Singer. A Masterpiece by Józef Mehoffer

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  • Tuesday, June 27, 2023 - Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Singer is one of Mehoffer’s most highly regarded paintings, on a daily basis in the collection of the Lviv National Art Gallery. The work is characterised by sublime colours. It reveals the influence of French portrait painting of the time, and is also an expression of the artist’s highly refined technical skills.

Starting in the spring of 1894, Józef Mehoffer, who was on scholarship in Paris, began to devote his free time quite intensively to music. He owed this having made the acquaintance at that time of the Janakowski sisters Jadwiga (1871-1956), his future wife, and Wanda (1873-1940), who had come to the French capital to study art. They were from landowning family in the Eastern Borderlands. Jadwiga developed her painting skills, while Wanda’s forte was singing. Both were particularly fascinated by the music of Richard Wagner.

Wanda Janakowska was to win the praise for her interpretation of operatic parts from Richard Wagner’s works of the brilliant composer’s widow, Cosima. It is known that she did indeed visit Bayreuth in Bavaria, home of the annual Wagner festivals, then directed by Cosima Wagner – a souvenir of Wanda’s visit to this Bavarian town is her photographic portrait from the second half of the 1890s, taken in the photography atelier of Hans Brand there. She may have met Cosima at that time.

Mehoffer was undoubtedly intrigued by her personality and vocal talent, and often attended her singing lessons and solo chamber performances. He first mentioned his intention to paint her portrait in a letter to his mother at the end of January 1896. The idea for the work finally crystallised some two weeks later. The artist began working on it inspired by a “costume party” the Janakowskis had hosted, at which the younger sister appeared in a Spanish-style outfit, which she later wore when posing for the portrait. By the end of March that year, it was finished for certain, and soon became known as The Singer.

The Singer is one of Mehoffer’s most highly regarded paintings. It drew the attention of critics and even gained some fame as early as 1898, at the first exhibition of the Vienna Secession. Great success came with the artist showing the canvas at two Universal World’s Fairs – in Paris in 1900 and in Saint Louis in the United States in 1904 – where it was awarded gold medals.



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