The Great Painters

Jan Matejko

- the most outstanding painter of Polish history

Jan Matejko
Self-portrait, 1892, Wikipedia

Jan Matejko (1838-1893)

One of the most highly regarded painters in the history of Polish art, the founder of the National School of Historical Painting, which was to play a special role in a state deprived of sovereignty. Showing the former greatness of the Republic of Poland and the glory of its arms, Matejko wanted to shape the hearts and minds of Poles, to resurrect faith in the rebirth of an independent homeland. He played a great role as director of the Cracow School of Fine Arts. He educated several dozen painters, painted several hundred pictures and shaped the imagination of Poles. He was one of the most outstanding European painters of the second half of the 19th century.






Jan Matejko


(24 June) Jan Alojzy Matejko, son of Franciszek Ksawery (a Czech who came to Poland around 1807) and Janina Karolina Rossberg (daughter of the Cracow saddler, who died when Jan was only 7 years old) were born in Cracow. The artist was the ninth of 11 children. They lived in two rooms, in a family tenement house on Floriańska Street.


persuaded by his older son Franciszek, the father placed Jan in the School of Fine Arts. In order to have money for painting supplies, 14-year-old Jan was making "chałtury" (he painted signs, coloured photographs). It was not until 1857 that he could buy himself glasses and throw away the glass that he was drawing with his eye.



at the first painting exhibition in Cracow he was delighted with Rodakowski's paintings and Michałowski


He continued to learn painting in Munich. Apart from studying history, he took up Matejko's preparatory studies in horse painting, reminiscent of his earlier ones, carried out by Piotr Michałowski


He rented a studio on Krupnicza Street in Krakow and started selling his paintings. The studio was so cramped that larger paintings had to be rolled up and painted piece by piece.


Friends and two brothers of Jan Matejko joined the January Uprising, he hesitated, but he couldn't use his weapon and saw badly. He helped the insurgents materially and brought weapons to the insurgent camp Langiewicz


at the age of 26 he had an unprecedented success with the picture "Sermon of Complaint". The crowds were coming down to the exhibition to watch a painting that resounded with the patriotic atmosphere after the Uprising, whose causes of defeat everyone was looking for. Jan Matejko allocated the entrance income for orphans. That year he married Teodora Giebułtowska, who was his muse - almost all female characters in his paintings have her face.


A trip to Paris, where the "Sermon of the Complaint" was presented as part of the Salon and won a gold medal. That year, the artist became a father


"Rejtan" was shown in Paris and Jan Matejko received a gold medal of the first class at the Universal Exhibition


Jan Matejko received honorary citizenship of Lviv and founded 2 scholarships: for a Pole and a Ruthenian (Ukrainian) to study art. After painting the "Lublin Union", he was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour in Paris.

Jan Matejko
Vernyhora, 1883,-84, Wikipedia


 bought the house where he was born. That year, he and his wife traveled to Turkey


his older brother Francis (a historian) died, who supported him materially and intellectually and had a great influence on the formation of the psyche of the future painter


Jan Matejko bought a manor farm in Krzesławice, where he built a school that still exists today with his own funds. He was struggling with family problems: his mentally ill wife and children who did not want to learn. Despite financial problems, he was generous. Apart from scholarships, he also offered a series of masterpieces to the nation, whose commercial value, already then, was enormous


triumphant journey through Warsaw, Malbork and Gdańsk to the vicinity of the Battle of Grunwald


the success of the "Battle of Grunwald". Krakow offers him a scepter as a sign of reign in art. The artist travels to Italy


Emperor Franz Joseph visits the artist's studio during his stay in Krakow and receives a gift of "Reunion near Vienna".


The Kleparski Square was named Matejko Square (here the artist gave up a plot of land for free for the construction of the new building of the School of Fine Arts).


he started working on polychromy for St. Mary's Church, his helpers were: Wyspiański, Mehoffer, Tetmajer, Maszkowski, Lisiecki; unfortunately, he is getting more and more ill



On October 30 he tried to paint, but had no strength to get to the painting, the next day he got a severe bleeding. Jan Matejko died on November 1 in Krakow at the age of 55. During the funeral, which is attended by the whole Cracow, the Sigismund Bell rings.

Interesting facts:

...he'll never be anything...

