Artwork Title: The Strange Garden - Artist Name: Józef Mehoffer

The Strange Garden

Józef Mehoffer

Strange Garden is one of the most exquisite and mysterious works in the history of Polish painting. It was made during a very significant period in Mehoffer’s life – when already successful as an artist and happily married. Mehoffer produced The Strange Garden when he was away on a family holiday. In the painting, he captures familial happiness. The glowing, golden boy gathers our attention. Withdrawn somewhat into the shade, the woman wearing a sapphire gown looks on close by while a massive sapphire dragonfly hovers over them with its golden latticework wings outstretched in a protective embrace. You are probably amused by this huge insect. An excerpt from a letter the artist wrote to his wife helps us to interpret its symbolic meaning: “Now, you are to me practically synonymous with the color of sapphire, and holding you close, though across such a distance, I immerse myself in that color.” Perhaps, this suggests that the dragonfly keeping watch over the family, which Mehoffer had identified as a symbol for the sun, is actually the artist himself. Several years before painting the picture, Mehoffer had written in his journal: “I can’t say that I know what to paint, the idea is a general one: an idea of life, delight, pleasure, joy, light, sunshine and warmth.” ( Mehoffer's fascination with the decorativeness of elegant dress, the shape of stylish hats, the noble, patterned fabrics and the intricate design of stained glass is at its best when he paints his wife, Jadwiga née Janakowska. ...Wearing a sapphire dress, she is also present in Dziwny Ogród (The Strange Garden, the monumental painting of most mysterious symbolism, impressing with its powerful colors and finesse of line, loaded with positive emotions, harmoniously uniting human with natural order, and revealing a fragment of Eden which is presented as tantamount to familial bliss. The artist's young son, bright and luminous in the foreground, attracts one's attention as strongly as does the exaggerated dragonfly with golden wings, flying against the dense crowns of fruit-bearing apple trees. The surreal and at the same time solemn atmosphere of a sunlit orchard is intensified by the garlands of flowers wrapped around the tree trunks and symbolic of nature's abundance. The Mehoffers' house in Jankowka near Kraków, furnished and decorated by the artist himself, became indeed such an enclave of family happiness. A part of its sun-drenched porch and the flowering garden can be glimpsed in the painting Słońce Majowe (May Sun (1911), in which Mehoffer expressed his attitude to "life, bliss, joy, light, sun and warmth". (
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