In his book Thanatos i Polska czyli o Jacku Malczewskim [Thanatos and Poland, or Jacek Malczewski], Kazimierz Wyka offers and interesting analysis of this work:
“A dark-haired man with a focused look is holding a print portfolio. The portfolio, pointed at the viewer and somewhat protruding from the picture frame, creates the first, extensive compositional level. The other one is outlined by the perfectly flat horizon. On both sides of the raven-haired person, Malczewski placed two old fauns facing each other. Their hands are folded in prayer, while their heads are wreathed with twigs of a blossoming apple tree. This figural scene depicts a sort of adoration of Manggha as a collector of Japanese art.”
Does this “figural scene” presented in the painting really have anything to do with Jasieński – a Japanese art collector?
Undoubtedly, the key to solving this mystery lies in the date of creation of this portrait, placed by the painter under his signature – 1903. It was the year of the publication of The Polish Printmakers’ Portfolio, which was originated and initiated by Feliks Jasieński, an expert and enthusiast of printmaking arts and their ardent promoter. The Portfolio was published in 120 copies, and the stones and plates used to produce them were destroyed. The preparation of this pioneering publication probably lasted from autumn 1902 to April 1903. The commencement and completion of work on The Portfolio are probably referred to in the wreaths made of rose hip and apple blossoms placed on the heads of the “two old fauns” – Jasieński’s “advisers”. According to Ewa Milicer, the publication of the portfolio was a costly and laborious undertaking. “Not only was it necessary to persuade several recognized artists to try out new means of expression, and for many of them this was their first encounter with printmaking, but also to provide them with technical means and assistance, and then to produce The Portfolio.”
The artists that Manggha’s author persuaded to participate, and works featured in his Portfolio are listed in the attached register titled Portfolio of the Society of Polish Artists-Printmakers, and include: Stańczyk [Court Jester] by Jan Matejko, Woman with a Vase and Little Head by Teodor Axentowicz, Monastic Cemetery in Krakow by Józef Czajkowski, Winter Forest by Stanisław Czajkowski, Landscape by Ignacy Łopieński, Jacek Malczewski’s two works: Head of an Old Man and Portrait of Feliks Jasieński, Józef Mehoffer’s Revenge, Cathedral in Paris by Józef Pankiewicz, Head of a Woman by Antoni Procajłowicz, Small Church in Lithuania by Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Jan Stanisławski’s The Vistula River near Tyniec, Karol Tichy’s Krakow Market Square, Edward Trojanowski’s Wawel, Wojciech Weiss’s two works: In Skałka and Villa d’Este, four works by Leon Wyczółkowski: Portrait of Juliusz Kossak, Portrait of Jacek Malczewski, Portrait of Feliks Jasieński and The Corpus Christi Church in Krakow, as well as Stanisław Wyspiański’s work titled Helenka.
It is the prints listed above that constitute the contents of Feliks Jasieński’s portfolio. The inscription written by Ignacy Łopieński on his drawing testifies to the role played by the collector in the process of its creation: “To Mr Feliks Jasieński / our Portfolio’s Director / on 28 June 90 3”.