Józef Oleszkiewicz, or Juozapas Oleškevičius (Russian: Юзеф
Иванович Олешкевич, c.1777,
Šiluva – 5 October
1830, Saint Petersburg) was a Polish-Lithuanian painter, known
primarily for his portraits and his eccentric behavior.
2 Selected portraits
4 Further reading
5 External links
Oleszkiewicz as a young man (self-portrait?)
He came from an impoverished noble family, his father was a musician.
With assistance from a family friend, he became a student at the
University of Vilnius
University of Vilnius in 1797. At first, he studied anatomy and
physiology, but switched to drawing and painting, taking classes with
Franciszek Smuglewicz and Jan Rustem. He also copied paintings at
the homes of wealthy people who knew his family. In 1801, he attracted
the attention of Count Aleksander Chodkiewicz (1776–1838), a
playwright, chemist and (later) a general, who was also a budding
patron of the arts. Chodkiewicz provided him with the necessary
funds to study abroad.
In 1803, he went to Paris and enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts,
where he studied with
Jean-Simon Berthélemy and Jacques-Louis
David. He returned to Vilnius in 1806 and had great success with
several historical paintings at an exhibition there in 1809.
After failing to obtain a Professorship at the University, he went to
Saint Petersburg. His painting of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna providing
for the poor won him the title of "Academician" from the Imperial
Academy of Arts in 1812. He soon became a much sought-after
portrait painter, but he also created historical, religious and
In regards to the latter, he was a prominent Freemason, eventually
becoming part of the upper hierarchy at the lodges in Saint Petersburg
and Vilnius, until they were outlawed in 1822. His interests
extended to theosophy, mysticism and the paranormal. He was also a
vegetarian and an early advocate of animal rights, lived in a house
full of cats, and gave most of his large income to the poor, in
person. After predicting what would be the worst flood in Saint
Petersburg's history, in 1824, he gained a reputation as a soothsayer,
although floods there were certainly not uncommon. Later, he was the
inspiration for "The Sorcerer"; a character who appears in Part III of
the poetic drama Dziady by Adam Mickiewicz.
Despite being a vegetarian, it appears that he died from complications
related to gout.
Marcin Odlanicki Poczobutt
Michał Kleofas Ogiński
^ a b c Biography @ Žemaitija.
^ Short biography of Chodkiewicz @ WIEM.
^ a b Short biography of Oleszkiewicz @ WIEM.
^ Excerpt about Oleszkiewicz from Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a
Romantic, by Roman Robert Koropeckyj @ Google Books.
Memories of Oleszkiewicz by Osip Antonovich Przhetslavsky (a
government censor and author of a work called "The Great Secret of the
Freemasons"), from Русская старина (Russian Antiquity)
1876, Vol. 16, #7
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Józef Oleszkiewicz.
"Artysta, nihilista, mistyk i prorok, bohater" (Artist, Nihilist,
Mystic, Prophet, Hero) by Alwida Bajor. Oleszkiewicz and his
relationship to Mickiewicz, from Magazyn Wileński.
An appreciation by Boris Krepak from Культура (in Belarusian)