In 1866, he became engaged to Wanda Monné in Lviv. The relationship strongly influenced his works and brought about a rich body of correspondence from which, for instance, we can recreate the way he worked on Wojna (editor’s translation: War), a series of drawings he commenced in Poręba in 1866 for the purpose of exhibiting them at the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris. At the end of 1866, the artist moved to Paris to finish the series showing the human misery brought by war and the moral decay of man as an inevitable consequence of war in the universal sense. In Paris, he engaged with the Polish diaspora centred around Hôtel Lambert. Jean-Léon Gérôme, a renowned Parisian academist, advised him while he was creating the cardboards for Wojna. Grottger’s deteriorating health forced him to move to Pau in southern France in November 1867, and later to Amélie-les-Bains, where he died.
Grottger exhibited his works at home and abroad, for example in Lviv (from 1851), Kraków (from 1857), Vienna (from 1859), and Warsaw (from 1866). Grottger entered the history of Polish art primarily as an author of patriotic drawings’ series, which were reproduced numerous times and entered the national art canon. His series Warszawa I (1861), Warszawa II (1862), Polonia (1863) and Lituania (1864-1866) depict the events foreshadowing the outbreak of the failed January Uprising in 1863, show its tragic episodes and the subsequent repressions perpetrated by the occupants. The series brought into existence the topos of martyrological iconography, infused the memory and the imagination of many generations of Poles with the scenes of insurgent battles, agony, martyrdom, and the key idea of Grottger’s artworks, national solidarity. Condensed, infused with emotions and universally symbolic, the artistic reality of the series transfigured the historical facts, and possessed its own internal order and subordinated the documental dimension to its metaphorical interpretation. The structure of the series reveals Grottger’s ambition to harmonise epic descriptiveness with elegiac poetics.
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.
The next stage of evolution in Grottger’s historical paintings was marked by the lessons he took in Vienna in Blaas’s and Wurzinger’s workshops. The important element of his education was studying artworks created by Dürer and renowned academists, P. Cornelius, P. Delaroche and A. Scheffer at the museum galleries. Vienna’s academism brought about Grottger’s fondness of theatrical depictions and infusing his works with an elevated, pompous tone. Geiger’s art strongly influenced his manner of illustrating: his masterful drawing craft, faithful depiction through lines and chiaroscural modelling, which suggestively created the mood with a rich greyscale while simultaneously accurately representing the details of the costumes and the props. Grottger developed his sense of narration and his fondness of anecdotes by illustrating literary works, for instance, M. Bołoz-Antoniewicz’s poem Anna Oświęcimówna, Goethe’s Faust, F. Schiller’s Würde der Frauen and Adam Mickiewicz’s Konrad Wallenrod (Podjazd Litwinów; The Lithuanian’s Approach, Krzyżak na Czatach; A Teuton on the Lookout, 1857). Together with Geiger, he illustrated A. Patuzzi’s book Oesterreichische Geschichte (1862). The range of topics he touched in his drawings made for journals was very diverse: political reportages (Po Bitwie pod Montebello; After the Battle of Montebello, Szturm na Ponte di Magenta; Storming Ponte di Magenta), social subjects (W Drzwiach Przytułku; At a Refuge’s Doors) and the landscapes of Hungarian steppes (Obóz Cyganów; A Romani Camp; Stadnina; A Horse Farm). Grottger also decorated periodicals with vignettes, and he often drew caricatures and satirical scenes (usually in sketchbooks and on the margins of his letters). He skilfully wrote the depicted episodes into ornamental, complex compositions called tableaubilds, a genre with its roots in Medieval woodcuts and Gothic altars.
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.
A series of Grottger’s drawings and paintings, especially the generic and allegoric representations, were characterised by sentimental poetics and the style of the Vienna biedermeier. On the other hand, his historical compositions showed Grottger’s romantic attitude par excellence. Typical of romantic artists, the fascination with the Orient manifested itself in the glorified motif of a Circassian opposing the Tsarist rule (Czerkies z Koniem, 1856; A Circassian with a Horse; Czerkies z Dzidą, 1860; editor’s translation: A Circassian with a Spear). Within the series of compositions fulfilling the requirements of the academist convention, the paintings with intense moodiness and dramatic tension similar to to Delaroche’s romantic historicism (Ucieczka Henryka Walezego z Polski, 1860; Modlitwa Konfederatów Barskich, 1860; Bar Confederates’ Prayer) stand out. Inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes, Grottger’s Modlitwa Wodza (1857; Chief’s Prayer) and Modlitwa Wieczorna Rolnika (1865) are also distinguished by their elevated tone and romantic symbolics.
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).
An important part of Grottger’s artistic legacy was made up by his portraits based on different types of depiction: representative portrayal (Portret Gen. F.H. Schlicka; A Portrait of Gen. F.H. Schlick; Portret Panien Dzieduszyckich z Psem; A Portrait of the Dzieduszycki Sisters with a Dog), lyrical-sentimental portraits of women (Portret Hrabianki Thun, 1860; a Portrait of Countess von Thun), verist and psychological portraits of the members of his family and friends (Portret Marii Sawiczewskiej, Siostry Artysty, 1863; A Portrait of Maria Sawiczewska, the Artist’s Sister; Portret Jana Tarnowskiego; A Portrait of Jan Tarnowski; Portret Jerzego Lubomirskiego, 1866; A Portrait of Jerzy Lubomirski), and blunt portrait studies of peasants (Chłop z Barszczowic, 1860; A Peasant from Barszczowice). A series of self-portraits reflects the changes in the author’s appearance and mental condition, as well as the evolution of his artistic language, which grew more austere and vivid, its colour scale reduced itself and the contrasts between light and shadow growing stronger (Autoportret na Palecie, 1865; Self-portrait on a Plank; Autoportret w Konfederatce, 1865; Self-portrait in a Confederate Hat; Portret Własny Artysty, 1867; The Artist’s Own Portrait).
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