#photography & visual arts
'Poppies' , created in 1902 and 1903, crowns the youthful stage of Weiss’s career, condensing the characteristic elements of the painter’s early work. It combines portrait and landscape elements into a symbolic and emotional whole.
In Poppies, the love for extreme and borderline states characteristic of the art of the turn of the century makes itself felt and even seemingly idyllic themes are filled with drama. As Wiesław Juszczak noted, the cheerful motif of the Holy Spring, popular at that time in all fields of culture, took on a dramatic expression as in Stravinsky’s ballet, in which joyful intoxication and erotic awakening are intertwined with the ritual sacrifice offered on the altar of the elements.
This emotional extremity is also visible in Poppies. It is a depiction of a man in his ‘natural state’, outside of civilisation and history, in which the celebration of nascent life is overshadowed by the sense of death. Symbolism is intertwined with proto-expressionism, creating, as Juszczak called it, ‘one of the most passionate and mad creations of Polish modernist painting’.
8 Awe-Inspiring Paintings from the Young Poland Period
The expressive contrast concerns, on the one hand, the boys who stretch and yawn in disturbingly exaggerated, sleepy intoxication, as if in painful spasms, and, on the other hand, the landscape element. The flowery meadow is illuminated by the strikes of the blood-red poppies and the blinding white of field flowers in the hot southern sun, although the sky in this oneiric image stretches over the meadow with a stripe of deep, almost evening blue.
The origin of the melting of figures with the landscape into one expressive whole, so characteristic of Poppies, can be traced to Weiss’s first works. Initially, his landscapes were subordinated to the characters as blurred, undefined backgrounds emphasising the mood of the pictures. This can be seen in Weiss’s crypto-portraits such as Student, Lunger or in one of his most famous paintings – Melancholic (called ‘Totenmesse’ by the painter himself). The very title brings to the fore the painting’s emotional meaning and universalises it by masking the portrait aspect, although the identity of the ‘Melancholic’ is still well known to us today – the face was lent to him by Weiss’s colleague, the painter Antoni Procajłowicz.
The identity of the boys depicted in Poppies is a little less certain. Juszczak pointed out their similarity to the sons of Konstanty Górski portrayed in one of Weiss’ pastels. However, it is most probably the sons of the mayor of Strzyżów who posed for Poppies. Between 1898 and 1903, between his long stays in Italy, Weiss regularly returned to this village and painted the surrounding landscapes.
The Two Faces of Stańczyk: Surprising Aspects of 19th-Century Polish Painting
19th century polish painters
Many of them were landscape studies without any symbolic meaning, but Poppies belonged – alongside Gazebo and Shoal – to the series of compositions crowning this period of his work, in which the views of Strzyżów were saturated with a narrative-expressive element. Contrary to Melancholic or Student, it is no longer the background that complements the psychological portrait, but it is the staffage which emphasises the meaning of the landscape as the latter dominates the composition. This theme in Weiss’s oeuvre commenced a dozen or so years earlier with Boy against the River. It also heralds the characteristic approach to the nude visible in Poppies – we can see a pale, lean, ‘Gothic’ body, which in the art of the turn of the century would become a new canon.
In this oneiric yet realistic and detailed work, like in the more elaborate Bacchanalia or the dance processions from the same period, Weiss seems to illustrate his own words, reflecting Young Poland’s desire to:
[…] throw off those rags, to shine with the naked beauty. I and nature – we are one.
Finally, Poppies reveal the artist’s great sensitivity to nature. As it was written in Tygodnik Ilustrowany:
[...] the viewer makes discoveries of completely new and before unnoticed beauties in these works, which the artist transposed on the canvas from a bush in front of a rural house, or from a corner of a forest or a meadow.
6 Must-Know Painters of the Young Poland Movement