Tag Archives: Polish art

Stanislaw Wyspiański – Helena and Flowers

19 Dec

Stanislaw Wyspiański, Helena and Flowers, 1902

Polish painter, poet, and playwright Stanislaw Wyspiański was a very prolific artist despite his early death in 1907 at the age of thirty-eight. His mother had died of tuberculosis when he was seven, and his father was an alcoholic who was unable to take care of the family, and history repeated itself in Stanislaw’s life because his three young children were left fatherless after he died fairly young. Wyspiański’s paintings and his literary works are both seen as a bridge that succesfully connected the patriotic themes which were so popular in Romanticism and the modernist, Symbolist art currents of his times. His oeuvre mostly consists of portraits of women and girls, and some interesting landscapes. In the portraits of girls there is often an emphasis on the traditional clothing and his wife Teodora Teofila, whom he finally married in 1900, was a peasant herself which shows Wyspiański’s love for Polish countryside and the folkore tradition. His models were often his friends and family, and such is the case in this painting as well. Helena was Wyspiański’s first child and the only daughter, seven year old at the time this delightful painting was painted.

I love everything about this portrait; it is so simple and yet so stunning! Firstly, the vibrant colours. I love colours! The playful red pattern on the sleeve of the girl’s dress, the pink vase and the blue flowers; all these colours are so bubbly and fun and vibrant that the vast darkness of the table ceases to be the focus. Secondly, I love the girl’s face expression and the mood she is in. She is touching the bubble-gum pink vase with the tip of her finger and gazing at it with a calm, almost meditative curiosity. A strand of hair is partly covering her face but we can still see her sweet rosy cheeks. I can imagine Wyspianski gazing at his daughter’s sweet face gazing at the flowers and deciding to capture it in a painting. It also reminded me of a scene from Polanski’s film “Repulsion” (1965) where the shy and detached Carol (played by Catherine Deneuve) is left alone in the flat after her sister goes out on a date and she just sits in the kitchen crying because she feels lonely and left-out and suddenly she sees her reflection in the kettle. It’s an aesthetically interesting moment in the film. Similarly, little Helen here is detached from the outside world and is enamoured by the beauty of the flower pot. Lost in her world of daydreams, little did she know that her father was sketching her. The diagonal composition and the way the flowers are cropped also add to the painting’s appeal. And finally, another thing that I love is the faint reflection of the girl’s face in the surface of the table, what a wonderful little detail that makes the painting so special.

Teodor Axentowicz – The Old Man and the Ghost of a Young Woman

7 Nov

Polish-Armenian painter Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938) is somewhat forgotten and neglected in today’s art history but he has many amazing painting, for example his pastel “Redhead” of which I have written about before. Today I wanted to write about a pastel and watercolour painting whose mood and colours fit this time of the year so well, that is, the mood of the painting fits the mood of nature in this moment.

Teodor Axentowicz, Vision – Memory, Old age and youth, (The old man and the ghost of a young woman, An old man with a girl) (after 1900), pastel and watercolor on paper

This painting is known under various titles, but my favourite title is “The old man and the ghost of a young woman” because it directly implies that the wistful, gentle face of a woman that appears to be gazing at the old man is a ghost. We could assume that from the way she was painted as well; her face is clear but the rest of her seems unfinished, as if she is fading away or she is not really there. She is suppose to be a simple peasant, but her facial features look more like those of a model and the classical, idealised beauty of her face contrasts with the more realistic manner in which the old man’s face was painted. The old age has coloured his hair and beard in snow white, his attire is simple and brown. Why is he sitting under a tree with a furrowed brow? Does he sense that his end will come soon? Do the memories of his youth haunt him? Does he see the face of a girl he once loved but who had died? Maybe she came to tell him: shhh, it is time to go now… But he is still scared. The girl’s face oozes patience and tenderness, surely she has come to help him in some way. Wistful, lovely and lonely female figures appear often in Axentowicz’s art; whether it’s his gorgeous pastel “Girl with a Blue Vase (Tears)” from 1900, “Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Krakow” from 1909, or his “Girl with a Candlestick”, but they are always isolated figures against a landscape. In this painting the girl’s wistful face is tied to a bigger story and every detail is imbued with a symbolism.

Another title for the painting “Memory, Old Age and Death” brings yet another meaning to the scene; the old man seeing the girl’s face in the forest must be a sign of his impending death and the girl must be a face from his memory, someone he loved. Also, it implies a vanitas theme of transience and the shortness of life. The somber, earthy, autumnal colours match the mood of the painting perfectly. The colours aren’t the gay, vibrant shades typical for early autumn, no, this is the autumn nearing its end; winter’s frost kissing the bare trees. The painting looks like it was seen from a sepia-tinted glasses, like a distant memory, something melancholy that can never be returned. The forest setting, away from people, away from everyday life, brings additional spiritual dimension to the painting. There are no more leaves to fall of those trees; the leaves rustle no more, nothing but stilness and coldness is in the air – death is near. The combined technique that Axentowicz used is also interesting; pastel over watercolour; it brings the best of both worlds.

Alfons Karpinski – Jane With a Japanese Doll

5 May

Alfons Karpinski (1875-1961), Jane avec une Poupée Japonaise, 1909

I discovered this painting a few months ago and hesitated for some time before deciding to write about it, for I felt I had nothing much to say, but something just keeps luring me to gaze at it again and again…

Alfons Karpiński was a Polish painter, born in 1875, who studied in Krakow at the School of Fine Arts from 1891 to 1895, then in Munich from 1903 to 1907, and then he traveled to the city for artists at the time: Paris. Painting “Jane with a Japanese Doll” shows Karpiński’s favourite motif to paint: a beautiful woman. The closely cropped composition and the intimate, sensual mood is what instantly appeals to me in this painting and the scene also brings to mind the sensual scenes of Fragonard and Boucher. The model for the painting was a Parisian girl called Jane and this isn’t the only time Karpiński had painted her. Jane is dressed in her undergarments with pretty pink bows, over the knee stockings and brown boots; part of her little boot and her shoulder are cut off and overall little is seen of the space around her, only a floral wallpaper and a hint of the doors. Jane seems almost unaware of the artist’s presence or his inspecting gaze that is slowly transforming her from a vision before him to a painting on canvas. One gaze, one brushstroke and reality is turning into art. I can imagine her dangling her legs with nonchalance, but don’t let this nonchalance fool you; she knows very well she is the muse about to be captured for eternity. I just love how simultaneously she is the centre of the painting, the centre of the painter’s vision, and yet, at the same time she is amused by something else, playing with a Japanese doll, lost in her thoughts, aware of her loveliness yet completely nonchalant about it; she doesn’t even gaze at us.

The angle of the painting, the casually dressed lady and the soft, sensual and intimate mood all reminds me of the many 1970s photographs I’ve seen, especially those by the notorious David Hamilton. In my mind, this could be sweet Jane Birkin, coyly playing with a Japanese doll and singing a song in French with her cute accent…. Bellow you can see another portrait he painted of her in 1908, not as interesting as “Jane with a Japanese Doll” but certainly the blue and white stripes are visually exciting.

Alfons Karpinski, Model Jane, 1908