Painter. He received notoriety as a Polish painter in the 19th century, excelling in gigantic oil-on-canvas paintings that were inspired by the history of Poland. His most-recognized paintings included the 1862 painting of a sad jester dressed in red, "The Jester;” in 1864 "Sermon of Skarga;” in 1866 the 9 foot by 16 foot piece, "Rejtan-Poland's Downfall;” and in 1874 the 10 foot by 17 foot, "The Battle of Tannenberg." The painting of “The Battle of Tannebery portrayed the July 15, 1410 battle of the Polish-Grand Duchy of Lithuanian-Teutonic Knights, which is considered the largest battle of the Middle Ages. For this masterpiece, Matejko was the recipient of the Gold Royal Scepter. Born the ninth child of eleven in the Free City of Krakow, which was part of Poland that was annexed by Austria during the Partitions of Poland at the end of 18th century, his father was a music teacher of Czech ancestry. When his mother, whose ancestry was German and Polish, died in 1846, his aunt cared for him. Although he presented artistic promises early in his life, other subjects, especially languages, were hard for him to master, hence as an adult, he found it difficult for public speaking appearances. Starting the same year as his mother's death, he witnessed the Kralow Revolution from 1846 to 1848 with the siege of the city of Krakow by the Austrians. Two of his older brothers served under General Jozef Bem with one dying. After leaving public school at the age of 13, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow under Wojciech Korneli Stattler and Wladyslaw Luszczkiewicz, while exhibiting his historical paintings at the Society of Friends of Fine Arts. He traveled to Germany and Austria in attempt to study, but found difficulty as he could not master the language of German, thus returned to Krahow. In 1860 he released an album of painting promoting patriotism in Poland. He was the recipient of the Gold Medal at the annual Paris Salon exhibition in 1865, for his painting “Skarga's Sermon,” which was purchased for a great profit. At the encouragement of the government, he had to abandon religious paintings for his well-known historical paintings. Being recognized as one of Europe's outstanding historical painters, he was the recipient in 1867 of the Gold Medal at the World Exhibition in Paris for his painting "Rejtan-Poland's Downfall." He became the director of the Academy of Fine Arts in 1873. Transforming from a starving artist, he rose to international notoriety. In 1890 he painted all of the Polish kings compiled in his book “Portraits of Polish Kings.” With his colleague Florian Cynk, he painted the portraits of St. Kinga of the 13th century and St. Adalbert, patron saint of Poland, at the parish church in the village of Stary Wiśnicz. He painted 320 oil paintings and thousands of drawings and watercolors. During World War II, his paintings were buried underground and then restored in 1945. Most of his paintings are on exhibit in the National Museum in Warsaw in the Royal Collection.
Bio by: Linda Davis