I was a little hesitant before I decided to write this post. For some time now, the painting by Aleksander Gierymski’s The Peasant Coffin has been going through my head, but I was afraid of its title. Certainly there is too much of death in it as for a time marked by a virus and uncertainty. However, I see in this painting something more than the blue lid of the coffin leaning against the whitewashed wall. I recognized sadness.

sadness, people, coffin
Aleksander Gierymski, The Peasant Coffin, National Museum in Warsaw


This is the emotion that fills the bodies of the depicted people. It gives each of them a different position, drawing a different facial expression. It has caused them to freeze in stillness, left only to their own thoughts. They may flow unconsciously, or maybe direct their owners to deepen their suffering. At this moment they are indifferent to the whole beauty of the world that surrounds them and manifests in colors in the painting. Our eyes are pleased with pastel shades of purple, green or livelier red of a woman’s scarf. However this joy of nature is not given to the mood of the composition.


The experience of sadness is inseparable from the sense of loss, the inevitability of passing. It is inscribed in human life, although it is often difficult to come to terms with it. I look with some appreciation at these two people who have lost a very important part of their lives. And I want to learn from them how to stay in sadness. Without running away from it, falling into a morbid bustle. Just stop for a while and let the sadness fill the whole body. And then calmly return to my rhythm of life once again, with familiarized feeling of loss.


This joy of life put on hold is symbolized for me by a dog rolled up in a ball. Though he is immersed in his sleep, he surely takes pleasure from nature. The sun warming his back, the wind bringing smells and the proximity of beloved people. And when the time comes, he will wake up from his nap to run wherever he has to.

I feel a little bit like them, although I have completely different reasons. I miss freedom and contact with nature. Certainly I accept that I still have to wait a little bit longer before life will flow its rhythm once again. And something tells me that I am not alone in it.

Looking for more essays on unconventional looking at the paintings? I invite you to follow that category: exercises in looking.

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