Seamstress (a Jewish woman threading a needle)
Author: Moraczyński Jan , 1807 - 1870
Material / technique: oil on wood.
Dimensions: 31 x 22 cm.
Signature: J. Moraczynski 1850 r (in the bottom-right corner of the painting).
Jonas Moračinskis' painting "The Seamstress" in a private collection, late 2023 acquired at the Pirone auction house in Rome, adds to the small collection of works by this interesting 19th-century painter in Lithuanian collections. Born in the territory of present-day Ukraine and after completing his art studies, the artist many years studying or travelling in various European countries (he studied in Berlin, Dresden, Munich, Rome, visited Petersburg, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow, Paris, etc.) His artistic legacy is also scattered in various countries, and in addition to his art, it includes literary works and theological works. Moračinskis' paintings have not yet received the attention they deserve from art historians, although the main facts of the artist's life, based on his own autobiography, as described to J. I. Kraševski, are published in dictionaries of Lithuanian and Polish artists, as well as in such famous publications as E. Benezit's Dictionary of Painters.
The painting "The Seamstress" is probably identical to Moraczynski's "Starozakonna nawlekająca igłę" ("A Jewess Spinning a Thread into a Needle"), which was exhibited at the 1858 "National Art Exhibition" in Warsaw, and is mentioned in the daily Kurjer Warszawski . As the date on the picture show "The Jewess Spinning a Thread into a Needle" was painted in Vilnius, where the artist lived for 9 years - from the autumn of 1846 to the beginning of 1856. Moračinskis' Vilnius period was very significant in his biography. While living here, the artist was in close contact with such personalities as Juozapas Ignacas Kraševskis, Liudvikas Kondratavičius, Stanislovas Moniuška, Vincentas Dmachauskas, etc., has been written in the press on art issues. Severin Römer mentions in a letter to his brother Edward of 23 May 1847 that as soon as the "famous young painter" J. Moraczynski arrived in the city, he was staying at the house of Bishop Kazimierz Dmochovsky's house on Pilies Street, where all four walls of the artist's room were covered with his paintings, of which the letter writer singled out in particular the portraits, painted, he said, with great boldness and aptitude. Already in the autumn of that year, Moraczynski moved to the so-called Gutas House on the same street (now 36 Pilies Street), where he set up a spacious studio, which he described in a letter to J. I. Kraševskis - according to the artist, his dwelling consisted of two large halls and three smaller rooms, which were filled with works that were not only completely covering the walls, but in some places even stacked on top of each other.
Although Moračinský was highly regarded by his contemporaries as a portrait painter, the artist himself painted works in this genre mostly only when he was forced by financial deprivation to paint other works sales were low. Nevertheless, he considered "religious, religious-historical and historical painting" to be the artist's true vocation, where one could express higher ideas and spiritual content. During the Vilnius period, Moraczynski painted mainly altarpieces, as well as historical and domestic compositions, often choosing themes and typologies from Jewish life.
"A Jewess threading a needle", like some of the artist's other works, reflects an interest in the life of the Israelites, the distinctive traditions of this people, the exoticism of their costumes. However, it is obvious that beneath the outwardly domestic image lies the artist's deeper thoughts, his desire to express the inner beauty of man, the story of the human soul, illuminated by heavenly light. Moraczynski uses "Rembrandt-like" chiaroscuro effects to create a mysterious mood, while also expressing the symbolic subtext of the image. A more detailed study should be devoted to the analysis of the meanings and ideas of the work.
Moraczynski spent the last years of his life in Zurich, Switzerland. Interestingly, Andrius Taujanskis' friend Ferdinand Taujanskis, a physician, lived and died in the same city Gutas, whose house, though then already owned by Ferdinand's sister Ona Malinowska, the artist lived in Vilnius. During the Zurich period, Moračinskis spent more time on theological writings than painting. After his death, his artistic legacy was scattered,on 25 May 1870, the Gazeta Polska newspaper, which reported Moraczynski's death, announced that various paintings by the artist would be sold in Warsaw in a few days. In autumn 1873, Kurjer Warszawski (no. 220) reported that it was still possible to buy inexpensively in Warsaw works by Moraczynski. "The Seamstress" found its way to Scandinavia by an unknown route. Later, as the label on the reverse of the work shows, the painting of an old Jewish woman spinning thread was sold at the Lilla Bukowski auction house in Stockholm.
It is interesting to compare J. Moračinskis' painting "The Seamstress (a Jewish woman threading a needle)" with Vincentas Slendzinskis' carving "The Old Woman", well known to lovers of Lithuanian art heritage, turning a thread into a needle", painted in 1855 in Vilnius. The iconographic links between these two works suggest that Slendzinski had seen Moračinski's 1850 painting, which he interpreted in his own way and created his own version of a similar composition.