Material / technique: oil on canvas.
Dimensions: 120.00 x 90.00 cm.
Signature: AD: W. Leszczyński / 1884 r.
Born in Podolia and educated in the ways of art in Warsaw, in the early 20th century the painter Wladyslaw Leszczynski lived and worked (and later died) in Vilnius and was actively present on the city’s social and cultural scene. He was a highly prolific painter whom we mainly know for his late work: historical patriotic compositions, domestic paintings, portraits and landscapes, drawings, illustrations. The mythological composition Dionysus and Ariadne was made in the early days of the painter’s creative life, most probably during the time when he lived in the Caucasus or the Crimea. The Lithuanian collections have not featured any of the painter’s work from that period. The painting’s theme is a hot favourite of European art, one that had been trending since time out of mind. It is based on the myth about the Greek god Dionysus (his Roman name Bacchus), who was regarded as the patron of plants, and vineyards and wine-making in particular, as well as inspiration and religious ecstasy and the embodiment of the creative powers of nature. One of the crucial points in his history is the tale of his meeting with Ariadne: abandoned by Theseus, she became Dionysus’ wife. Painters in the 17th–18th century often portrayed Dionysus and Ariadne in the bosom of a forest, holding each other in their arms, tasting wine, and whatnot. This mythological scene can be construed as a more general allegory of the unity between man and nature, an expression of nostalgia about unbridled life in harmony with nature. This painting by Leszczinsky shows Dionysus and Ariadne the way they appear in many of the paintings that follow this narrative: naked, comely young people in the embrace of nature, their bodies lightly covered with drapery, their heads decorated with garlands of flowers (only this time, Dionysus bears a garland of roses instead of the usual crown of ivy or grapes). The characters are identified by the swing ropes entwined in vines and clusters of grapes; another reference to the Greek mythology is the edge of cloth decorated with a meander pattern draped over the swing. By the way, the swing can be considered an original element of Leszczinsky’s composition. Could be that the painter chose it as an important part of the ancient festival of Dionysia, when swings would be used by girls; could be that in the 19th century, too, the ancient symbolic meaning of the swing was rooted in renewal, a rebirth of the earth’s vital powers (echoes of this tradition can be found in the tradition to install swings during Easter and the Second Sunday of Easter that has endured in many Christian countries). What makes this painting interesting is that it bears witness to the painter’s early work and exemplifies the school of parlour art that is suffused with sentimentality. It mirrors a long epoch in European art, when scenes from the Greek and Roman mythology were very favoured by painters and were used as an instrument to bring pictorial art closer to poetry and to demonstrate the painter’s sophistication and savvy of the antique literature. In the second half of the 19th century, the antiquity had turned from being a benchmark of artistic language and an aesthetic ideal to a subjective source of inspiration and a font for topics, plots, and ideas for often subjective interpretations. (by Dr Rūta Janonienė)