Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
The night-time scene of swans in Warsaw’s Saxon Gardens would prove to be the high point of the artist’s dark period. With the first part of the title – Nocturne – the artist referenced the work of American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and underscored the kinship between music and visual art. A second source of inspiration for Pankiewicz was French Symbolist poetry, particularly that of Stéphane Mallarmé, which he knew by heart. The nocturne became a painting manifestation of Mallarmé’s sonnet about a swan whose wings froze to the ice on a lake. The final painting was preceded by extensive direct observation and meticulous hand-drawn studies. Pankiewicz made numerous night-time outings to the Saxon Gardens with his friend the politician and industrialist Stefan Laurysiewicz, who would nudge the sleeping swans with his cane to make them strike poses like the ones the painter had imagined earlier.
Through restrained means and the studied game of light and shadow, in this painting Pankiewicz achieved the effect of an intense study of mood. Challenging the limits of visual perception, he produced a work that straddles the line between depictive painting and abstraction.