Feel Art Again Returns: Henryk Siemiradzki

Andréa Fernandes

Yesterday marked the 108th anniversary of the death of Henryk Siemiradzki (1843-1902), a Polish painter known for his Graeco-Roman and New Testament scenes. We'll kick off a new season of "Feel Art Again" with an overview of this talented Polish Academician.

1. Although Henryk Siemiradzki's passion was his art, he was also a talented scientist. Under pressure from his family, like so many artists, Siemiradzki studied in the Physics-Mathematics School of Kharkov University, graduating with the degree of Kandidat. (The degree of Kandidat is a post-graduate scientific degree that is roughly equivalent to a Master of Science or a PhD, depending on who you ask.)

2. In 1872, Siemiradzki heard of the Vesuvius eruption and traveled to Naples (he was already in Italy, having visited Verona, Venice, and Florence) to see "this extraordinary phenomenon." He found inspiration for his art at Pompeii, which he described as a "sole and rich mine" that delivers artistic inspiration "in large amount." He would return to Pompeii several times; his "Night at Pompeii" was painted almost 10 years after his first visit to the site.

3. Siemiradzki, a Catholic, was honored in 1876 with a request from the Holy Synod to work on frescoes for the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. He completed a cycle of murals focusing on the life of Alexander Nevsky, a Russian saint, as well as scenes from Christ's life. Vasily Surikov, previously featured on "Feel Art Again," was among the leading Russian artists also working on the Cathedral. Unfortunately, all the artwork was destroyed in 1931 when the Soviets demolished the Cathedral to build a monument to socialism, the Palace of the Soviets.

4. "Pochodnie Nerona (Åšwieczniki ChrzeÅ›cijaÅ„stwa)," translated as "Nero's Torches (Leading Light of Christianity)," was painted in 1876. As a result of that painting (shown above), Siemiradzki received the title of professor from the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts and was accepted into the Legion of Honour. Three years later he gifted the painting to the newly established Polish National Museum in Krakow.

5. Just last year, in April 2009, a rare Siemiradzki painting entitled "The Patrician's Siesta" sparked a fierce bidding war at auction. The painting's top estimate was $100,000, but it managed to bring in more than $1 million ($1,078,000 to be precise) for Contra Costa Hospice in California.

A larger version of "Nero's Torches" is available here. Fans should check out the collections of Siemiradzki's work at the Art Renewal Center, the Gallery of Polish Painting Masterpieces, and Wikimedia; "Princess Marie Lubomirska" at the Detroit Institute of Arts; "Imitating the Gods" at the National Gallery of Armenia; and "Cremation of Pagan Chief" at the New York Public Library. "Feel Art Again" appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.