Henryk Siemiradzki is an outstanding Russian painter of Polish origin of the 19th century, a recognized master of historical and religious genres. Henryk Siemiradzki is most famous for his large-scale paintings on ancient and biblical subjects, as well as for the creation of massive curtains for the stages of opera houses in Lvov and Krakow. The master’s biography is closely connected with Rome, and the best masterpieces of his work are now kept in museums in Russia, Ukraine and Poland.
Henryk Siemiradzki was one of the most famous representatives of academicism in European painting of his time. Unfortunately, many of his works, including the unique murals of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, created by the great master, were irretrievably lost for posterity.
Biography of Henryk Siemiradzki
Henryk Semiradsky was born on October 12, 1843 in the settlement of Novo-Belgorod, Kharkov province, in the family of an officer of the Russian army. The parents of the future artist were Poles and zealous Catholics, they honored the heritage of their ancestors and communicated with their children in their native language.
Henry received his primary education at the Kharkov gymnasium. Here, under the influence of the teacher of drawing Dmitry Besperchy (a student of Karl Bryullov), he became interested in painting and wanted to become an artist, but his father was categorically against such a choice of profession. Submitting to the will of his parent, at the age of 17, the young man entered Kharkov University at the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics and studied at the university for four years. But secretly from his father, he continued to attend drawing lessons from Besperchy.
Having received his initial degree in 1864, the young man flatly refused to continue his studies and, having quarreled with his father, left for the Russian capital to enter the Imperial Academy of Arts. But the charter of this educational institution forbade the enrollment of persons over 20 years old, so Henry had to become an auditor. The next two years were the most difficult financially for Siemiradzki. He did not take money from his parents, and he had to pay for tuition and rent. Heinrich earned money for study and food, painting miniature portraits and other small orders. He stubbornly wanted to become an artist and moved towards the intended goal, conscientiously attending classes.
In 1866, Semiradsky finally became a student of the Academy when his application was approved by the Council. For five years of study, Henry received many prestigious awards, and at the end of this period he was assigned a pension for a trip abroad at public expense. In August 1871, the master left St. Petersburg and went to Europe. First he visited Krakow, then he went to Munich and Dresden, and finally came to Italy. After short trips to Florence and Naples, Henryk Siemiradzki rented a studio in Rome and settled for a long time in the Eternal City. In 1873 he married his distant relative Maria Prushinskaya. In marriage, he had four children three sons and a daughter.
Since the early 1870s, the painter lived most of the year in the capital of Italy. Only occasionally did he make trips to Russia and European countries, and spent the summer months at his own estate near Warsaw. Every year Henryk Semiradsky sent his works to St. Petersburg for an academic exhibition, which invariably received prestigious awards. Tsar Alexander III was a great admirer of the master’s work, willingly buying up his works. Despite wide recognition among the academic public, Semiradsky’s work was often ridiculed by a significant part of the painters of the Russian Empire. His works were mercilessly criticized by the Itinerants, and Pavel Tretyakov basically did not buy a single painting, since he did not recognize him as a national Russian artist.
And yet, by the end of the 19th century, Henryk Siemiradzki had become one of the most authoritative and respected masters of European classical painting. He was recognized as a full member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, Stockholm, Rome, Paris and Turin, and at international exhibitions, the artist’s works constantly received the highest awards. In addition to painting, the painter devoted a lot of time to decorative painting, created frescoes and large-scale panels for palaces and temples.
The brilliant career of the artist ended at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the fall of 1901, doctors diagnosed him with tongue cancer. The disease progressed rapidly and on August 23, 1902, Henryk Siemiradzki died on his estate near Warsaw. At first, his body was buried in the cemetery next to the graves of his parents. But a year later the remains were transferred to Krakow, to the Tomb of great Polish cultural figures.
The most famous paintings by Henryk Siemiradzki
Among the many large-scale works of the famous painter, it is difficult to single out a few of the best. And yet, among the most famous paintings by Henryk Siemiradzki are:
- The Sinner (1873) is a work on biblical themes, in which the artist skillfully used the plein air effects of chiaroscuro. For this painting, the master received the first international medal at an exhibition in Vienna.
- “Lights of Christianity. Torches of Nero ”(1876) a large-scale work dedicated to the persecution of Christians in ancient Rome. The painter depicted the martyrs on the eve of a monstrous execution burning alive in the presence of a cruel ruler.
- Dance Among Swords (1881) a painting in which a beautiful naked woman surrounded by musicians and spectators is depicted against the background of a Mediterranean landscape. In 2011, an unknown philanthropist bought it at the Sotheby’s auction for a record price for the artist’s works more than 2 million.
- “Phryne at the Feast of Poseidon in Eleusis” (1889) is a multi-figured composition praising the beauty of the famous model of the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles. In addition to the beautiful nudity, the artist was able to skillfully display the charming nature of Ancient Greece on canvas.
Henryk Siemiradzki is rightfully one of the best representatives of European academicism. The artist, who lived most of his life in Rome, will forever remain in the memory of his descendants as both a great Russian and a unique Polish painter.