an auction in Poland. Its estimated value amounts to PLN 14 – 22 million (EUR 3–4.7 million).
Unique Museum Works by Old Masters
The December “Old Masters. 19th Century and Modern Art” auction is the most important event devoted to Polish art created before 1945. Apart from outlining the history and hosting the auction of “Reality” by Malczewski, DESA Unicum is presenting you with rare and greatly sought-after works by such artists as Hipolit Lipiński, Stanisław Wyspiański, Tadeusz Makowski, Józef Brandt, Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski, Maurycy Gottlieb, Jan Stanisławski, Wojciech Weiss, Leon Wyczółkowski, Konrad Krzyżanowski, Olga Boznańska, Anna Bilińska, Tamara Łempicka, Mela Muter, Mojżesz Kisling, Rafał Malczewski, and Eugeniusz Zak.
Among the most important works gathered in the offer is the masterpiece of Polish realism, “Rumford’s Soup in Front of the St. Catherine’s Church in Cracow” by Hipolit Lipiński, the estimated price of which is PLN 5–7 million (EUR 106,945–149,723).
Hipolit Lipiński, a student of Jan Matejko, is today a somewhat forgotten artist but was one of the most popular Krakow painters of his day. He conducted an in-depth analysis of society in his large-format paintings. He recreated historical events and related details with a reporter’s verve, and the background “hero” of his works was the actual city’s architecture. This is also the case with “Rumford’s Soup in Front of the St. Catherine’s Church in Cracow,” which depicts a social mosaic, including monks, peasants, wealthy bourgeois, and orthodox Jews, against the backdrop of Kazimierz’s architecture, Krakow’s district since 1800, and the intriguing “Rumford’s soup” is simply a meal given to the poor. The painting by Lipiński significantly contributed to the discussion on the state of society while also reaffirming the artist’s strong position among realist painters.
For the first time, a captivating painting by Wyspiański, “Girl Based on the Table, Portrait of Wanda Nowakówna” (1902), will be shown publicly; the portrait presents the daughter of one of the artist’s most important patrons, Professor Julian Nowak. Probably soon after World War II, the painting left Nowak’s collection and found its way to a private collection in Warsaw, where it remained for the past 70 years.
Its estimated value amounts to PLN 3.5–5 million (EUR 748,583–1,069,404). What price will it reach? Portraits of children painted by Wyspiański, considered the most important paintings of the modernist Young Poland period, are very rarely put up for auction. Wyspiański’s “Motherhood” was auctioned for PLN 3.7 million (EUR 791,359) at DESA Unicum’s auction of art by old masters in December five years ago, becoming one of the most expensive pieces sold on the old masters’ art market.
The painting “Shrovetide” (1929) by Tadeusz Markowski is another exceptional work that you can view and bid on in DESA Unicum. It depicts three boys in colourful, pointed hats with long, beak-shaped noses during a traditional French carnival celebration.
In the radical painting experiment presented in “Shrovetide,” one can see the experience of cubism, with which Markowski came into contact shortly before World War I, as well as his own version of surrealism, which was becoming one of the most interesting avant-garde movements on the Paris art scene. Furthermore, masks were the flagship props of modernist art. Makowski’s work broke a record at DESA Unicum two years ago. The painting “Children and Animals” was auctioned for PLN 3.8 million (EUR 812,747). The estimated price of “Shrovetide” amounts to PLN 5 million (EUR 1,069,404).
The “Old Masters. 19th Century and Modern Art” auction takes place on 8 December at 7 pm CET.
The auction is accompanied by an exhibition of works at the headquarters of DESA Unicum at Piękna 1A in Warsaw and is available until 8 December. The exhibition is free of charge.
Attached images of selected works:
• Jacek Malczewski “Reality,” 1908 (estimated price PLN 14-22 million/EUR 3–4.7 million)
• Hipolit Lipiński, “Rumford’s Soup in Front of the St. Catherine ‘s Church in Cracow,” 1883 (estimated price PLN 5-7 million/EUR 106,945-149,723)
• Stanisław Wyspiański, “Girl Based on the Table, Portrait of Wanda Nowakówna,” 1902 (estimated price PLN 3.5 – 5 million/EUR 748,583–1,069,404)
• Tadeusz Makowski “Shrovetide” (“La Mi-Careme”), 1929 (estimated price PLN 3-5 million/EUR 641,642-1,069,404)