‘O merry Spring! You laugh so beautifully’, wrote the 18th-century Polish poet Elżbieta Drużbacka, capturing the essence of the season in a single, clear line. Here we take a look at seven masterpieces by Polish painters that show the magic of Spring: from thawing snow and blooming lilacs to the more symbolic Roman goddess Flora.
Wiosenne Roztopy by Jacek Malczewski
At the turn of the seasons, when winter finally begins to wane, making way for the warmer days, Poland experiences a time called przedwiośnie or ‘early spring’. It’s not yet spring, but no longer winter. Typically at this time, the snow starts melting leaving muddy puddles behind and making the river swell. Wiosenne Roztopy or ‘Spring Thaw’ by Jacek Malczewski conveys the aura of this period with unparalleled skill – thanks to the blue-grey colour scheme you can almost feel the cold dampness in your bones. The eminent modernist painter sought inspiration for this 1905 piece in the landscapes nearby his villa in the suburbs of Kraków, where the Vistula River flows.
Wiosna by Stanisław Pstrokoński
Although there is a lot of blue in this painting, it does not seem cold. The woman, standing in the nude, looks perfectly comfortable – the evening must be warm. The refined composition of this painting from 1900, highlighting the beauty of the figure’s back, is one of its greatest assets.
Stanisław Pstrokoński titled his painting Wiosna which translates simply as ‘Spring’, suggesting that the woman leaning on the birch tree might be the season’s personification. Interestingly, she looks like she has parts of birch leaves (or bractlets) in her hair. These, however, only fall at the end of the summer. Why then does she symbolise spring? The explanation seems to be of a linguistic nature. According to the 16th-century Iconologia, a classic book on symbols in art by Cesare Ripa, wings are attributes of female personifications of spring. In turn, bractlets are called skrzydełka in Polish which translates as ‘little wings'. So in this depiction, the fallen bractlets are actually supposed to represent spring.
Bzy by Jan Stanisławski
It was May,
and Saska Kępa smelled
of wild, green lilacs
These are the opening words of Małgośka, the 1974 Polish smash hit, sung by rock diva Maryla Rodowicz. Its lyrics were authored by the exceptional lyricist and writer Agnieszka Osiecka, a famous resident of Warsaw’s Saska Kępa neighbourhood.
Because of their magnificent smell and looks, blooming lilacs are among the most cherished phenomena of Polish springtime. Thanks to the beautiful Bzy or ‘Lilacs’, created by the noted landscape painter Jan Stanisławski 73 years before the song was released, you can see that lilacs in bloom were always a Polish spring favourite.
Wiosna – Wnętrze Pracowni Artysty by Leon Wyczółkowski
The title of this 1933 painting by Leon Wyczółkowski, one of Poland’s most valued modernist painters, is Spring: the Interior of an Artist’s Atelier. It shows the inside of the artist’s manor in Gościeradz, a village in northern-central Poland. According to the website of the Leon Wyczółkowski Museum in Bydgoszcz, the artist commented on the painting with the following words: ‘With its scent and air spring comes inside’.
Indeed, just from looking at the brightness of the blooming tree and the shape of the fluttering curtain you expect the fresh, warm air to reach your nostrils. The dark armchair and the book abandoned on the windowsill suggests that the painter found the day so pleasant, that he spontaneously rushed outside just to enjoy it to the fullest.
Pejzaż z Domem i Drzewami by Julian Fałat
This painting was made by the prominent watercolour painter Julian Fałat in 1911, a year after he moved to the mountain village of Bystra. It likely shows the local countryside, which became a favourite topic of his after he settled down there. In this piece, A Landscape with a House and Trees, Fałat exhibits his fascination with Japanese art, which is visible in many of his other works, such as the famed winter landscapes from Bystra he’s commonly associated with. In a Culture.pl article, Irena Kossokowska writes:
The Japanese influences manifest themselves in asymmetric landscapes where ‘empty’ spaces – white surfaces – play an active part (…)
Wiosna by Roman Kochanowski
Like Fałat, the author of this piece, Roman Kochanowski, is among Poland’s most valued landscape painters. His oeuvre includes numerous views of the countryside near Kraków, and this is likely one of them. Created around 1900, Wiosna or ‘Spring’, is symptomatic of the stylistic shift that occurred in his work at the turn of the century – he substituted a detailed approach for a more vague one. In this scene, the dynamic composition seems to reflect the chaos of spring’s feverish appearance, whereas the strokes of the paintbrush conjure a pleasantly dreamlike ambience.
Wiosna by Teresa Roszkowska
The author of this piece, Teresa Roszkowska, is known to have been inspired by Renaissance painting. It is visible in her 1932 painting Wiosna, particularly in the visual illusion of distance she created, as well as in the allegorical character of the painting.
The painting depicts an allegory of spring which is personified as Flora, the ancient Roman goddess of flowers and the season of spring. What gives her away? The floral crown on the head of the topmost figure (Flora was depicted on Roman coins with such a crown), flowers in her hands and farm work, a theme traditionally linked to the deity, in the background. What also links Wiosna to classic depictions of spring is the appearance of embracing couples – it’s the season of love after all! All of this is presented in a curious art deco aesthetic making Wiosna a splendidly unique work of art.
Author: Marek Kępa, March 2018