The Great Painters

Piotr Michałowski

- painter of Polish Romanticism

Piotr Michałowski

Self-portrait (after 1849), Wikipedia

Piotr Michałowski 


Surely a few people could share a biography. A landowner, an efficient host, a clerk, a statesman. His true passion was painting - but he preferred civic and economic responsibilities to private passions. In painting, he was practically self-taught, which is why his paintings are so brave, devoid of academic routine. That is why Michałowski's art - alongside Chopin's music and Mickiewicz's poetry - is the most beautiful expression of Polish Romanticism.




Piotr Michałowski


(2 July) Piotr Michałowski, son of Józef Michałowski and Tekla from Morsztyn, was born in Kraków


At the age of 14 he passed the public maturity exam, giving a one-hour speech in Latin... He began his studies at the Jagiellonian University: natural sciences, mathematics and foreign languages.



He continued his studies in Göttingen: law and political science. Drawing was a fun activity, although already then his sketches of horses and troops were gaining recognition


 He became head of the Metallurgical Department and mining councilor. He had little time for art - although during his business trips he found time to visit the gallery. In his free time, encouraged by his family, he painted amateurishly.


During the November Uprising he organised the production of weapons for the insurgents. In February that year he married Julia Ostrowska.


After the defeat of the uprising, he had to flee. He went to Paris, where he began regular painting lessons in N. Charlet's studio. Piotr Michałowski has not been keeping up with the orders, his decorative watercolours with horses and sledges are very popular.


his sick father called on him to return and take over the farm. Piotr Michałowski does not hesitate for a moment to put his commitment to his family before his artistic career.

Piotr Michałowski


Portrait of a peasant in a hat (around 1846) Wikipedia


After his father's death in April, Piotr Michałowski takes over the estate in Krzysztoforzyce. The stay in the countryside opened another innovative stage in Piotr Michałowski's art. He painted in the open air and his paintings were posed for by local residents: peasants, beggars, Jews.


a return to France, travel abroad, plans for a full return to painting


However, the Spring of Nations and the revolution in Galicia forced him to return. Piotr Michałowski became head of the Administrative Council of the Krakow District. Once again, the citizen of Michałowski won over the artist.


He organized help for fire victims in the great fire of Krakow in 1850, initiated the establishment of a care centre for neglected boys. On this occasion, 4 of his works were put up for charity auction - it was the first public show of his paintings in the country.


Piotr Michałowski was experiencing a recurrence of heart disease, which first appeared several years earlier, after his daughter's death. He died of a heart attack on 9 June in Krzysztoforzyce. He was bid farewell to the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow by crowds of inhabitants.

Interesting facts:

The first biography...
The first biography of Piotr Michałowski was written by his daughter Celina. One of Piotr's seven children, who inherited her father's painting talent but chose monastic life. Piotr Michałowski's biography was published anonymously in 1911.
Piotr Michałowski also tried his hand at sculpture. Two works have survived: a self-portrait and a horse statue of Napoleon cast in bronze, which can be seen in the National Museum in Krakow.
In Charlet's studio, Piotr Michałowski painted not only faithful copies but also free travesties of Géricault's paintings ("A horse with a cart loaded with plaster"). The style of both painters is sometimes so similar that years later there were mistakes in attribution. Michałowski's self-portrait from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen was long regarded as the work of a French Romantic.

Piotr Michałowski rarely dated, reworked and painted on abandoned compositions. In "Cardinal" from under a red cape, called mucet, the face of a country girl arranged horizontally clearly shines through.

During his stay in Paris, Piotr Michałowski visited not only the Louvre but also the abattoirs in Paris... to study horse anatomy. He was such an outstanding animalist that on the basis of his works it is possible to precisely determine the breed of the horses, cattle and pets portrayed.
Piotr Michałowski

Portrait of the artist's daughter Celina on horseback (about 1853), Wikipedia

About the art of Piotr Michałowski:

Michałowski was one of the first Polish artists to "discover" the countryside as a painting theme, and certainly the first to materialise these interests in high-class works of art".
 – Jan K. Ostrowski. Jego: „Starzec siedzący na stopniach”, mrużący w słońcu oczy krzysztoforzycki dziad przypomina antyczny posąg filozofa.

He often dressed the surrounding peasants in knightly armour or cardinal red and painted knights, cardinals. The brilliant "Cardinal", formerly known as "The Man in the Birette", is a painting dialogue with the masterpiece of Velázquez - the image of Pope Innocent X.

"Relatives who visited his house, wandering old people, old soldiers, hospitably bandaged, often left wonderful faces on the walls of the paint shop, and during their free time around the earth the beautiful people of Krakow often provided beautiful patterns"
 – Celina Michałowska, the artist's daughter.

