2002 | 3 | 35-49
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Józef Mehoffer's Strange Garden.Two Aspects of Visual Structure

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The Strange Garden (1902-1903), one of Józef Mehoffer's best-known works, has not ceased to puzzle and prompt reflection. The studies on the canvas made thus far accentuate above all the discernible optimistic, 'sunny' and cheerful aspects of the composition, related with the artist's family happiness. It was defined as a reflection of the enclosed garden, the hortus deliciarum and its structure as the proof corroborating the mystical kind of Mehoffer's imagination. The painting was also located close to the tradition of reflecting the lost earthly paradise. However, there is a conspicuous discrepancy between one-sided interpretations of the Strange Garden and its pictorial peculiarities, obvious to a persevering viewer, which induces him to suspend the present knowledge of the canvas and attempt to verify the hitherto advanced theses and determinations. It is impossible to determine which aspect of the pictorial structure dominates in the composition - the one connected with the joyous Now or that which is uncertain, unknown, pertaining to the Future. Each of these aspects leads to different meanings, each tells of a different variant of reality. Thus the artist's own commentary concerned only one facet of the Strange Garden, while the other was passed over in silence. Nevertheless, the composition of the canvas, the space-surface tensions inscribed in it, and the relations between particular elements as well as their relation to the topography of the picture area do not allow us to ignore the second significative aspect, associated with the uncertainties of one's fate, lying heavy - like one's doom - on even the most joyous moment. The researchers who have thus far written about the Strange Garden are therefore mistaken in their belief that time and its inexorable flow towards decline, old age, and death have no access to Mehoffer's composition.
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  • M. Smolinska-Byczuk, Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza, Instytut Historii Sztuki, ai. Niepodleglosci 4, 61-874 Poznan, Poland
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