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Henryk Hektor Siemiradzki was an artist from Belgorod, Kharkov, a governorate owned by the Russian Empire, and is currently the province of Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine. He was born in October 1843 to a noble family, and his father, Hipolit Siemiradzki, was a general of the Imperial Russian Army.
His family was originally from Radom, a Polish city, but were stationed in Belgorod because of Hipolit’s military service, as he was an officer at the time. Siemiradzki’s mother, Michalina Prószynska, and father were somewhat in contact with the world of arts since they were very close to Adam Mickiewicz’s family, one of Poland’s most treasured poets. At an early age, Siemiradzki’s education was strongly academic, as he began studying under Besperchy at the Kharkiv Gymnasium, who learned under the Romanticist painter Karl Bryullov.
Although the artist had a genuine interest in art and painting, he began his formal education in the field of natural science at Kharkiv University. He graduated with a doctoral degree, known as Kandidat in Soviet countries, but abandoned the area to focus on painting. The Polish artist moved to Saint Petersburg and began studying at the prestigious Imperial Academy of Arts in 1864.
In 1870, Siemiradzki graduated and received a gold medal for his outstanding accomplishments. He began studying at Karl Theodor von Piloty’s studio, a German painter, where he continued for about a year. By 1972, Siemiradzki settled in Rome, where he established his own studio. During this period, he returned to Poland during the summers, in a village named Strzalków.
Three years after graduating from the Imperial Academy of Arts, Siemiradzki received the grand title of Academician for his masterpiece Christ and Sinner- The First Meeting of Christ and Mary Magdalene. Religious paintings became an important motif for the artist. Before the end of the decade, he would receive recognition for his work on numerous occasions, like the gold medal at the Paris World’s Fair as well as the French National Order of the Legion of Honour.
By the end of the 1870s, Siemiradzki worked on many large scale paintings, like the breathtaking frescos he concluded for the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. In 1879, the Polish National Museum, which had recently opened, acquired one of his paintings: the oil on canvas Nero’s Torches. It was painted three years earlier, is an exquisite example of the Polish artist’s representation of the Greek-Roman culture on a large-scale painting, and remains in the museum till the present day.
The painter’s production varies between extremely religious artworks, devout representations of Christ and his journey, and tabu scenes of sexual promiscuity, depicting Roman times. The first can be exemplified with the painting Christ In the House of Martha and Mary, a peaceful and bright composition portraying Christ in a garden. The latter can be seen in the dark and mysterious Roman Orgy in the Time of Ceasars.
Henryk Hektor passed away at only 58 years old, in the Village of Strzalków, Congress Poland, in August 1902. Siemiradzki’s legacy lives in his highly detailed and elaborate paintings of massive proportions. His art is exhibited in the National Gallery of Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.