Painter and scenery designer; representative of 1920s and 1930s avant-garde art; born in 1888, died in 1961.
Painter and scenery designer; representative of 1920s and 1930s avant-garde art; born 31 December 1888 in Derebczyn in the region of Podole; died 15 January 1961 in Warsaw.
This page features two articles about Andrzej Pronaszko and his work.
ANDRZEJ PRONASZKO - visual arts
Pronaszko began his education in the arts in 1906 at the Higher School of Industry in Krakow. In 1909-1910 he studied painting at Krakow's Academy of Fine Arts under professors Leon Wyczółkowski and Stanisław Dębicki, and went on to perfect his creative skills in Munich and Paris. With his brother Zbigniew Pronaszko and fellow artist Tytus Czyżewski, e co-organized the exhibitions of the 'Independents' in Kraków (1911, 1912, 1913), modeled after the Parisian Salons des Indépendants. These shows were an expression of opposition against the dominance of the "Sztuka" (Art) Society of Polish Artists founded in 1897 and composed of leading painters of the Young Poland movement.
During World War I the artist and his brother lived in the mountain resort of Zakopane. Pronaszko spent these years designing scenery. In 1917 he was among the founders of the avant-garde Ekspresjoniści polscy / Polish Expressionists (renamed the Formisci / Formists in 1919). As a scenery designer, he worked with theatres located in Lodz, Kraków, Warsaw and Lvov. In 1926 he linked up with the avant-garde Praesens group, which brought together architects and painters with a Constructivist pedigree. It was with another member of the group, Szymon Syrkus, that Pronaszko produced the design for his Teatr Symultaniczny (Simultaneous Theatre) in 1928. The artist revolutionized the concept of stage scenery by emphasizing functional issues; in 1934 he worked with Stefan Bryła in designing the Teatr Ruchomy (Moving Theatre), based on a revolving auditorium surrounded by a stage. He exhibited his paintings at the Garlinski Art Salon in Warsaw (1929, 1930), the Municipal Museum in Gdansk (1930) and the salon of the Polis Visual Artists' Trade Union in Lvov (1935). In 1937 he received a Silver Medal at the "Art and Technology" International Exhibition in Paris for his composition W sklepie instrumentow muzycznych / In a Musical Instrument Shop. During World War II, he was a member of the underground Rada Teatralna (Theatre Council). In 1957 he was appointed a professor at the State Higher School of Theatre in Warsaw.
In the early stages of his career, Pronaszko's artistic stance was influenced by the art of Young Poland; his works were stylistically congruent to those of the Symbolist painters Jacek Malczewski and Vlastimil Hofman (Autoportret na tle galezi drzewa / Self-Portrait with Tree Branches, 1908; Chrystus nauczający / Christ Teaching; Kuszenie / Temptation; Triumf śmierci / Death's Triumph). During his Formist period the artist remained influenced by Cubist aesthetics but simultaneously sought new forms of expression for his national, patriotic themes. The still lifes he painted using a narrow, almost monochromatic color range and compact structures evoke the synthetic compositions of J. Metzinger and A. Gleizes. In these works, simplified, geometric forms are surrounded by strong contour lines. For his stylized, multi-colored figurative scenes, which were travesties of religious iconographic motifs, Pronaszko referenced folk art, specifically paintings on glass. He created complex, decorative compositions of uniform, intense color planes surrounded - as in stained glass windows - by clear contour lines; in the process, he obscured neither the figurative motifs nor narrative elements (Procesja / Procession from the series Złożenie do grobu / The Laying in the grave, 1916; Mnich / The Monk, 1917). His Formist drawings, replete with arched lines, constitute a reminiscence of Secession stylistics on the one hand and on the other reflect the artist's fascination with the dynamic movement evident in Futurist depictions and in Matisse's decorative compositions illustrating lively dance motifs (Podpalacz / The Arsonist, 1918; Taniec / Dance, 1920).
