What do you see or feel when you look at the painting ‘Frenzy of Exultations’ by the Polish artist Władysław Podkowiński? Is it confusing? excitement? some positive feeling or something negative?
Feeling mixed emotions while seeing this painting is completely natural because of the ambiguous and quite perplexing subject of the painting.
The Polish name for the painting is Szał uniesień, which can be loosely translated to “frenzy of exultations” or “a frenzy of elation.” While translations are always going to be loose, the idea is clear.
The painting is about the feeling of exaltation, extreme happiness, and rejoicing. A pleasure that cannot be described. Exultation or elation cannot be used to describe one kind of feeling.
These words are used to describe happiness or joy that comes from multiple feelings and sources. It expresses happiness as almost a drug, a feeling of being high in happiness.
So what does the painting mean? What is the artist trying to show, and more importantly, why were there so many controversies surrounding this painting?
Structure of the Painting
The structure of the painting is very easy to find and there is not much going on in the background. Despite the canvas size being large, the painter decided to keep the background clear.
The main elements of the painting; the dark horse and the pale lady with her red hair are supposed to be the center of attention. The background is just a chaotic gradient of white and black.
The left side of the canvas is light-colored, while the right side is dark. There is a reason for this gradient; to highlight the contrasting elements.
The dark horse is highlighted in the bright side of the painting, while the bright woman can be seen clearly in the dark part of the painting.
The background is made of rough, large brush strokes to represent a haze. Now that the structure is done with, let’s look at what’s going on in the painting.
The Scene of the Painting
The reason why this painting caused so much controversy was because of what was being depicted in the painting; a naked woman hugging a dark horse that seems to be suffering from a fit.
The horse is frothing from its mouth, eyes rolled back, and it’s main extending all the way into the dark side of the painting, merging with it. This depiction of the horse is very striking.
In the exact opposite way, a lady is holding the horse tightly around its neck; almost as if she is choking it. The expression on the woman’s face is completely opposite of that on the horse.
The lady seems to be in extreme pleasure; she is elated. Her red hair flows back, mixing with the horse’s dark mane. It is almost like the horse’s destruction is leading to her pleasure.
So what is the theme of the painting? What is the meaning of it? Knowing the exact meaning is very difficult, in fact, impossible because the artist never talked about it.
But there are ways we can guess what the painting means. From all the historical context we have to the metaphors and meanings, we can deduce what the artist was trying to show beyond the canvas.
The Play of Opposites: Theme of the Painting
The major theme of ‘Frenzy Exultations’ is the play of opposites, and that’s quite evident with just one deep look.
The horse and the lady, the two subjects of the painting, are completely opposite in every layer; the horse is dark while the lady is white, the horse represents darkness and the lady represents light.
Even the painting is divided into two parts, one dark and one bright. It is almost like the painting is showing the Chinese philosophical symbol of Yin and Yang.
But apart from the color, the emotions are also in contrast; the horse is almost having a seizure with its frothing mouth and rolled-up eyes. The woman is in extreme pleasure with her head tilted up and eyes closed.
The lady is in control while the horse is not. Apart from that, the horse represents raw strength, rage, and brutal force. The lady represents calmness and gentleness.
Some of the contrasts shown in this painting include:
- Dark and Light
- Composure and Chaos
- Beauty and Force
But what about the meaning of the painting? What is this whole scene supposed to show? There are many interpretations of the painting. From mythological meanings to very personal meanings.
Meaning of ‘Frenzy of Exultations’
As mentioned above, there are many interpretations of this painting. From our analysis, there are two possible meanings of this poem that make the most sense. Let’s take a look at both of them.
Dark Horse: Hidden Desires?
Dark horses are often a symbol of hidden desires. It represents our sexual desires that might not be right to show but we do have them deep inside. So was the painter trying to convey that here?
It does make sense once you look at it; the woman is in extreme pleasure; considering the pleasure to be sexual would not be far-fetched. She is riding a horse that seems to be convulsing.
The painter wanted to show the thoughts of this woman wandering off. The horse represents a complete loss of control of these thoughts. She is riding the horse but the horse cannot see or do anything.
These thoughts that the woman is having have no sense of direction; a complete takeover by pleasure.
The painting can also be seen as a balance between two different and opposing forces. The placement of dark and light, and the contrasting color of the lady and the horse are all examples reinforcing this meaning.
It also represents creativity. The raw strength of the horse is powerful, but it does not have a sense of direction. It can take you to dark places and make you completely lost.
The woman represents calmness, softness, and a sense of control. She cannot take you anywhere, but she can be the guide to this powerful horse. This balance of dark and light is what leads to superior creativity.
One is light, too bright to see anything. The same is true for the dark side of the painting. But only when the two are together can you see both of them clearly. Steer more towards either side and you will be lost.
Apart from these two interpretations, there are others as well. One suggests that the horse represents the God Zeus and he is taking the girl away, as he has done before.
There is a bit of history associated with the painting. Many people say that the scandalous nature of the painting was to upset the dogmatic bourgeoisie people.
Some say that this painting represents the woman the artist loved but she did not love him back. Just a day before the end of the exhibition, the artist took a knife and destroyed the painting.
There is no concrete proof as to why he did that, but many say that the knife was hit where the woman was painted. Perhaps the painting was somewhat related to this unfulfilled love.
What do you think this painting represents?
About the Painting
- Name : Frenzy of Exultations (Szał uniesień)
- Artist: Władysław Podkowiński
- Year Painted: 1893
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 310 cm × 270 cm (120 in × 110 in)
- Location: Sukiennice Museum, Kraków, Poland