He first lived in Grójec and Ciechanów, where he studied to become a rabbi. Around 1900, he started studying sculpture in Warsaw in Pius Weloński’s workshop, and he then continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków under the guidance of Konstanty Laszczka. In 1903 and 1910 he visited Paris where he studied stone and marble working. In 1921, he was one of the founders and the most active participants in the exhibitions of the Rytm association in Warsaw. Between 1924 and 1930, he lived in Paris. After he returned to Warsaw, he served many important roles in artistic institutions and associations. From 1936, he was the director of the sculpture department at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. After World War II, he was nominated as professor of monumental sculpture at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, however, he didn’t manage to start his work there.
In his early works, he took his inspiration from Auguste Rodin – he studied under the guidance of Konstanty Laszczka, who was fascinated with the French sculptor, and Kuna saw Rodin’s sculptures himself during his stay in Paris. Their influence provided direction for his works created in the first decade of the 20th century. They are characterised by delicate modelling, a dose of sketchiness, and a wealth of shading nuances (e.g. Irydion, 1905). He adopted a fundamentally different style in his later works. During his next visit to Paris, he was very impressed by the art of Aristide Maillol and other artists participating in the so-called new classicism, a reaction to the Rodinists’ sculpture. Following suit, Kuna took inspiration from the art of distant epochs, especially antiquity and the Middle Ages. Abandoning a sketchy form rich in texture, he began applying a clear compositional order which consisted of wide planes of smoothly polished forms.
During the interwar period, Kuna developed his own individual style. His sculptures from that time were characterised by soft, ‘sleek’ contours and a certain decorativeness in the rythmisation of the form. Some of his most popular and widely appreciated works were the female figures designed to be placed outdoor or surrounded by architecture, for example Rytm (1922; Rhythm); one of the sculpture’s variants embellished the court of the Polish pavilion during the 1925 Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, a different variant of the sculpture was unveiled in 1929 in the Skaryszewski Park in Warsaw) and Dziewczyna z Dzbanem – Alina (A Girl with a Jug – Alina) created in 1937 which still stands in the Stefan Żeromski Park in Warsaw’s Żoliborz district.
In the 1930s, the artist was mainly preoccupied with his work on a sculpture of Adam Mickiewicz in Vilnius. He won the right to construct it in a design competition in 1931. Kuna wanted to depict Mickiewicz in a pilgrim’s robe on a pedestal in the form of Svetovid, a Slavic deity, which would have a base decorated with bas-reliefs of scenes from Forefathers' Eve. The sculpture wasn’t created mainly because of a xenophobic campaign launched by the Vilnius press. However, there still remain some ready-to-install fragments of the monument (like the bas-reliefs) which are stored in the Art Institute in Vilnius and the National Museum in Warsaw.
Henryk Kuna’s last preserved works are a plaster group entitled Walka (Zwycięstwo; Combat – Victory) created in 1942 and martyrdom watercolours.
Originally written by Piotr Szubert (Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw), February 2002, translated by Adam Petrėtis, 12 November 2017