This is Jacek Malczewski’s Death (1902, Oil on panel), and if you were a visitor to the former Message Boards of the Damned you may recognize this piece. It’s one of my personal favorites, filled with everything that makes a piece of art great.
Malczewski is an important artist in Europe especially, a Polish artist who was very influential. Many of his works mix history with legend and mythology, and nearly all of his works were symbolic in some way.
I like the color palette that he chooses to use in Death. The bluish-grayish colors in the work add a different dimension to it, almost as if saying that the man is already dead and this is just formality. The use of bluish color on the woman, as opposed to the skin color used on the man, really indicates that she is otherworldly, and there is no life there. The subtlety in using just a hint of the blue in the man’s skin is wonderful, the hint in color a useful hint to the man’s status.
Subtlety is this work’s strongest suit, and in an image where other artists may have boldly declared, “death is here!”, Malczewski plays it quietly. Death herself, though heavily symbolized in the scythe, seems powerful yet gentle, and almost sad in her understanding of her duty. The man seems to understand how things are himself, he is seemingly relieved and also happy to go to heaven. He clutches his necklace tightly, believing his faith is about to save him as opposed to the darkness that other artists might’ve shown.
This is one of those pieces that I see that is immensely inspirational to my own work. Malczewski’s use of color, tone and the subject of his work are all fantastic, and it’s a striking image that sticks with you for much longer than just a quick viewing. It’s an exercise in mixing reality with the fantastic, a great piece of art.