Artur Grottger was a painter and draughtsman representative of late romanticism who worked in Vienna and Lviv. He was born in Otinevichi in 1837, and died in Amélie-les-Bains in 1867.
He received his first drawing lessons from his father, a trained painter, Jan Józef Grottger. In 1849, he began his formal education in Lviv in Jan Maszkowski’s workshop, and he was also given instruction by Juliusz Kossak. He continued his artistic formation between 1852 and 1854 at the School of Fine Arts in Kraków under the guidance of Wojciech Korneli Stattler and Władysław Łuszczkiewicz.
He perfected his craft between 1854 and 1859 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna under the guidance of Karl Blaas, Karl Mayer, Karl Wurzinger, Peter Geiger, and Christian Ruben. In Vienna, he also started his artistic career as an illustrator working with such popular newspapers as Mussustunden and Illustrierte Zeitung. While living in the Austro-Hungarian capital, he went on several journeys to Munich (1858), Venice (1864) and to Hungary (1856, 1860, 1862) where he was hosted by Count Alexander von Pappenheim, his long-term sponsor, patron, and friend. He also visited Kraków (1858) and Lviv (1863) and the estate of Erazm and Emma Larysz-Niedzielski’s in Śledziejowice near Wieliczka (1855) and Jan Maszkowski in Barszczowice (1860). Lviv and Kraków became his homes after his return to the country; he also lived in Śniatynka near Drohobych owned by Stanisław Tarnowski (1865, 1866), Peniaky, Grybów, Krynica, Poręba and Dyniska.
Combining the aesthetic norms of academism, romantic sentimentality and realistic depiction of the details of the portrayed events, the themes Grottger explored in his paintings involved historical compositions, generic scenes, and portraits. His earliest works were created under the guidance of his father and they were the prelude to the creation of his artistic vision marked by patriotism. They were battle scenes mainly involving the November Uprising (Egzekucja Szpiega, 1847; A Spy’s Execution). Horses were a recurring motif in Grottger’s watercolours created in the 1850s, which were inspired by Julisz Kossak’s works (Szarża Ułanów, 1850; The Uhlan’s Charge). Grottger’s first historical paintings were marked by his inspiration from the works created by January Suchodolski, one of the greats of Polish national painting. At the same time, Grottger painted landscape studies outdoors; in Kraków, he briefly studied architecture and he developed a fascination with the art of Aleksander Orłowski, a renowned representative of generic-realistic trend in Polish art and he sought motifs to portray in his favourite books, especially Józef Ignacy Kraszewski’s and W. Scott’s works. Orłowski’s influence is present in the compositions with Circassians, and his costume studies of soldiers under the Vasa dynasty (1587–1668) evidenced his knowledge of the history of the Polish-Swedish war. His compositions Potyczka Konfederatów Barskich (A Skirmish of the Bar Confederates) and Odbicie Łupu Tatarom (1854; Reclaiming Loot from Tatars) represent the typical academist convention of portraying in the way the battle scene is directed – it’s dynamic, crowded and it suggestively conveys the chaos of the battle.
Subordinating the narrative sequence of events to the superordinate metaphorical and symbolic value, the visual storytelling introduced by Grottger in his patriotic series was foreshadowed by his earlier works: Szkoła Szlachcica Polskiego (1858; Polish Nobleman’s School), Żywot Rycerski (A Knight’s Life) and Wczoraj – Dziś – Jutro: Trzy Dni z Życia Rycerza Polskiego (1858; Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow: Three Days in the Life of a Polish Knight), which were inspired by the works of the Vienna ‘nazarenes’ and their successors, Cornelius, Schwind and Rethel.
Often painted with watercolours while on journeys or during stays at the estates of his friends and patrons, horses were a recurring motif in Grottger’s works, especially in his generic episodes (Sprzedaż Konia, 1855; Selling a Horse; Klacz Angielska, 1860; An English Mare).
Grottger’s admiration of Venice’s luminosity enriched his palette with vivacious, bright tones in 1864; at that time, the reminiscences of the great masters of the Renaissance, P. Bordone, G. Bellini and Titian, took on particular significance, for example in his Portret Rudowłosej (1865; Portrait of a Redhead), Parki (1864; Parks) and Rozmowa Posągów (1865; A Conversation of Monuments).
Martyrological, post-insurrection themes ran as a silver thread through Grottger’s all works. Apart from drawing series, his other paintings followed the theme: the ones depicting the tragedy of death (Nokturn, 1864; Nocturne; and the antinomical Walka; Fight; and Pojednanie; Conciliation, 1864), the agony of separation (the antithetical Rok 1863: Pożegnanie Powstańca and Powitanie Powstańca, 1865-1866) and the suffering of the exiles (Pochód na Sybir, 1867; The March to Siberia; Zesłaniec w Kopalni; An Exile in a Mine). The image of a Polish woman, a wife and a mother who heroically supported the national liberation struggle played an important role in Grottger’s works (Przejście przez Granicę, 1865; Passing the Border; Pod Murami Więzienia, 1866; By the Prison Walls). Grottger applied the practice of the portrayal stemming from the time of national mourning while drawing the portraits of women from his milieu, especially his fiancée, Wanda (Portret W. Monné z Sówką, 1866; A Portrait of W. Monné with an Owl).
Originally written in Polish by Irena Kossowska, (Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences), Feb 2004, translated by AP, 29 Nov 2017