From the late 17th century till the end of the First World War in 1918, many parts of Poland were under the Russian rule. While the Poles never accepted the term ‘Russian Poland’, claiming that Poland was always Polish, the Russians, too, weren’t quite happy with it. As far as they were concerned, Poland had ceased to exist, and those lands were, indeed, Russian. But as with the Finns, living under the imperial yoke meant making adjustments. One of them was the realisation that much of the artistic elite of the empire was concentrated in St Petersburg. So young and artistic Poles would find themselves in the capital, making their way in the world.
One such Pole was Władysław Podkowiński (1866 – 1895). Born in Warsaw, his early art education was in his native town. At the age of 21, he proceeded to the St Petersburg Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. The following year, he returned to Warsaw, where he became an illustrator for a local publication. It was after a trip to Paris in 1889 that his interest in Impressionism began. Suffering from tuberculosis, his short life ended scarcely six years later.
Podkowiński is credited with the introduction of Impressionism into Polish art. Whereas he did not consider his early works seriously (he looked upon his landscapes as a hobby), he was profoundly influenced by Claude Monet’s oeuvre, which propelled his artistic development. Towards the end of his life, he switched to Symbolism.
Podkowiński’s works were executed mainly in oils as well as watercolour. He also painted several portraits. His most famous work is the Frenzy of Exultations (1894), a Symbolist piece, which caused a scandal upon exhibition. It depicted a nude red-headed woman on an unsaddled rearing horse. Supposedly inspired by unrequited love, it was displayed in public only for thirty-seven days, after which Władysław Podkowiński arrived with a knife and cut it up for reasons unknown. It was restored after his death.