Polish painter and water-colorist; lived in Canada from 1942; landscape painter, representative of the movement of over-stylized, "naive" realism. Born in 1892 in Kraków, died in 1965 in Montreal.
Between 1910 and 1915 Malczewski studied philosophy, architecture, and agronomy in Vienna. His father, Jacek Malczewski, a professor at Kraków's Academy of Fine Arts, initiated him into the painterly craft. Between 1917 and 1939 the young Malczewski lived in Zakopane, where he was a member of the local artistic and intellectual elite concentrated, among others, around Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz and Karol Szymanowski. He joined the Towarzystwo Sztuka Podhalańska (Podhale Arts Society), which promoted the idea of seeking out foundations for Polish art in the local folk culture. Malczewski designed productions for the Formist Theatre which began operating in Zakopane in 1925, creating scenery for the plays of Witkacy and Strindberg among others. In 1932 he joined the Stowarzyszenie Artystow Polskich RYTM (Rhythm Association of Polish Artists). In 1930 Malczewski traveled to France, where he would return following the outbreak of World War II, traveling through Slovakia, Hungary, and Italy to get there. In 1940 he left France and traveled through Spain and Portugal to Brazil, where he spent almost two years creating watercolor views of Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, and landscape paintings of Parana. Malczewski then moved on to the United States, where he lived in New York among other places. Finally, in 1942, he settled in Montreal, traveling extensively in Canada and the United States in search of subjects to paint. Among his images, representations of the St. Lawrence and Rocky mountain ranges. In 1959 Malczewski visited Poland. A stroke suffered in 1957 resulted in partial paralysis, forcing him to give up oil painting; he continued, however, to create watercolors.
Malczewski first exhibited his works in public in 1924 together with Witkacy at Czeslaw Garlinski's Salon in Warsaw. Subsequent solo exhibitions of the artist's work were held in Zakopane (1926), Warsaw (1928, 1929, 1935, 1938), Krakow (1930, 1932), Lodz (1935), and Katowice (1938), as well as in Montreal (Museum of Arts, 1943; Dominion Gallery, 1949) and Washington D.C. (Corcoran Gallery, 1944). The artist participated in numerous presentations of Polish art abroad organized by the Towarzystwo Szerzenia Sztuki Polskiej wsrod Obcych (Society for the Propagation of Polish Art Among Foreigners), among them exhibitions in Prague and Helsinki (1929), Vienna, (1928), Paris (1928, 1937), Brussels and the Hague (1929), Budapest and Copenhagen (1930), Venice (13th Biennale), Los Angeles (1932), Moscow, Edinburgh, San Francisco (1933), New York (1933, 1939), Berlin (1936), Pittsburgh (1938), Ottawa (1942), Detroit (1945), and Montreal (1954). He was awarded numerous prizes and distinctions during his lifetime, including a gold medal at the Art and Technology International Exhibition in Paris (1937), the golden laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature (1937), and the visual arts prize of the Paris-based Polish-language monthly "Kultura" (1962). Malczewski was also a writer, focusing on subjects related to the Polish Tatra Mountains. His credits include the books Narkotyk gor / The Narcotic of the Mountains (1928), Tatry i Podhale / The Tatras and Their Foothills (1935), Gory wolaja / The Mountains Beckon (1939) and Pępek swiata. Wspomnienia o Zakopanem / The Navel of the World - Reminiscences of Zakopane (1960).
Landscapes dominate Malczewski's oeuvre as a painter. His early works were clearly influenced by the Symbolist art of his father, Jacek Malczewski. In the second half of the 1920s he was inspired by Cubist and Futurist aesthetics, seeking at that time to simplify his forms by granting them a geometric dimension. Expressionistic influences in turn manifested themselves through bold contrasts of pure, strong colors. His landscapes primarily depicted the Tatra Mountains and the surrounding hills of the Podhale region. The artist added life to these images by introducing small figures which were nevertheless very much relegated to the role of accessories. Frequently revisited subjects included sleepy towns and empty landscapes, which often were supplemented with the technical achievements of contemporary civilization. He repeated his sparsely populated train stations, trains drawn by old-fashioned locomotives, telegraph lines, and railroad tracks in numerous variations. Malczewski's attention was also drawn to colorful reflections on the surfaces of puddles, bogs, and ponds. The artist used stylized, decorative forms, "primitive" in convention, to create landscapes with a hyper-real feel, achieved through uniform patches of luminous, lively color and the creation of multiple compositional planes resembling a series of overlaid theatrical wings (Kamieniołom / The Quarry, 1927). Scholars compare Malczewski's works of this period to metaphysical painting, particularly the art of Carlo Carry. The similar weight granted to individual elements of the landscape - clouds, snow-covered peaks, fields, and streams - and the crystal clarity of the atmosphere draw the eyes of the viewer deeper into the image, granting the paintings a dimension that is at once metaphysical and monumental (Jesien / Autumn, 1926). Between 1927 and 1929 Malczewski created a series of paintings depicting the landscapes of Yugoslavia and the French Riviera. These exhibit the artist's tendency to represent objective forms and landscape features realistically. The textures in these works have become more differentiated, smooth patches exist alongside thick layers of paint grooved or crosshatched with a comb or the end of a brush. In these paintings the artist juxtaposed various conventions of representation and different means of expression - stylization with faithful representation of nature, linearism with a more painterly approach. In 1934-1935 Malczewski resided in Upper Silesia and in the region around the town of Cieszyn in southern Silesia. He recorded his impressions of these areas in a series of dark, gloomy landscapes that reflect the industrial character of Black Silesia (Czarny Śląsk / Black Silesia). These contrast starkly with Malczewski's sun-saturated, green-glowing hilly landscapes of the Beskid Mountains. In his images of Silesia the artist depicted steel mills, mines, zinc works, and coal hills - nature being destroyed by industry. The truthful observation and emotional charge inherent in these landscapes brings them very close to the German "New Objectivity" movement. In 1938 Malczewski created forty paintings depicting the realities of the Central Industrial Zone. This series is characterized by greater realism of detail as well as a poster-like treatment of color. While in Paris in 1940, the artist exhibited a series of five paintings titled Memories of War in Poland. In Canada, the Canadian National Railways and the Pacific National Railways commissioned him to create a series of watercolors advertising the companies. Malczewski introduced a decorative stylization into these landscapes, painted between 1943 and 1947 as if viewed from a train during a voyage through Canada. Once abroad Malczewski also turned to sports as a subject, focusing in particular on skiing. Flowers also appeared as a new motif in his work.
Author: Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Science, December 2001
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