Topics of coins

Józef Chełmoński

Józef Chełmoński’s oeuvre captures the quintessence of the Polish countryside, the realm of its inhabitants, nature and landscape. The artist remained faithful to those themes throughout his lifetime. He grew up in a family estate near Łowicz, and spent the last 25 years of his life in a rural manor house of Kuklówka near Grodzisk Mazowiecki. He studied in Warsaw and Munich, and for a long time he lived in Paris, where he gained both artistic and financial success. While staying in urban parks, he was longing for nature and peasant cottages. He pursued his artistic leitmotifs - farmyards, dashing horse teams, the scenes in front of an inn and in the field, all of this set against the background of the memoryevoked landscapes which he remembered from wandering around Mazovia and trips to Ukraine, Podolia, Lithuania and Polesie.

The works by Chełmoński, known as realistic genre in the Polish painting, go beyond the scope of this categorization. One of his early paintings, Cranes, depicting a crippled bird abandoned by its flock in the foreground, was by 10-20 years ahead of ideas promoted by the symbolists, also because of its colours and original composition. Indian summer - known to all, which triggered the indignation of contemporary critics over the improper topic, was the first depiction of a female peasant not at work, but lying dreamily on the meadow. The girl was a part of nature, as simple as the nature itself, but at the same time full of poetry. Such a vision of the world revealed itself most fully in later work by Chełmoński in which glimpses of the steppe, swampy meadows and forest roads which came from his brush became a vision of spirituality which permeates nature.

Individualism of Chełmoński’s artistic attitude reflected his dislike of the existing stereotypes in imaging, which he rejected, while relying on his own intuition and instincts of a painter. As a human he rebelled against social conventions and artificiality of the salon’s life. He demonstrated his attitude also in his attire - not overly careful, composed of the elements of urban and peasant costumes. Both in art and in life he valued authenticity most of all. The obverse of the coins is a transposition of the left side of the oil painting by Józef Chełmoński Night in Ukraine in winter from 1877. The reverse bears the portrait of Józef Chełmoński, modelled on the image drawn by Leon Wyczółkowski in 1900; the motifs from a painting Cranes by Chełmoński from 1870 in the background.

Urszula Makowska, Ph.D.
Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences