After a six-year break, one of the largest collections of Polish painting, sculpture, drawings and prints from 1890 to 2005 will re-open to the public on 19th November. Rather than chronology, it will be the challenges, mutual fascinations, inspirations, relationships as well as never-ending confrontations experienced by subsequent generations of artists that will underlie the way in which this art is exhibited
The core of the Gallery is the art of Young Poland, reflecting Krakow's role in the development of Polish intellectual life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cracow was then a leading artistic centre, attracting top creative talent. It had its School of Fine Arts, re-named the Academy of Fine Arts in 1900, and, since 1897, an elitist Society of the Polish Artists "Art", uniting the community of the Academy around its artistic programme. A major role in shaping Cracow's art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was played by Feliks "Manggha" Jasienski, the art collector, patron and, most importantly, art expert, whose impressive collection of Young Poland's painting, sculpture and graphics, donated in 1920, significantly enriched the possessions of Cracow's National Museum.
The Young Poland's part of the exhibition is introduced by a presentation of painting inspired by the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer and the corresponding decadent views of Stanislaw Przybyszewski. Such characteristic moods can be seen in the art of Witold Wojtkiewicz, whose paintings were described by André Gide as "a disconcerting and personal mixture of naturalism, impressionism and grotesque", as well as in the decadent pictures by Wojciech Weiss and in the emotional sculptures by Konstanty Laszczka. The landscape painting of the time - the trademark of Young Poland - was also mood-inspired and became a painted equivalent of the literary "internal landscape". The nocturnes by Jozef Pankiewicz, the poetic master, the symbolic Tatra views by Leon Wyczolkowski and the mysterious WINTER TALE by Ferdynand Ruszczyc are displayed next to the landscapes by the unquestionable "master of small landscape forms", Jan Stanislawski. His output is represented by a selection of miniature, expressive views of the surroundings of Cracow and of sun-flooded Ukrainian meadows with the famous Carduus plants.
The Young Poland's period was also shaped by the generation of neo-romantic artists fascinated by romantic literature, history and philosophy. They, too, are represented in the Gallery, starting from Stanislaw Wyspianski, the greatest artistic individuality of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and creator of, among other art, stained glass designs - never implemented - for the Cracow cathedral, with the shocking, spectral corpses of kings Casimir the Great and Henry the Pious and of St. Stanislaw Szczepanowski. Jacek Malczewski stands out as a representative of mysterious symbolism.
Brought up in the cult of works by Juliusz Slowacki, Malczewski made Poland and the fate of Poles his central theme, entangling it in the complicated, rich and mystifying fabric of symbolism.
The turn of the century witnessed also the development of a fashionable artistic movement growing out of the fascination with the fabulously colourful Polish village. Its representatives included Wlodzimierz Tetmajer, who painted the Bronowice village near Cracow, and Fryderyk Pautsch, whose paintings show the Hucul folklore. This part of the exhibition is complemented by the expressive sculptures by Waclaw Szymanowski and Jan Szczepkowski.
The viewer's attention is now drawn by the paintings by Wladyslaw Slewinski, with his fascination for French art and Gaugain's synthetism, and to Olga Boznanska's intimate still lifes with their subdued colours, to her studio interiors and, more importantly, to portraits said to be influenced by the poetry of Maurice Maeterlinck and the art of Eugene Carriere and James McNeill Whistler.
The Gallery of the Polish Art of the Twentieth Century has an equally strong collection of art of the twenty years' inter-war period. The art of the that time was dominated, particularly in Cracow, by two stylistic trends, formism and colourism. Preceding avant garde, formism, with its interest in the form, was akin in its pursuits to the European cubism, to expressionism and to the Italian futurism. The Gallery displays works by the leading formists who grew out of the Cracow circles: Zbigniew Pronaszko, Leon Chwistek, Tytus Czyzewski, Konrad Winkler. Associated with formists was also Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy), the author of a series of painting compositions with literary titles, composed of fantastic, hallucinatory silhouettes - attempts at applying in painting the theory of Pure Form, whereby form was to be dominant and the content a mere pretext to build the painting. The displayed series of pastel portraits is the product of the "Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz Painting Company". Established in 1924 and operating in line with Company Rules, the Company worked like an artisan's workshop, producing pastel portraits at set prices, sometimes under the influence of hard drugs.
