8 Polish Paintings of Foreign Cities
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If you’re stuck at home and dreaming of faraway places, Culture.pl might just have the thing for you – a virtual trip to 8 extraordinary cities, as portrayed by outstanding Polish painters.
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'A View of Vilnius' by Michał Rouba, 1934, photo: Desa – Auction House and Gallery Ltd
Let’s start off with a city that used to be part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which meant that you could travel there from Poland without going to another country. Today, Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, but you might have trouble crossing the border to reach it.
In the painting at hand, titled Widok na Wilno (A View of Vilnius), we see the Lithuanian capital from a wooded hill on the city’s outskirts. The middle of the painting is occupied by another hill, most probably the Hill of Three Crosses, which stands in the city’s centre. In real life, on top of that hill, there’s a monument – three white concrete crosses commemorating the martyrdom of Franciscan friars in the 14th century. According to legend, back then, three friars were killed in Vilnius for religious reasons. It seems that the white structure atop the hill in the middle of the painting is a depiction of the abovementioned monument.
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A View of Vilnius was created in 1934 by Michał Rouba (1893-1941), who was born and lived in Vilnius for much of his life. The artist studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. The piece is representative of his oeuvre, which includes plenty of romantic landscapes and urban views.
Here we have another hilly landscape, one which shows the hills in Jerusalem. The Middle Eastern city is famously located in the Judean Hills, which is marvellously shown in this painting, titled Widok Jerozolimy (A View of Jerusalem).
The hills of Judea rise to the east of the northern part of the Shefela [a region in south-central Israel], and reach Jerusalem at their easternmost part within Israel territory. The City of Jerusalem itself is at the centre of a range called the hills of Jerusalem, to the north of which extend the hills of Bet El and south of it the hills of Hebron.
From the book ‘Israel’, 1954, published by the Israel Office of Information
The artwork in question was created between the years of 1925 and 1927 by the Polish Jewish painter Abraham Neuman (1873-1942), who was born in the town of Sierpc and studied painting at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. In 1926, Neuman went to Jerusalem for a year and even lectured there at the local Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Neuman is considered one of the top Polish landscape painters of the first half of the 20th century. A View of Jerusalem shows both his artistic skill and first-hand knowledge of Jerusalem.
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'The Port in Marseille' by Mela Muter, 1932, privately owned, photo: private archive
Next on our list is another painting by a Polish Jewish artist – Mela Muter (1876-1967). She was born in Warsaw, where she briefly studied at Miłosz Kotarbiński's Drawing and Painting School for Women. In 1901, she moved to Paris to further her artistic career and eventually ended up staying in France.
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In France, and thanks to France, she fully discovered the joy of painting outdoors, close to nature. […] Influenced by the light of seaside landscapes and the work of painters touched by impressionism and its effects, Muter’s palette gained new colours and the facture of her canvases acquired vividness. […] The artist travelled a lot, portraying Brittany – her first painting destination – but also Spain and the painterly qualities of the Mediterranean region.
From muzeum.umk.pl, trans. MK
This 1932 painting by Muter, titled Port w Marsylii (The Port in Marseille), is a splendid depiction of the titular city, which lies on the Mediterranean coast. Thanks to the use of carefully chosen colours, the artist managed to masterfully convey the effect the intense Mediterranean light has on various surfaces.
This painting also shows a port, namely the one in the city of Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople. The piece was authored by Jan Ciągliński (1858-1913), who was born in Warsaw and studied at the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts. It’s titled Widok Portu w Konstantynopolu (View of the Port in Constantinople) and was created by the artist in 1893 during a visit to the Turkish city.
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In his ‘View of the Port in Constantinople’, Ciągliński renders a panorama of the Old City. Visible in the foreground, starting from the left, is the mosque of Kılıç Ali Pasha with its single minaret, believed to be a work of the architect Sinan from 1580. Clustered around it are a madrassa, a bath house, and a mausoleum. Slightly to the left is the Nusretiye mosque with two minarets, built in the years of 1822 to 1826 by Mahmud II.
From the catalogue ‘Oryantalizm: Orientalism in Polish Art’, published by Pera Museum
In his composition, Ciągliński devoted much attention to Constantinople’s architecture but also gave a prominent place to the sea in the Bosphorus. The water, with its ultramarine colour, constitutes a stark contrast to the ecrus and whites of the buildings.
