Lot 17
  • 17

Maksymilian Gierymski

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Maksymilian Gierymski
  • Polish Militiamen
  • signed M. Gierymski and indistinctly dated 187[?] lower left
  • oil on canvas laid on panel
  • 48 by 80cm., 19 by 31½in.


Galerie Commeter, Hamburg
Wilhelm Spangenberg (purchased from the above); thence by descent to the present owners


The canvas has been laid onto wood panel, which is ensuring a stable support. There is a pattern of hairline craquelure overall which appears to be entirely stable, and is primarily visible in the sky and snow-covered roofs (this is faintly visible in the catalogue illustration and is more pronounced in reality). Ultra-violet light reveals scattered thin, carefully-applied strokes of retouching primarily in the roofs of the buildings, in the snow towards the lower framing edge, and in some of the nearby horses and the wall. The painting is clean and ready to hang. Presented in a decorative frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted circa 1872, the present work was inspired both by Maksymilian Gierymski’s personal experience as a Polish insurgent fighting the Russian forces in the January Uprising of 1863,  and by the landscapes of  his homeland, which he revisited with his brother Aleksander in the summers of 1870-72.

Gierymski was a Munich-based painter and draughtsman, and together with Jozef Brandt and his younger brother Aleksander one of the greatest  Polish representatives of the so-called Munich school. He was a precursor of realism in Polish painting of the second half of the 19th century, an artist capable of finding beauty and poetry in the everyday prose of life and the mundane reality of provincial towns, often depicting autumn or winter landscapes or village scenes that constituted backgrounds for tired soldiers passing through them, as in the present work.

Gierymski was the eldest son of a military clerk and member of the Warsaw intelligensia. In 1863 Gierymski, then aged seventeen, joined the Polish insurgents to participated in the January Uprising, during which he most probably fought in the Lublin and Kielce regions. His experiences from this period – the uneven fight of the poorly armed Polish units against the Russian forces, which ended with defeat for the rebels and the subjugation of the Polish nation – left a permanent mark on his psyche.

After the failure of the uprising, Gierymski managed to avoid the Russian authorities’ reprisals and in 1867 received a government scholarship to study fine art at the Munich academy. He befriended Jozef Brand and became a student at the private workshop of the then-famous battle painter Franz Adam.

From around 1869, Gierymski increasingly focused on depicting  military insurgent themes. Despite being strongly influenced by Adam, he never became a battle painter. Having experienced war first hand, Gierymski was not interested in the noise of battle,  or in showing the brutal violence and the heroism of fighting soldiers. Instead he depicted the dull, everyday reality of soldiers – slow marches, horse patrols, stops at poor country farmsteads and forest camps. ‘’His youthful memories from 1863 were coming back to him. He was capable of transferring them to canvases, with an authenticity that moves with the tragic truth about those days. In an analogic way, he created scenes referring to the times of the November Uprising, in which he accentuated not the historical-documentary values but the tiresome, toilsome character of a soldier’s life (A March of Polish Cavalrymen in 1830, around 1869; A Staff Adjutant from the Year 1830, around 1869). Being faithful to his style, he presented Polish insurgents, Russian Cossacks and Austrian hussars similarly. Just as important as the anonymous, nameless figures of soldiers are the landscapes. Most often set in autumn or winter, they constitute not only a background for the depicted events but also the world of the portrayed people which determines the conditions of these people’s fight and their everyday lives.’’ (Ewa Micke-Broniarek, The National Museum in Warsaw, December 2004).

Works such as Polish Militiamen skillfully render an atmosphere of sad reverie tinged with the bitter consciousness of defeat and the lost hopes for regaining independence: 'The world captured on his canvases was most often a warm recollection of his homeland, filtered through the imagination of a realist painter with a masterful technique. Gierymski closely observed his surroundings, he made use of precise sketches and photographs of motifs or posing models, he finished certain details with the precision of a miniaturist, nevertheless his works were never solely imitations of nature but “imitations of the world' born from personal emotions. This representative of the generation of positivists, who had been fascinated with Polish romantic poetry from his childhood days and admired Artur Grottger’s works, was both calmly rational and romantically sensitive and emotional. His artistic stance was characterized by a total lack of ostentation – Gierymski never dramatized, strengthened expression or imposed himself on the viewer; his paintings combine subtlety of form and power of expression, a personal contemplative approach to nature and faithfulness in the reproduction of nature'.