There was no indication that he would become a great painter: neither the fact that he was the son of a music teacher, nor the fact that - since his childhood, the short-sighted - to see better, while drawing, he put a glass to his eye... The teachers' breasts claimed that "due to lack of ability, nothing will ever be of him...".


"Stańczyk" endowed with the artist's face has become a patron of political foresight and perspicacity.

Gold Medal

When Emperor Franz Joseph bought the artist's painting at the Universal Exhibition in Paris (where the painting brought John Matejko the gold medal), the painter - according to an anecdote - was supposed to say: "They bought the living, they can buy and they can paint".

42 m2

Jan Matejko was a master of great paintings. The canvas on which he painted "The Battle of Grunwald" has an area of about 42 m2.


The painter's wife, Teodor Giebułtowska, was his muse - almost all female characters in his paintings have her face: royally haughty Bona, lovingly cuddled up in Zygmunt August Barbara, tragic Polonia. Unfortunately, Teodora, as a mentally ill person, ended up in a hospital for the mad.


Jan Matejko fought stubbornly to beautify Krakow and preserve its monuments. He contributed to the renovation of the Cloth Hall and Wawel Castle, fought with the City Council for the preservation of the Gothic buildings of the Holy Spirit, and with the Chapter for leaving the old altar in Wawel Cathedral.

Jan Matejko
Stańczyk (Stańczyk during the ball at Queen Bona's court, when news of the loss of Smolensk comes), 1862, Wikipedia
Jan Matejko
Astronomer Copernicus, or the conversation with God, 1873, Wikipedia
Jan Matejko
The Battle of Grunwald. 1878, Wikipedia

About the art of Jan Matejko:

He was looking for patterns in churches, in books borrowed by his older brother, in the altar of Wit Stwosz. He became an expert in the material culture of the old ages. He "noted" this knowledge by drawing or watercolour, which formed a collection of several thousand sketches, called Skarbczyk. He often helps him with creating illustrations for such items as: "The Polish Kings and Princes" (1890-1892, Jan Matejko made 44 drawings depicting Polish rulers) or the "Album of Clothing in Poland". (1860).

"young Matejko was supposed to be a painter, and he lived in a town where he could not see the paintings. There were some and very beautiful ones, but in private houses".
 – Stanisław Tarnowski


Jan Matejko created great historical visions, requiring solid source research, painted portraits and, for entertainment, drew humorous sketches.

"Matejko has a wonderful brushing skill (...) brings honour to the School of Fine Arts in Cracow".
 – Téophile Gautier (famous writer and critic)

Jan Matejko
Stefan Batory near Pskov, 1872, Wikipedia

Jan Matejko is a specialist in the field of material culture, but he introduces props from different eras when they have the value of a symbol. "The Battle of Grunwald" is full of such allusions and signs. It was outraged that the painter ordered the Grand Master to die at the hands of bollards, not knights. Aleksander Gieysztor explains the intention: "justice is served (...) by the spear of St. Maurice, the Polish monarch insignia, the private and half-naked incarnation of the Polish spirit".

"This painting has no analogy in the European historical painting of the nineteenth century." 
 – Jerzy Malinowskiart historian


Jan Matejko
Rejtan – Upadek Polski, 1866, Wikipedia
Jan Matejko
Alchemist, 1867, Wikipedia

Although"Rejtan" gets a medal in Paris and is bought by Emperor Franz Joseph himself, he is attacked in the country. Matejko is accused of being free to treat history, of showing the collapse of Poland as a disgrace, of making the descendants of aristocratic families sad... Interpretations depending on political opinions prevail over artistic discussion. Jan Matejko himself treats his paintings as a voice in a polemic on the history, present and future of Poland.

"Sermon of the Complaint" - the characters from the painting by Jan Matejko can be identified. Their fate is a fascinating tale of politics, anarchy, power and ambitions of people who have not grown up to play the role they have to play in the state. The artist has achieved an atmosphere of horror, emphasizing the contrast between a motionless, seemingly petrified audience and the dynamically captured figure of an inspired preacher. Thanks to the colours that have a traditional meaning, the viewer immediately senses the extraordinary seriousness of the subject.

In the painting: "Batory under Pskov"the portrait itself is the king. Here, every inch of the painted canvas speaks of power, dignity, a force so natural that it is almost animal.

