Aleksander Gierymski, Widok Paryża

The exhibition “Early Art. XIX Century, Modernism, the Interwar Period” at DESA Unicum

It’s a celebration for art lovers. At DESA Unicum in Warsaw you can see the exhibition ‘Early Art. The 19th Century, Modernism, the Interwar Period’. The exhibition combines three important anniversaries and presents works by the greatest Polish artists. Among others, works by Malczewski, Gierymski and Podkowiński.

In April 1874, the Parisian public got its first glimpse of a groundbreaking trend that was to change European art forever. The Impressionists wanted to depict the fast pace of modern life with violent brushstrokes, but attached more importance to the painter’s subjective perception than to a realistic representation of reality. French Impressionism grew in popularity over the following decades, inspiring artists across Europe. Running until 13 June, the exhibition ‘Early Art. XIX Century, Modernism, the Interwar Period’ at DESA Unicum is proof that in Poland this trend has also gained some outstanding representatives.

The exhibition “Sztuka Dawna. XIX wiek, Modernizm, Międzywojnie” exhibition

Impressionism as a trend in art originated in France in the second half of the 19th century and was not initially well received by the public. The first Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Cézanne or Sisley and Morisot, were not yet labelled as such at the time and faced incomprehension and exclusion from the art world. It took several years for the new trend to enter the salons.

Impressionism was brought to Poland by two prominent artists: Józef Pankiewicz and Władysław Podkowiński, and although it lasted a relatively short time in our country, we cannot underestimate its influence on domestic art. Many Polish painters did not consider themselves to be Impressionists and are not today qualified as its representatives, but they often created under the influence of this direction and drew fully from it in some of their works.

French Impressionism in the Polish edition

For painters of the Impressionist era, modern forms of leisure became an important theme. Promenades or picnics appear in the paintings of Monet and Renoir, but also in the work of Władysław Podkowiński, posthumously christened artiste maudit (“the accursed artist”). In his garden scenes in the Polish countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of Warsaw, Podkowiński created modern arcades. He emphasised the carefree leisure time by using joyful and luminous colours in his paintings.

One of the most important breakthroughs in Polish art during modernism is connected with the artistic activity of Władysław Podkowiński, who, together with Józef Pankiewicz, created the painting avant-garde at the dawn of modernism around 1890. The artists, having visited Paris in 1889, inaugurated a new direction in art in Warsaw. Odpoczynek w ogrodzie (Rest in the Garden) by Podkowiński ,presented at the DESA Unicum exhibition ,is one of a series of paintings depicting garden views in which the inspiration of the French trend is visible at first glance, says Michał Szarek, DESA Unicum expert.

Jan Gotard, portrait of Władysław Grabski

Impressionist motifs can also be found in the work of Aleksander Gierymski, an artist underestimated in his time, who – unable to find a place for himself in his native Warsaw – left for Paris in 1890, where he remained for the next three years. Gierymski was constantly preoccupied with the issues of light and colour, which was the main theme of his French works. The ‘View of Paris’, presented at the DESA Unicum exhibition, is one of the largest landscapes from this group. The painting depicts urban life in Gierymski’s characteristic way, in which the artist, as a passer-by, recorded the busy space of a Parisian street as if through the lens of a camera.

Muses of Jacek Malczewski

The last decade of the 19th century was marked in Polish painting by plein-air and impressionism – there is no artist who did not succumb to the dominance of light at this time. Both painters considered to be Expressionists, such as Ferdynand Ruszczyc or Konrad Krzyżanowski, and Symbolists, including Jacek Malczewski, known as the father of Polish Symbolism, drew on the experience of the French movement. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth and 95th anniversary of his death, the exhibition at DESA Unicum features as many as four works by Jacek Malczewski. This is a real treat for both art lovers and collectors.

Although we would not include Malczewski among the Impressionists, he too was not indifferent to their influence. The painter’s imaginative world is a fascinating and magical land filled with the strangest creatures. In his paintings, the artist reproduces both good creatures, such as gentle pegasi or graceful satyrs, and predatory demons – chimeras, jellyfish and harpies. The reality created by Malczewski is a fusion of epoch-making events and fears shown under the mask of myths and legends. Theexhibition at DESA Unicum presents as many as 4 works by this outstanding artist, including a sizeable painting entitled ‘At the Source of Truth ‘,” adds Michał Szarek.

Measuring more than 1.4 metres high and almost a metre wide, the work illustrates the extraordinary richness of Jacek Malczewski’s symbolic imagination. “At the Source of Truth” depicts a woman sitting on boulders – a mythical goddess – to whom the artist gave the features of Mary Ball, his lover and muse at the time. The woman holds a clay jug in her hands, from which a trickle of water flows, feeding a spring located in the rocky recesses at the bottom of the composition. In turn, a thirsty young faun draws water from it.

Another work worth mentioning is Landscape with a Horse Rider (View of the Roman Theatre in Aspendos), devoid of the symbolic elements so characteristic of the artist. The work was created under the influence of a trip to Asia Minor in 1884, a source of experience, observations and experiences for the thirty-year-old artist that shaped his subsequent painting journey. It was there, surrounded by ancient architecture and ubiquitous references to Greek mythology, that the figures of mermaids, jellyfish, fauns and chimeras, which dominated the later work of the leading Polish symbolist, were born in his artistic consciousness.

Impressionism, symbolism and modernism at the exhibition at DESA Unicum

The exhibition ‘Early Art. Nineteenth Century, Modernism, the Interwar Period’ is a cross-sectional exhibition bringing together as many as 45 works by some of Poland’s most distinguished painters. In connection with the jubilee anniversary of Impressionism, celebrated worldwide, the exhibition includes artists whose work is clearly inspired by the French movement: Władysław Ślewiński, Julian Fałat, Jan Cybis or Stanisław Żukowski. Another interesting motif is the Orientalist one, represented by the brothers Adam and Tadeusz Styka and Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz.

The exhibition at DESA Unicum ‘Early Art. XIX Century, Modernism, Interwar” is open to the public until 13 June. Admission is free.

Exhibition coordinators: Michał Szarek, Julia Słupecka

Exhibition ‘Old Art. 19th Century, Modernism, Interwar”: 24.05-13.06.2024

Auction: 13.06.2024, 19:00, DESA Unicum auction house, 1A Piękna Street, Warsaw

The full range of works is available at this address.

source: DESA Unicum(

Read also: Art | Furniture | Bauhaus | Interesting facts | Featured | whiteMAD on Instagram

Latest content on the site

Beauty is all around you