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Cracovians in a tavern

Author: Franciszek Smuglewicz (1745–1807)
Created:ca 1800
Material:canvas, board
Dimensions:26.50 × 30 cm

Figures of peasants, or simply ‘common folk’, populate works of art increasingly frequently in the late 18th century. Special attention was lavished at the time on Cracovians, who were popularised in Jan Stefani’s opera The Supposed Miracle, or the Cracovians and the Highlanders (to a libretto by Wojciech Bogusławski). Antoni Smuglewicz, the brother of Franciszek Smuglewicz (17451807), designed the set for the production. After the first night on 1 March 1794 in Warsaw, Cracovians became a symbol of a free, enterprising and patriotic nation. The highly patriotic production on the eve of the uprising was soon banned, but this did not reduce its influence on society, and only increased it. The theme of the ‘third estate’, and the slightly sentimental, idealised and moralising scenes from peasant life, found their way into works by Smuglewicz long before the appearance of Stefani’s opera. Nevertheless, there were some reverberations around the emerging legend of the ‘Cracovians’ in the compositions he painted around 1800, showing men in national costume smoking pipes and chatting at a table in a tavern (curiously, most of the action in the production takes part in a tavern).

This painting, reproduced in 1909 in the Warsaw newspaper Świat, was at that time in the collection of the Polish artist and collector Jan Olszewski. A very similar work by Smuglewicz is held in the Leszno district museum in Poland (the only difference being the colours of the attire). These small works stand out stylistically from the general context of Smuglewicz’s work: the artist seems to have sought a realistic rendition of the typical dress and the rather rough nature of his characters.

Text author Rūta Janonienė

Source: Valiunas Ellex (LAWIN until 2015) art album: RES PUBLICA (2018). Compiler and author Rūta Janonienė