In 1921 Pronaszko embarked on a new stage of his career: the artist granted his clearly defined, dense forms a slightly geometric character while reverting to modeling forms based on light and shadow. Simultaneously, he introduced a moody color scheme dominated by tones of blue-gray (Ucieczka Marii do Egiptu / Mary's Flight into Egypt; W pracowni / In My Studio; Portret zony / Portrait of My Wife). In 1927, during the Formists' last joint exhibition held at the "Zacheta" Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Warsaw, Pronaszko showed a number of paintings that testified to the wide artistic range of his explorations and simultaneously to his gradual abandonment of Formist issues in favor of color analysis. Many of these canvasses were genre works or had battle themes (Poranek na Folwarku / Morning in the Farmyard, Upalny podwieczorek / A Hot Evening), but there were also still lifes and portraits among them. During a voyage to France and Italy in the late 1920s Pronaszko used watercolors to record his impressions of the sunlit landscapes, creating small-format works that were nevertheless dominated by painterly composition (Kosciół w Fort Vendre / Church at Fort Vendre, Pałac w Trouville / Palace at Trouville, Przystan w Collioure / Collioure Harbor); in 1930 he showed a series of works titled Pejzaze sentymentalne / Sentimental Landscapes at the Municipal Museum in Gdansk. Dating from the time when the artist was a member of the Praesens group, these compositions embodied the assumptions of Constructivism. Arrays of simple geometric forms, they suggested objective reality in a manner reminiscent of the works of purists like A. Ozenfant and Ch. E. Jeanneret (Scena. Kompozycja konstruktywistyczna / Scene - A Constructivist Composition, 1927). In his still lifes of the 1950s, Pronaszko reverted to synthetically figurative representation. Musical instruments were a frequent motif, blended into a complex array of spatial segments depicting the interior of the artist's studio. The artist granted symbolic titles to these latter works (Pożegnanie z muzą / Farewell to a Muse, 1949-51; Martwa natura z gwiazdami / Still Life with Stars, 1952-53). Pronaszko additionally produced graphics used in commerce and industry.
Source: Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Science, July 2002
ANDRZEJ PRONASZKO, theatre
Exceptional stage designer; born 31 December 1888 in Derebczyn in the region of Podole; died 15 January 1961 in Warsaw.
He initially enrolled at the Higher School of Industry in Kraków, only to transfer to the Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied under such luminaries as Leon Wyczółkowski and Stanisław Dębicki. Yet throughout this time Stanisław Wyspiański remained Pronaszko's greatest authority. In 1911-1914 he took part in three Kraków "Independents" exhibitions and in a theatre design exhibition organized by Leon Schiller. During the latter he showed a series of designs he prepared with his brother Zbigniew, a painter, for Karol Hubert Rostworowski's Judasz z Kariothu / Judas Iscariot. In 1917 he co-founded a group known as the Formists with Zbigniew Pronaszko and Tytus Czyżewski.
In 1915 he debuted as a scenery designer on the amateur stage. At the United Artists' Theatre in Zakopane he and his brother devised the settings for a production compiled of excerpts from Juliusz Słowacki's Lilla Veneda and Stanisław Wyspiański's Legion directed by Stefan Żeromski.
From 1916-1924 Pronaszko designed scenery for productions at the Polish Theatre in Lodz, the Municipal Theatre in Lvov and the Słowacki Municipal Theatre in Krakow. His engagement at Lvov proved especially brief. One of the first productions to be mounted after he was hired was an operetta, probably The Girl and the Kaiser. For this production, the artist designed scenery representing a forest, yet the theatre's management and city authorities found his visuals to be overly modern. The completed scenery was rejected and replaced on stage by a "real" forest, i.e. one created from freshly felled trees. Pronaszko resigned in response.
