The National Art Gallery in Sopot is holding an exhibition that every Arabian horse enthusiast should make time for – „The Kossaks” will be on display until October 2nd. The exhibition is fascinating if only for the concept itself – the putting together of the achievements of the entire talented Kossak family. We can see not only the works of the famous Juliusz, but also his lesser known brother Leon, his son Wojciech and two grandsons, Karol and Jerzy. The authors of the exhibition also did not forget about Juliusz’s granddaughters who took up writing – the poet Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, called Lilka, as well as writers Magdalena Samozwaniec and Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. As Bogusław Deptuła writes in the impressive in terms of size and graphic scope catalogue: „It seems while the males in this family had a talent for painting, the females were natural-born writers”.
However what most interests Arabian aficionados are of course the images of Arabian horses by Juliusz. And there are quite a lot of those. The curator of the exhibition, art historian Stefania Krzysztofowicz-Kozakowska, emphasizes in the catalogue’s foreword: „Arabian horses played a particularly important role in the painting of Juliusz Kossak, embodying the very ideals of Romanticism the romanticism of nature and romantic independence (…) Juliusz Kossak was a true master in the way he depicted his beloved subjects – horses. Initially he painted them in rather stiff postures, although he always managed to incorporate their characteristic features, which are clear to see, for example, in the portraits of Abugejl, Abiad, Gazela, Kogeilan, Carogród and Szaytanka. (…) The next stage in the artist’s development was depiction of horses incorporated into elaborate, emotional scene; with their complex movements and use of perspective, the horses filled those compositions with a lively gallop, tumult and motion”. Carogród and Szaytanka are paintings that we will not see at the exhibition – they are the property of the Local Museum in Tarnów and did not come to Sopot. But there are plenty other works, just as interesting.
Portraits of Arabians can be found already upon entrance, at the beginning of the exhibition which takes up two storeys. There is the „Arabian horse before a race” (1845) – his caretaker, probably trainer, as he is wearing a high hat, holds the horse with one hand and in the other a bottle, out of which he must have taken a large sip a moment ago. Now he is spitting on the horse’s muzzle, while the animal is trying to back out. What kind of ritual could that be? What kind of doping? Further on we come across „Sketch of Gazela Horse” (1845-1850), where the maestro portrayed a straight Egyptian flea-bitten mare – one that we could find in Egypt today: pink, painted nostrils, an eye with visible whites, a long neck, a high set tail. The mare is lean, with visible ribs under her skin, just like the main character of another watercolor from that period of Juliusz’s works: „Sketch of Zagara Horse”. Here the mare Zagara is accompanied by a foal and Bedouin, who is watering his charge. Superb is „An Arab on a Galloping Horse”, with a barefoot warrior ready to shoot, sitting on a mount who is literally flying over the desert and over a skeleton of one of his companions, fallen in previous battles. Completely unique is a series of 12 charts – descriptions of horses from the stud of Erazm Wolański in Pauszówka (1850). On each of them we can read about the breeding career of the horse, the years that the mare remained barren, when she produced a foal and by which stallion. A wonderful tit-bit and at the same time a historic document.
My favorite work was also not omitted – „Herd of Horses. Dionizy Trzeciak’s Stud” (1879). Once more you can count the amount of foals in this herd – there is definitely seven and it appears that the breeder, portrayed on the side talking to a villager, was pleased with the produce.
Another work, „Horses at a Watering Place” (1857), is commented by critic Monika Małkowska („Rzeczpospolita”, 12.07) that it is the proof of the author’s artistry: „Various equine coat colors, various head settings, ear settings, tail settings… An entire palette of equine behavior”.
The exhibition’s curator sums up the output of Juliusz by a quote from Stanisław Witkiewicz*: „His talents and skills are remarkable, his creative efforts and the immense scope of work involved never cease to amaze, while the strength and vitality of his abilities appear to be endless, like a flame that burns until the very last moments of his life, until his final breath, with the same unstoppable energy and brilliance that have always made his art so fresh and youthful”.
The exhibition is a special celebration for all horsemen (and women) – as we know and as we once again find out, Juliusz painted not only pure bred Arabians. His descendants, continuers of the family tradition, also chose equines, though not necessarily Arabians, as their artistic topics. Hunts, battles, portraits, historic scenes, genre scenes… Especially one of the portraits by Wojciech can be of interest to Arabian lovers: „Portrait of Stanisław Wodzicki” (1928). If not for the signature and the time that it was created, we could easily mistake it for one of the known Polish breeders, a colorful persona in this community.
* Stanisław Witkiewicz (1851-1915), Polish painter, architect, writer and art theorist.