Piotr Michałowski

Charge in the Somosierra Gorge (around 1837), Wikipedia

Piotr Michałowski

Koński targ Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Wiedeń, Wikipedia

Apart from Napoleon's legend, Piotr Michałowski's favourite period is the 17th century - the Sarmatian era of great hetmans and victorious wars. The painting "Stefan Czarniecki on horseback" will give Michałowski the opinion of a precursor of impressionism.

"He dreamt of the Hetman Hall, he would like to have it within the walls of the renovated Krakow Castle and advise him to decorate it with portraits on horses the natural size of our warriors and chiefs"
 – Celina Michałowska, the artist's daughter.

Piotr Michałowski is an outstanding animalist, and the horse is his favourite model. Already in the Montfaucon slaughterhouse in Paris, the artist is studying the horse's anatomy: the system of bones, muscles and tendons.
"He never bought a horse so that he would not draw it first, and then he saw the slightest shortage, because he knew by heart, like no veterinarian, the right place for the slightest muscle and, after such an attempt, he sometimes gave up buying it".
 – Celina Michałowska, the artist's daughter.

With its visionary, dynamic style, it was ahead of the era, so it was not really discovered until the 20th century. The young Matejko (1838-1893) supposedly appreciated the "furious technique" of his paintings. The dynamics of the composition, dramatic light and shade and the bravado of the paintbrush, fully reflecting the atmosphere of the battle, made Piotr Michałowski an outstanding battleman. However, by his contemporaries, Michałowski was appreciated mainly as a skilful draughtsman, his sketches were admired by Juliusz Kossak (1824-1899), founder of the artistic Kossak dynasty - painters of horses and battle scenes.

"The main feature of Michałowski's life was to be ahead of his time".
 – Tytus Czyżewski

Piotr Michałowski in Museums:

Piotr Michałowski
galeria marzeń

Warsaw - National Museum - Museum of Literature - Ciechanowiecki Collections Foundation in the Royal Castle.

You can admire there, among others..:
„Portret Wojewody Antoniego Ostrowskiego” namalowany ok. 1824
„Stajenny kiełzający perszerony” namalowany 1845-1848
„Apoteoza Napoleona” namalowany ok. 1846
„Autoportret” namalowany po 1849
„Portret córki artysty Celiny na koniu” namalowany ok. 1853
„Studium chłopca wiejskiego” bez daty
„Napoleon na wspiętym koniu” bez daty
„Defilada przed Napoleonem” bez daty


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Wrocław National Museum - Ossoliński National Institute.

You can admire there, among others.
„Napoleon konno wydający rozkazy” namalowany ok. 1835-37


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  • Paris - Louvre
  • Liege – Musée Curtius
  • Rouen – Musée des Beaux-Arts
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  • Lviv - Lviv Art Gallery

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

„Gipsiarnia” namalowany ok. 1832-34
„Studium łba końskiego i pancerza” namalowany 1832-1833
„Somosierra” namalowany ok. 1835-1837
„Jazda austriacka” namalowany w 1836
„Starzec siedzący na stopniach” namalowany ok. 1837-1840
„Starzec siedzący na tle urwiska” namalowany ok. 1837-1840
„Studium chłopca żydowskiego” namalowany 1840-1848
„Somosierra” namalowany po 1843
„Przejazd artylerii przez rzekę” namalowany ok. 1844
„Somosierra” namalowany ok. 1844-1855
„Żydzi” namalowany 1845-1855
„Wiarus” namalowany w 1846
„Łeb siwego konia” namalowany ok. 1846
„Seńko” namalowany ok. 1846-1848
„Kardynał” namalowany ok. 1846-1848
„Oddział huzarów austriackich” namalowany po 1850
„Studium białego psa” bez daty
„Studium brodatego chłopa” bez daty
„Krakusi” bez daty
„Stefan Czarniecki na koniu” bez daty
„Rycerz na gniadym koniu” bez daty
„Hetman Stanisław Jabłonowski” bez daty
„Studium starego chłopa” bez daty


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Other Polish cities:

  • Biała Podlaska – Muzeum Południowego Podlasia
  • Białystok – Muzeum Podlaskie
  • Gdańsk – Muzeum Narodowe
  • Katowice – Muzeum Śląskie
  • Kielce – Muzeum Narodowe
  • Lublin – Muzeum Lubelskie
  • Poznań – Muzeum Narodowe
  • Przemyśl – Muzeum Narodowe Ziemi Przemyskiej
  • Radom – Muzeum im. Jacka Malczewskiego
  • Rzeszów – Muzeum Okręgowe
  • Szczecin – Muzeum Narodowe
  • Tarnów – Muzeum Okręgowe
  • Toruń – Muzeum Okręgowe

Piotr Michałowski 


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Piotr Michałowski