The designer did his most important pre-war working the period after 1924. Full of artistic "tension," it primarily involved his cooperation with Leon Schiller at the Boguslawski Theatre in Warsaw. The first time Pronaszko resorted to modern forms was for Schiller's staging of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale (1924), the settings for which consisted of black and white curtains and a series of platforms and stairs. The actors performed in stiff, stylized and harmonized costumes. The idea for stiff costumes, referred to later as "Pronaszko pipes," came to the artist earlier, when for another production he lined costumes with haircloth and cardboard. In time architectural structure and logical color composition came to characterize Pronaszko's costumes and scenery alike. The stiffened costumes favored hieratic gestures and rhythmic stage movement without binding the actors or overly limiting their movement.
Schiller and Pronaszko's A Winter's Tale became a manifesto of avant-garde theatre, featuring Cubist derived visual settings and the treatment of space as an 'acting terrain.' Pronaszko and his brother Zbigniew designed the scenery for a number of Schiller's other important productions at the Boguslawski Theatre. These included: Tadeusz Miciński's Kniaź Patiomkin / Prince Potemkin (1925), featuring highly dynamic scenery, that is, a ramp suggesting the off-balance deck of a ship; Stanisław Wyspiański's Achilles (1925), with monumental, static scenery resembling a 'dismembered' Cubist painting and consisting of three levels of platforms connected by stairs; and, finally, Stefan Żeromski's Róża / The Rose (1925), set amongst different architectural forms whose arrangement changed depending upon the progress and place of action. When the Bogusławski Theatre closed in 1926, Pronaszko was left without regular employment for some time. During this period, in 1928, he and Szymon Syrkus devised an architectural design for a "Teatr symultaniczny" (Simultaneous Theatre) that was to consist of an amphitheatre for three thousand viewers and a vast stage supplemented by two additional 'ring' stages. Some years later, in 1934, Pronaszko worked with Stefan Bryła in designing a "Teatr ruchomy" (Moving Theatre) featuring a revolving auditorium. The latter was supposed to be a traveling institution located in a tent. Neither of these innovative projects was ever realized.
From 1932-1937 Pronaszko worked in Lvov as a stage designer for the city's Municipal Theatres, headed at the time by Wilam Horzyca. During this period he devised the settings for over fifty productions, producing some of his most outstanding designs marked by a synthetic representation of space and invariably featuring geometric, centrally situated stage pieces, many of which manifested a kind of monumentality. The designer worked with Schiller on Stanisław Wyspiański's Powrót Odysa / The Return of Odysseus (1932), Sergey Tretyakov's Roar China! (1932), Juliusz Słowacki's Sen srebrny Salomei / The Silver Dream of Salome (1932) and Shakespeare's Coriolanus (1936). He also designed a number of Edmund Wierciński's stagings, including Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1932) and Słowacki's Ksiądz Marek / Father Mark, as well as Cyprian Norwid's Kleopatra / Cleopatra (1933) and Jan Kochanowski's Odprawa posłów greckich / The Dismissal of The Greek Envoys (1936), both directed by Wilam Horzyca. Another collaborator was Waclaw Radulski, for whom Pronaszko produced settings for Euripides' The Bacchae (1933), Filippo Tomasso Marinetti's The Prisoners (1933), Gilbert Keith Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (1934) and Zygmunt Krasiński's Nie-Boska Komedia / The Un-Divine Comedy (1935). In 1932 Pronaszko devised the scenery for Schiller's famous staging of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady / Forefathers' Eve. A geometrically shaped platform was the central piece, while three crosses stood far upstage. The largely non-descriptive scenery also included prison bars as well as the walls and entablature of an Orthodox church, both shown in cross-section. This Forefathers' Eve in Lvov came to be an icon of Schiller's monumental theatrical style and grew out of the conscious artistic efforts taken by the production's creators to articulate their theatrical intentions. In their mind, theatrical content was to be as inseparable from theatrical form as the director's, designer's and actors' efforts were to be from each other. Scenery was to be treated synthetically and to harmonize with actors' movements and the stage action. Costumes were to be sculptural; lighting, coming solely from reflectors, was to replace the curtain and be concentrated primarily on the actors; and stage action was to extend out onto the proscenium. Their final stipulation, which went unrealized in this production of Forefathers' Eve, called for connecting the auditorium and stage.
