Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
It was common in the second half of the 19th century for Polish artists to travel to Munich to continue their art education. One of the most prominent representatives of the resulting so-called Munich School was Maksymilian Gierymski. Surely, we can include the 1873 painting Insurgent Patrol among the greatest works in this artist’s oeuvre. The composition’s subject is an episode taking place during the January 1863 Uprising against the Russian occupation of Polish and Lithuanian lands. The revolt ended after nearly two years of struggle with a crushing defeat for the insurgents. In a suggestive and gripping way, the artist portrays an insurgent reconnaissance team. We see three mounted Polish soldiers on a deserted sandy road talking to a villager. All of the figures are looking to the left, most likely having noticed the enemy. A fourth member of the team is already en route to notify their stationed forces of the Russian troops’ approach.
In contrast to the late-Romantic period work of the painter Artur Grottger, Gierymski shows the unsensationalised truth of the lives of the insurgents. He painted scenes of marching forces, rest-stops, patrol teams, the rugged everyday reality of the Polish insurgent forces scattered throughout the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania. He knew the life from personal experience. When he was barely seventeen years old, Gierymski enlisted in the insurgent army and saw action most likely in the Lublin and Kielce regions of south-eastern Poland.