Rio de Janeiro
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'The Beach in Rio de Janeiro' by Rafał Malczewski, 1914-1918, photo: Desa – Auction House and Gallery Ltd
Water plays an important role also in this urban landscape showing Rio de Janeiro. The turquoise Atlantic Ocean takes up most of the painting and brings to mind the tropical climate of the Brazilian city. The charming view also shows the famous, four-kilometre long Copacabana Beach, lined with buildings on the left. In the upper middle part of the composition, you can see the characteristic Sugarloaf Mountain.
Sugarloaf Mountain (Portuguese: ‘Pão de Açúcar’) is a peak situated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, […] on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. It is known worldwide for its cableway and panoramic views of the city.
The watercolour painting, titled Plaża w Rio de Janeiro (The Beach in Rio de Janeiro), was created in 1949 by Rafał Malczewski (1892-1965). He was born in Kraków and received his artistic education from his father, Jacek Malczewski, an eminent Polish painter. In 1940, Rafał Malczewski left Europe and went to Brazil, where he painted views of local cities and landscapes. Two years later, after living for a while in New York City, he permanently moved to Montreal, Canada.
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Another celebrated Polish painter who lived in New York was Tamara Łempicka (1898-1980), also known as Tamara de Lempicka. She was born probably in Moscow, but grew up in Warsaw with her Polish family. Łempicka studied at the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts and at Académie Ranson in Paris. In 1938, in view of the growing Nazi threat, she left Europe for America, and in 1943, she moved to New York. However, her view of that city, titled simply New York, was created before she relocated there – around the year 1929.
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Tamara de Lempicka travelled to New York in September 1929, in order to fulfil several commissions. […] She produced a number of paintings while there, including some studies of skyscrapers.
The cityscape at hand was created by Łempicka in her trademark Art Deco style. Through the use of dark colours evoking a grim atmosphere – and by employing a tight composition largely devoid of space – the artist created a menacing vision of a city whose great concentration of skyscrapers may at times seem overwhelming.
A high-rise building can also be seen in this painting, Barcelona. The artwork shows the Art Nouveau Sagrada Família basilica, located in the central area of the titular city. This architectural monument was designed by the renowned architect Antonio Gaudi and figures amongst Barcelona’s most important landmarks. The giant structure has been under construction since the late 19th century and, when completed, will have three facades. The painting shows the Nativity façade, with its characteristic towers, which was finished in the 1930s.
Barcelona was created in 2016 by Edward Dwurnik (1943-2018) in his unique drawing-like style. The painter, who was born in Radzymin and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, is often associated with his numerous portrayals of Polish and European cities.
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Before Dwurnik made a painting, he studied the history of the city he was going to portray and transferred its most important monuments to a canvas. His favourite painting motifs included the Castle Square in Warsaw, the Main Square in Kraków and the city hall in Poznań.
From niezlasztuka.net, trans. MK
In historical times, Barcelona was part of a state called the Crown of Aragon, which also included Naples. The latter city is what can be seen in this 1936 painting by Teresa Roszkowska (1904-1992), titled Uliczka w Neapolu (Alley in Naples).
Roszkowska was born in Kiev and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In the 1930s, she repeatedly travelled to France and Italy to do plein air painting. Here’s how the artist’s style of creation is described in a Polish-language article from Culture.pl:
Small strokes of the brush create a multi-coloured painting substance; the play of matte colours is dynamized by facture effects (Alley in Naples, 1936). Genre scenes, filled with small, silhouette-like figures, are often animated by narrative threads, humorous anecdotes or a few prosaic events which happen – as in Breughel’s works – simultaneously.
Written by Irena Kossowska, trans. MK
Thanks to such characteristic details as the window shutters or the laundry hanging above the street, Roszkowska’s painting really conjures the atmosphere of a southern European city.
The alley in Naples is where our virtual trip will have to come to an end. If you’d like to see more intriguing places portrayed by Polish painters, check out our Map of Poland in Paintings – which will take you on an amazing journey from the Tatra Mountains all the way to the Baltic coast.
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