In the years preceding World War II, from 1937-1939, Pronaszko was a scenery designer at the National Theatre in Warsaw. During Germany's occupation of Poland, he remained in Warsaw, working as a carpenter. He was simultaneously active in the clandestine Rada Teatralna [Theatre Council] and collaborated with the Home Army's Bureau of Information and Propaganda. He was wounded on the first day of the Warsaw Uprising, at the end of which he departed for Krakow.
After the war he worked primarily in Kraków. In 1945 he became the artistic director of the city's Old Theatre (Narodowy Stary Teatr). Throughout 1946 he served as this institution's managing and artistic director. Later, he continued to work on productions at the Old Theatre although also designing scenery at the Słowacki Theatre (Teatr im. Juliusza Słowackiego) and the Wyspianski Silesian Theatre (Teatr Slaski im. Stanisława Wyspiańskiego) in Katowice.
It was at the Wyspiański in Katowice that he designed the scenery for Sophocles' Antigone directed by Henryk Szletyński (1946) and Jerzy Szaniawski's Dwa teatry / Two Theatres directed by Edmund Wierciński (1947), while at Kraków's Słowacki Theatre he worked primarily with Bronisław Dąbrowski, producing the scenery for Wyspiański's Klatwa / The Curse and Warszawianka (1947), Lope de Vega's The Sheep Well (1948) and Słowacki's Kordian (1956). Pronaszko also worked with Szletyński on a staging of Słowacki's Fantazy (1954) at this theatre, while at the Old Theatre he designed the scenery for, among others, Bohdan Korzeniewski's production of Jean Giraudoux's Amphitryon 38 (1948).
In his "Zapiski scenografa" (A Scenery Designer's Notes), published in 1976, Pronaszko underlined that a scenery designer must simultaneously be a good easel painter, must first develop a capability to use two dimensions, and then go on to create three-dimensional scenery on stage, scenery subject to a fourth factor that consists of the rhythmic shifting of visual volumes in time. For time and movement were decisive for Pronaszko when he visually designed stage productions.
"I tried to find scenic truth in scenery," wrote Pronaszko, thus revealing his artistic credo. "Flaubert claims the Truth is Beauty. Schlegel defines Beauty as infinity enclosed within the finite. The issue, then, is the idea of things, rather than the copy of things. In seeking the truth, I achieve its probability. In other words, the 'probable' becomes 'credible' through its suggestive power." (Andrzej Pronaszko, "Zapiski scenografa," Warsaw, 1976)
Pronaszko produced over two hundred stage designs in his lifetime. Throughout, he held the Polish poetic repertoire especially dear. He designed six different productions of Forefathers' Eve, produced scenery for almost all of Słowacki's and Wyspiański's plays, and twice devised the settings for The Un-Divine Comedy. He would work once again on Krasiński's text with Bohdan Korzeniewski in the 1950s, but his design for a production of this play at the Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski) in Warsaw was never realized.
Towards the end of his life Pronaszko moved to Warsaw, where he would create his last designs at the Polish Theatre: Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot directed by Bohdan Korzeniewski (1958) and Juliusz Słowacki's Beatrix Cenci staged by Jan Kreczmar (1959). In 1964, three year's after the artist's death, Mariusz Domochowski staged Alfred de Musset's The Candlestick with scenery designed by Pronaszko in 1960.
"To realize how exceptional he was," wrote Bohdan Korzeniewski of Pronaszko in the program to this production, "one would need to imagine, trembling with fear, in French theatre for example, a contemporary production of a Moliere, Racine or Corneille play designed by Léger or Picasso. Or the two together." (Theatre program to Alfred de Musset's "The Candelstick," Polish Theatre in Warsaw, 1964)
1955 - State Award 1st class for lifetime achievement as a scenery designer
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, March 2006