The painting suffered greatly during World War II: it was taken eastwards, taken over by the Germans, stored in Lviv and evacuated in a hurry in 1944, it was diced into 18 parts... It was renovated for 3 years...

"Throughout the history of art there are few portraits with a similar power of influence to that of King Stefan Batory in Matejko's painting."
 – Ilia Riepinthe great Russian painter

Jan Matejko w Muzeach:

Jan Matejko
Kazanie Skargi, 1864, Wikipedia
galeria marzeń

Krakow - National Museum - Royal Castle. You can admire there, among others..:

„Stańczyk w czasie balu na dworze królowej Bony wobec straconego Smoleńska” namalowany w 1862
„Kazanie Skargi” namalowany w 1864
„Rejtan – upadek Polski” lub „Rejtan na Sejmie Warszawskim” namalowany w 1866
„Wyrok na Matejkę” namalowany w 1867
„Unia lubelska” namalowany w 1869
„Portret trojga dzieci artysty” namalowany w 1870
„Stefan Batory pod Pskowem” namalowany w 1872
„Zawieszenie dzwonu Zygmunta na wieży katedry w Krakowie w roku 1521” namalowany w 1874
„Bitwa pod Grunwaldem” namalowany w 1878
„Portret żony w ślubnej sukni” namalowany w 1879
„Zabójstwo Andrzeja Tęczyńskiego w kościele Franciszkanów w Krakowie” namalowany w 1879
„Portret córki Beaty z kanarkiem” namalowany w 1882
„Portret Bony Ossowieckiej” namalowany w 1890
„Portret Katarzyny Potockiej” namalowany w 1890
„Konstytucja 3 maja 1791 r.” namalowany w 1891
„Portret Henryka Krajewskiego” namalowany w 1892
„Autoportret” namalowany w 1892
galeria marzeń

Other Polish cities:

  • Bydgoszcz: Muzeum Okręgowe
  • Częstochowa: Klasztor OO. Paulinów na Jasnej Górze
  • Katowice: Muzeum Śląskie
  • Poznań: Muzeum Narodowe
  • Wieliczka: Muzeum Żup Solnych
Jan Matejko
Polonia – Rok 1863, (Zakuwana Polska), 1879, Wikipedia
Jacek Malczewski


  • Nowy Jork: Fundacja Kościuszkowska
galeria marzeń


  • Lwów – Lwowska Galeria Obrazów
jan matejko


  • Zagrzeb: Chorwacka Akademia Nauki i Sztuki
jan matejko


  • Budapeszt: Muzeum Sztuk Pięknych
jan matejko


  • Rzym: Muzeum Watykańskie
galeria marzeń

Krakow: National Museum (Jan Matejko's House, Cloth Hall) - Wawel Royal Castle - Jagiellonian University Museum. You can admire there, among others..:

„Żydówka” namalowany w 1856
„Zygmunt I nadaje szlachectwo profesorom Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego” namalowany w 1858
„Portret Marii Matejko – siostry artysty” namalowany w 1859
„Zygmunt August z Barbarą na dworze Radziwiłłowskim w Wilnie” namalowany w 1862
„Polonia – Rok 1863” namalowany w 1863
„Kopernik czyli rozmowa z Bogiem” namalowany w 1873
„Portret Piotra Moszyńskiego” namalowany w 1874
„Portret ojca artysty – Franciszka” namalowany w 1877
„Hołd Pruski” namalowany w 1882
„Wernyhora” namalowany w 1884
„Autoportret” namalowany w 1887
„Portret Stanisława Tarnowskiego” namalowany w 1890
galeria marzeń

Wrocław: National Museum. You can admire there, among others..:

„Carowie Szujscy przed Zygmuntem III” namalowany w 1853
„Hassan topi niewierną żonę” lub „Utopione w Bosforze” namalowany w 1880
„Bolesław Chrobry” namalowany w 1890
„Kazimierz Wielki” namalowany w 1890
„Jadwiga” namalowany w 1890
„Jan III Sobieski” namalowany w 1890
„Władysław Łokietek” namalowany w 1890
„Stanisław August Poniatowski” namalowany w 1890
„Śluby Jana Kazimierza” namalowany w 1893


Jan Matejko


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Jan Matejko
Prussian Homage, 1880-82, Wikipedia