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Jan Matejko

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Poland 1947. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. Polish painters.

Jan Matejko was born in Krakow, the old capital of Poland located in the southern part of the country, on June 24, 1838. After studies 1852-1858 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, he spent some time in Germany and Austria, as well as he travelled to France, Monaco, Italy and Constantinople. 
  • Poland 1970.  Jan Matejko. Self-portrait. 
  • Poland 1947.  Polish Painters (from left to right): Jan Matejko, Jacek Malczewski, and Józef Chelmonski. 
During his lengthy travels his obvious talent for grandiose paintings was discovered by both the public and the art critics.   

In the beginning of his career his style was Realism in the West European sense, but with strong national characteristics, and over time Matejko developed into Poland's greatest historical painter.  

At a time when Poland was partitioned and occupied, his aim was to encourage his countrymen to defend their country by depicting the country's great historical events. 

  • Jan Matejko:  Self-Portrait, executed around 1860, when he was only 32 years old. 

It is quite interesting to compare this self-portrait with the profile on the above stamp.  

Jan Matejko. Painting. Self-portrait.

His most famous painting is undoubtedly the masterpiece "The Battle at Grunwald", executed 1878, and which has been reproduced on stamps a number of times.  It took Matejko three years to complete this painting.  The canvas, brought from France, was one huge piece with no seams, measuring 997 by 426 cm. It is the largest of Matejko's paintings and it is regarded as a masterpiece of battle scene painting. It is -- and was -- a cross-section through a swirling mass of knights and horses intertwined in mortal struggle between the combined Polish, Lithuanian and Tartar forces against the Grand Order of Teutonic Knights.  The painting belongs to the National Art Gallery in Warsaw.  

Please notice that the Grunwald battle has also been painted by another Polish artist, Wojchiech Kossak.  

Jan Matejko: Painting. The Battle at Grunwald.

As mentioned above, the Battle at Grunwald has been issued in stamp format several times.  The difference between the below two engravings is that the Miller-engraving (left) shows the whole panorama, while the Slania-Diploma Work (right) focuses on the center part, which is also highlighted on the original painting. 
Poland 1945. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. The Battle at Grunwald. Czeslaw Slania's engraving of Jan Matejko's painting "The Battle at Grunwald".

Other than the Grunwald-stamps shown on this page, the painting has been the basis for stamps at two more occasions. 

  1. Poland 1945 (Scott # 368), 

  2. Poland 1978 (Scott # 2282), a souvenir sheet at the occasion of the Philatelic Exhibition Praga '78.  

Lithuania 1993. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. Fragment of the painting "The Battle at Grunwald".

Lithuania issued a Grunwald-stamp in 1993, as a fragment of the original painting.  The fragment shows the very center part of the painting.  

The reason for Lithuania to issue this stamp was that Lithuanian troops took part in the battle on the Polish side. At the end of the 14th century Lithuania and Poland were one nation, unified under the reign of the Polish Queen Jadwiga. The union lasted for nearly 400 years until the end of the 18th century.

  • Lithuania 1993.  Fragment of "The Battle at Grunwald". 

Jan Matejko's portrayals of the Polish kings based on his meticulous research is outstanding. Poland has issued a large series of Polish Rulers, running from 1986 to 2000.  Here are some examples, all engravings based on Matejko's paintings.  The artist's signature is applied on all these engravings.  

  • Matejko's signature. 

Jan Matejko. His artistic signature.


Below is a selection of engraved postage stamps depicting Polish medieval rulers as originally portrayed by Jan Matejko. 

Poland 1997. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. 600th anniversary of the founding of the theological faculty at the Jagiellonian University.

The first one shows Queen Jadwiga [German form = Hedwig], who was the indirect reason for the unification of Poland and Lithuania into one nation.  The original painting (left) is a fragment of Jan Metejko's historical painting of Queen Jadwiga as the founder of the theological faculty at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. 

  • Poland 1997.  Jan Matejko:  Commemorating the 600th anniversary of the founding of the theological faculty at the Jagiellonian University, with Queen Jadwiga presiding the ceremony. 

The corresponding engraved stamp is shown immediately below left. 

The next one is King Zygmunt III [German form = Sigismund], son of the Swedish King John III and the Polish princess Catherine Jagiellionian -- and thus a member of the Swedish Wasa Dynasty -- who was king of Poland from 1587, and further king of Sweden 1592-1598.  

The last one, Anna Jagiellonka, was queen and co-regent of Poland with her husband Stefan Batory, originally Duke of Transylvania, and a superb military strategist.  

Poland 1996. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. Queen Jadwiga. Poland 1998. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. King Zygmunt III. Poland 1998. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. Anna Jagiellonka.
Polish stationery 1986. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. Princess Dobrawa. Polish Stationery 1987. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. King Mieszko II.

In 1873 Matejko was offered the position as head master at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, but for personal reasons he declined this post.  He preferred to stay in his own country and commission his passion to the restoration of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, and also help preserving the most important artistic and historical monuments of his hometown. 

In 1892 he executed his last outstanding oil painting "The Constitution of 3rd May", commemorating the 200th anniversary of the adaptation of the Polish Constitution.

  • Poland 1991.  Fragment of Matejko's painting "Constitution Day".  

In his short life of only 55 years Matejko achieved a gigantic work, and further inspired the forerunners of Polish Art Nouveau artists, Stanislaw Wyspianski, Jacek Malczewski, and Józef Mehoffer, to continue and renew Polish art. 

Poland 1991. Jan Matejko. Realism/Naturalism. Fragment of Matejko's painting "Constitution Day".

Jan Matejko died in Krakow on 1st November 1893.  He is buried in the family tomb in Rakowicki Cemetery, Krakow. 

A large number of Jan Matejko's paintings have been issued on postage stamps, the vast majority of them by Poland.  If you are interested I can provide you with a full listing up to 1999, based on the Michel Catalogue.  Please use the email-link at the bottom of this page to send any query.

Sources and links:

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