“Artist’s Death. The Last Friend“ by the Polish painter Zygmunt Andrychiewicz is a painting that captures the viewers’ attention instantly and holds it. The artist has portrayed a powerful scene, something one would see in a fever dream. Not only is the scene emotionally provocative, but also how the metaphor has been brought to life.
There is not much information available about the artist or this painting. But thankfully, the painting is descriptive enough to extract meaning from it. The scene is detailed enough to show that the person on the bed, either sleeping or dying is an artist.
But what about the person playing the fiddle? What is he playing and why? Let’s take a look at all these questions in the analysis of the painting, starting with the composition.
The Composition of the Painting
The painting uses warm tones to create a visual sense of comfort in the painting. The orange glow from the bedside lamp gives off warmth, dimly lighting up the space where the artist sleeps. Cool tones are completely lacking from the canvas except in the windows.
The sky looks full, full of clouds, and most probably cold. This small loft where the artist sleeps feels like a warm, comfortable place. The red blanket makes the scene warmer and the pairing of it with white sheets creates balance.
The Scene of the Painting
The entire scene shown in the painting seems normal except for the figure of death sitting in the middle, playing the fiddle. We can see a young artist taking a nap (or perhaps dying). While the room is messy with brushes, papers, and books lying around on the floor, the large size of the room gives it an airy feel.
What makes the viewers wonder is whether the sheets of canvas, books, and brushes are lying on the floor or they have been thrown by the artist. Perhaps a sign of agitation, failure, and chaos? Maybe the artist just could not handle it anymore and decided to destroy everything; the art and the artist as well.
The Gentle Grim Reaper
The artist has done something unique here. He has made death look gentle, calm, and even soothing. We have an idea of what the Grim Reaper looks like. He wears a dark, black gown and carries a scythe. But here, the grim reaper is completely different.
The main subject of the painting is the Grim Reaper sitting on a chair, wearing a nice suit, and playing something soothing with his fiddle. Instead of carrying the scythe, he is holding a violin. The artist has shown him creating something, rather than destroying it.
Is the Man Dying?
A common and valid question here is about the condition of the artist. Is he sleeping or is he dying? There is no way to tell from the painting or his current state. He seems to be sleeping peacefully, with a blanket on. He looks quite young as well, so the chances of old age taking him away are also slim.
So is the man sleeping? While it could be that the man is sleeping, there are chances that he is on the verge of death, perhaps by substance abuse. Notice how night has not come and yet the man is in his bed. The bedside lamp is also on, indicating that the sleep was not planned.
The mess in the room and the fallen canvas and brushes show that the artist is not mentally well. He is going through some trouble and probably the addiction helps him in calming down. Perhaps today the dose was a bit too much, enough to make death come and play soothing music.
The Meaning of the Painting
The meaning of the painting can be ambiguous and the actual meaning, the meaning that the artist intended might always remind behind the canvas. But we can get some ideas. Certainly, the subject of the painting is the artist. But what about the person playing the violin?
The person playing the violin is dead, and death is not a separate entity from life. The person sitting in the chair is the artist himself. Death has come for him and it is taking him away slowly and softly. The violin music shows that the artist is slowly dying, and he is relieved by death.
The music, the calm and composed nature of death, and the suit he is wearing show that death is different for different people. For a tortured artist who could not find peace in life is actually being soothed to the other side by death. The same death which comes like the Grim Reaper has become a gentleman for the artist.
Also read: The Meaning of the Painting; Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo