After losing the battle of Maciejowice 1794 the Polish supreme commander Tadeusz Kościuszko is supposed to have spoken these words “Finis Poloniae” (The end of Poland). He later disputed this in a letter to Duke Philippe-Paul von Ségur. Nowadays we can assume that this was more likely a piece of successful propaganda put out by the Prussians in order to weaken the Polish struggle for freedom. But around 35 years later the saying took on a new significance and, indeed, symbolism, thanks to the painting “Finis Poloniae 1831”(1832) by Dietrich Monten.
The Third Partition of Poland in 1795 followed the failure of the Kościuszko uprising. The country was wiped off the map. The Polish November Rising of 1830 against the occupying Russian forces also failed. The struggle for a homeland seemed to be lost for all time. As a result in 1831 over ten thousand Polish emigrants left for Belgium, France, Italy and Great Britain during the Great Emigration. Their journey took them through Germany where the refugees met with a great deal of solidarity. Indeed the Germans were thoroughly enthusiastic about the Poles. Polish clubs were set up in many German towns and cities to give aid to the Polish emigrants with money and goods. Indeed, for the Germans who were increasingly suffering under absolutist rule in their own states, the Poles were more than passing exiles. They gave them the courage and strength to fight for their own freedom and independence.
And so the enthusiasm for the Polish liberation fighters was not only declaimed in speeches and celebrated in songs and poems, but also set down in paintings. “Finis Poloniae 1831” was one such painting with symbolic character which reflected the atmosphere at the time. At the centre of the picture a Polish officer is sitting on a white horse. Surrounding him is a group of desperate soldiers. In the background is a border post with the inscription “Finis Poloniae”. Here the country’s border is identical with the end of statehood.
Dietrich Monten’s motif was eagerly repeated on many everyday objects like snuff boxes and pipe bowls, all of which helped to promote its popularity. But today it is still a proof of the high regard for the Polish resistance fighters who bore Polish ideas of freedom throughout Europe.