Malczewski painting goes for record 6.7 mln PLN at auction
An ‘unseen’ masterpiece by Polish painter Jacek Malczewski that has remained hidden from public sight since he painted it in 1922 was sold at auction yesterday for an art market record.
Bidding for The Spinner started at PLN 1.7 million to finally go under the hammer at Agra-Art Auction House in Warsaw for just over PLN 6.7 million, a record the artist.
The huge 175.5 cm x 211 cm canvas, in which the artist as an old man depicted one of his favourite muses Michalina Janoszanka, has remained in the same family for just under 100 years since being bought directly from the artist's studio.
Its presale display in the auction house was the first time it has ever been shown to the public. Until then, it has only been known to art experts from a poor-quality pre-war reproduction.
Now that the painting has finally emerged, art experts are saying that it will become recognised as one of the most important of the Polish master’s works, rivalling even his flagship canvas ‘Melancholy’.
“It will undoubtedly become one of the most frequently cited works by the artist from the last period of his creativity,” the auction house said.
The previous record for a Malczewski painting was also broken at the Agra-Art Auction House in March 2020. Then, the work Artist and Chimera was sold for PLN 3.658 million including the auction fee.
Agra-Art put yesterday’s record sale price down to the monumental size of the canvas as well as its saturation with symbolism, characteristic of Jacek Malczewski's style, which “make this work one of the most important in the last period the works of this outstanding Polish painter,” according to the auctioneers.
Monika Bryl, an art historian at Agra Art, said: “The painting depicting a spinning wheel in the painter's studio can be interpreted similarly to ‘Melancholy’ - the artist's flagship work - as a statement about the fate of man, art and creativity, and the homeland.”
The painting depicts the painter and writer Michalina Janoszanka who is posing as a spinner at a spinning wheel.
She was a friend of Malczewski's daughter Julia and knew him from an early age, spending a lot of time with him in the last period of his life.
She became a very close confidant, friend, and above all a favourite model. Art historian Stefania Krzysztofowicz-Kozakowska wrote about the relationship: “he was for her (...) the ideal of an artist and a human being, (...) one of the greatest contemporary Poles,” while for Malczewski she was a “soul mate, a friendly spirit, a sister, a child”.
She met him when she was still a child, and grew up worshiping the artist. She spent time in his studios, watching the master paint. She listened to his confessions and accompanied him to the theatre.
In her memoir, Janoszanka writes that Malczewski painted her twice as the Spinner. She also appears in other well-known works by the artist.
For The Spinner, Malczewski placed Janoszanka in his studio, most likely in the building of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków on Matejko Square in Krakow.
The year before Malczewski painted The Spinner, he had resigned as a professor of the academy, but he still kept his studio.
Many props can be seen in the painting that are typical in Malczewski's work – musical instruments, a scythe and a suit of armour.
In the middle of the spacious studio sits Janoszanka wearing army clothing.
The painting appears in the background of another of Malczewski’s paintings, the Portrait of Mieczysław Gąsecki in the Studio, also from 1922.
In it Gąsecki listens attentively to a figure standing next to him, possibly Janoszanka.
The existing auction record in Poland belongs to Wojciech Fangor's painting M22, which in December 2020 was sold for over PLN 7.3 million.