Colourism, in turn, grew out of the art of Jozef Pankiewicz, who was fascinated by French painting and who developed in his disciples a cult of painting based on a "play of colours". Colourists established the Paris Committee in 1924 and left for Paris the following year. Pankiewicz's works are shown side by side with the colour-built landscapes and still lifes by Jan Cybis, Hanna Rudzka-Cybis and Zygmunt Waliszewski. Of note are the works by Artur Nacht-Samborski, in which the painter departs from the radical colourism and is close to the European expressionism.
A special place in the Gallery is devoted to the works of members of Cracow's oldest artistic association, GRUPA KRAKOWSKA. On display is both the pre-war artistic achievement of the First Cracow Group, established in 1993 and represented by Jonasz Stern, Adam Marczynski and Leopold Lewicki, as well as the post-war output of the Second Cracow Group (II GRUPA KRAKOWSKA), active since 1957. There is a broad selection of paintings and set designs by Tadeusz Kantor; painting, sculptures and monotypes by Maria Jarema; expressive and dramatic works by Jonasz Stern; Jerzy Nowosielski's works, bordering on mysticism; Kazimierz Mikulski's, Erna Rosenstein's and Jerzy Skarzynski's paintings, oscillating towards surrealism and the metaphor; mysteriously metaphorical compositions by Tadeusz Brzozowski; ascetic paintings by Janina Kraupe-Swiderska; Janusz Tarabula's and Danuta and Witold Urbanowicz's experiments with the matter and texture of paintings; and monumental, sculpted ZWIDY (PHANTOMS) by Jerzy Beres.
The 1950s generation of artists associated with the famous exhibition in Warsaw's Arsenal is represented in the Gallery by the stirring paintings and drawings by Andrzej Wroblewski. Wroblewski addressed the brutality of death, using a simplified colour code in which blue was the colour for the killed and dying, and repeatedly revisited the shocking theme of "neobarbaric" ROZSTRZELANIA (KILLINGS BY FIRING SQUAD) (1948-1949) - the horrifying reminiscences of war times.
Wroblewski's art corresponds with the paintings of the late 1960s and 1970s - the period of seeming political stabilization, when the state allowed freedom in art on condition of no politics. Like the European art, the Polish art too abandoned Art Informel in favour of figuration to express the concerns of mankind. The art thus produced gave testimony to its times. Such was the programme adopted by members of Cracow's GRUPA WPROST, established in 1966 and including Maciej Bieniasz, Zbylut Grzywacz, Leszek Sobocki, Jacek Waltos, and others.
The exhibition ends with a show of the latest art, created by the youngest generation of members of GRUPA ŁADNIE: Marcin Maciejowski, Rafal Bujnowski and Wilhelm Sasnal. Their art, resembling comic strips and merciless in revealing the banality of contemporary world, has been a tremendous world success. A distinct place is taken by women art, considered to belong to a broadly understood feminist art movement. The artistic pursuits of Katarzyna Kozyra, Marta Deskur and Alicja Zebrowska, addressing existential issues, are highly controversial. The Gallery has put them side by side with the sculptures by Alina Szapocznikow - a distressing testimony to a fight against a terminal illness - and with the works by Maria Pininska-Beres, which challenge the stereotypical image of women while making ironic use of "feminine" techniques of hand sewing.
The Gallery of Polish Art of the Twentieth Century takes the visitor through the decades, the artistic movements and the trends, mostly those linked to Cracow. Presenting and teaching the history of Polish art, with its stages of development, it also provokes more profound thoughts on the artistic programmes of each generation of artists and on the esthetic conventions they followed. But more importantly, it presents the best examples of Polish painting and sculptures - the icons of Polish modernism, the inter-war period and the post-war avant-garde. (Based on the text by Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha).
The Gallery of Polish Art of the Twentieth Century comprises an area of 3.5 thousand square metres. The initial concept and spatial design was created by Adam Brincken, Jacek Budyn and Jerzy Lason in co-operation with Anna Krol. The exhibition's scenario was developed by Marek Swica and by the team of employees of the National Museum in Cracow.