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Oxen by a cart

Author: Józef Bałzukiewicz (1866–1915)
Technique:ink pen, ink
Dimensions:49 × 62.50 cm

bottom right: J. Balzukiewicz / 1911

The animal theme was not greatly favoured by 19th-century artists in Lithuania. However, those who observed nature in their homeland with a perceptive and loving eye paid some attention to ordinary farm animals, on which the lives of country people depended quite considerably. Although sympathy was mostly lavished on horses, man’s other helpers also occasionally became the focus of a picture. Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, writing in the mid-19th century, noted that ‘Paulus Potter’s cows looking with heads uplifted to the blue vistas of the Flemish planes’ are worth more than a mediocre historical painting with no feeling. Oxen have been a fixture since ancient times in sacred images, such as Nativity scenes, or portrayals of St Isidore, who is shown ploughing with oxen. These compositions, glorifying the work of a farmer, were extremely popular in the 19th century. Therefore, it is not surprising that in secular art, images of oxen probably came second after horses. Scenes of ploughing were extremely popular. The Vilnius-based artist Józef Bałzukiewicz (18661915), a well-known painter of landscapes and scenes of country life, painted oxen on several occasions as a typical part of a rural setting (the National Museum of Lithuania has his 1899 watercolour A ploughman with a team of oxen). In this drawing from 1911, he depicted a group of oxen beside a cart. The artist did not romanticise the animals, but rendered them with anatomical precision; the harmonious figures seem to radiate the poetry of the mundane. The cartwheel next to them may be seen as symbolising the life of the farmer following its cycle, or maybe even eternity.

Text author Rūta Janonienė

Source: Law firm Valiunas Ellex art album RES PUBLICA (2018). Compiler and author Rūta Janonienė
Expositions: “Académie de Vilna. Vilnius Drawing School (18661915)”, 5 October – 26 November 2017, National Gallery of Art, Vilnius (curator Jolanta Širkaitė)