An artist, photographer, painter, publicist and pedagog. He was born on December 9, 1872 in Lwow and died on July 20, 1931 in the Pruty region of the Tatras.
An artist, photographer, painter, publicist and pedagog; without a doubt one of the most important and talented photographers of his era.
Mikolasch Henry, "Self-Portrait ", photograph, photo from the private collection of Tomasz Moscicki
He was without a doubt one of the most important and talented photographers of his era. A chemist and pharmacetist by trade, he concluded his education at the University of Lwow with a Masters in philosophy. At first he worked in the family chemist business, the Piotr Mikolasch & co. pharmaceutical firm. Thanks to family connections, in 1894 he met Juliusz Kossak, under whom he began to study painting. He continued to be taught (between 1905-1906) by a known Krakowian miniature landscape artist names Jan Stanisławski, as well as at Juliana Fałata's studio.
He also held an interest in music, he took singing classes from Waler Wysocki who lectured in the Galic Music Conservatory in Lwow. His versatility of interests and extensive knowledge in many different fields cannot fail to win admiration and yet at the same time they were not necessarily unique. Many former masters of photography carried out the profession not as a trade but as a creative means and were often members of an elite intellectual society.
He first encountered the art of photography at the age of 12 and later studies in chemistry deepened his knowledge of the craft from a scientific point of view. His classes taken from great Polish painters, linked with his knowledge gained at university, provided him with a solid foundation for photography in a unique manner. Artistic interests dominated his life and professional work to such an extent that in 1908 he rid himself of his job at the chemists, and stopped working in the family company, to focus almost entirely on photography.
His work was presented during many exhibitions. His first distinction was the golden medal on the first Great Slavic Exhibition in Wieliczce in 1903. He quickly became a known artist, whose renown stretched far beyond the borders of former Galicja. By 1910 his photographs had been shown in Amsterdam, Paris, London, Budapest and Vienna. Although his passion was mainly photography, he never fully moved away from painting. In later years, it was possible to speak of both Mikolasch as a photographer as well as a painter, who was mainly recognized as immortalizing the beauty of the Polish landscape.
As a photographer he was not only a master of conventional photography. He also cultivated many modern techniques, breaching the gap between photography and graphic art. In true, masterful fashion, he dominated the use of colorful resins (his most known and exhibited photograph, Blue Flask was executed using this technique and was taken in 1914. It's a still life depicting a dark blue bottle with oranges places around it). He was one of the first Polish artists to apply a technique discovered in 1904: the oil technique. He was also the first Pole to modify the technique, by using bromine. He also experimented with color photography.
The aesthetic of Mikolasch's photography was undoubtedly influenced by the era in which he worked. The dominating pictorial aesthetic with its fondness for the painterly style of photographic images, with various tricks of light, and the impeccable composition of pictures as informed by the emphasis on measure and proportion as taken from the canon of European art.
His practice extended to all branches of photography, from landscape portraits to still life. Due to his talent, hard-work and rich professional accomplishment in the realm of publishing and developing photographic teachings, as well as through his pedagogic passions, he is now regarded as an outstanding representative of so-called Lwow school of photography, which also counts Józef Świtkowski among its ranks, as well as Mikolasch's most prominent students, including: Janinę Mierzecką and Jan Alojzi Neuman.
In addition to his artistic activities, he was a valued academic lecturer in the Lwow polytechnic where he worked from 1921 to 1931. He assumed the professional chair of photography master. His classes presented the possibility of getting to know photography with all of the field's former technical innovation as well as its novelty and practical application. Mikolasch led classes in photographic optics, photographic techniques, positive-negatives processes, and the aesthetics of photographic images. He authored photographic handbooks and coined photographic terms in specialist dictionaries. It was because of his influence that the journal "Photographic News" came into being.
Mikolasch quickly became an entrepreneur of photographic life and not only in Lwow. In 1903 he was chosen for the position of chairman in Lwow and in 1891 he became a member of the Club of Photography Lovers. He transformed the Lwow photographic society. He was an honorary member of Warsaw's Photographic Society and in 1930 he was elected to the elite five-person senior governing board of the Polish Photographic Club.
He was also interested in the manufacturing of cameras. He built them independently, working with a shutter camera, thus widening the possibilities of photography. He advanced his photographic techniques with taking photographs of wild animals.
He was not a politically active person and his multi-national family tree was (as his biographers stress) "lordly" in nature, albeit strongly linked to the Polish tradition. Due to this, Mikolasch came to be thought of as a Polish intellect of strong noble roots.
Beyond the large-scale recognition of his works, his reputation recalls not only an unusually talented artist but also a very select personality, often difficult in his relationships and hardly free from fault. One character flaw was his pedantic nature: an obsession derived from his love of tidiness. His "10 commandments" were well-known by his students and were hung upon the teacher's work station. Also well-known is his letter to Neuman, in which he scolded his artistic decline into "artistic havoc and clutter in the dark". He was also famed for his uncompromising judgments and his biting commentary, with sometimes brutal come-backs (although he was careful not to broach the borders of good manners) about matters with which he did not agree. On the other hand, he was an artist who was able to value the talents of others, especially those apparent in the younger generation.
In 1985, Janina Mierzecka recalled her years of teaching with Mikolasch, one of the most acclaimed Polish photographers for the second half of the 20th century, by stating the following:
I had amassed enough professional accomplishments, when, in 1925, I reported to Dr. Henryk Mikolasch with the request of private lessons in photography. I did not know then that this would become a turning point in my life and a decisive factor for my future(…)
I did not realize the significance, sixty years ago, of Mikolasch's untiring artistry, skill and service (which already had some decades behind it) and his independent, creative and inquisitive work. From the beginning, his lessons gave me the impression that I had uncovered an unknown revelation.
I started to grasp things differently. I found that I had previously been approaching many things with my eyes firmly shut. And now I had the feeling, that someone had taken the sleep from my eyes. Thanks to this change in observation, I prevailed over a number of difficulties, I found I could now comprehend many issues, which had previously troubled me. I lived through this period of education with euphoria, consuming all I could by way of theoretical information, as well as the practical side of photography, with all of the available techniques. To my astonishment, after five months, at the end of May, my Mikolasch proposed that I co-lead a photographic workshop with him. He had, uptil this time, single-handedly led a workshop of the highest standard, for select clients. I took this offer on with disbelief but…after a few months, in September, I found that the proposal had already become reality. Over three years we led the classes together, after which Mikolasch backed out, and I worked on for a good few years alone.
Mikolasch's great creativity often caused him periods of physical exhaustion. One assumes that he suffered from depression. He sometimes removed himself from his work and took up residence at his summer home in the village of "Tatarowie nad Prutem". In this very place he ended his life. It was apparent that a subsequent bout of depression had heightened his difficulties. He committed suicide on July 20, 1931. To this day, however, the true cause of his death is unknown.
Part of his surviving photographs lie in the collections of the National Museum in Wroclaw.
Chosen publications of Henryk Mikolasch:
- Henryk Mikolasch, My oil and bromine technique, Lwów 1926
- Henryk Mikolasch, The art of developing photographic images, Lwów 1931
- Henryk Mikolasch, My rubber technique, Lwów 1932
- Henryk Mikolasch, Józef Świtkowski, Polish Photographic Vocabulary, Lwów 1930
- Henryk Mikolasch [red.], Polish Photographic Album, Lwów 1905
- Aleksander Żakowicz [red.], "Old Lwowiam photography 1839-1939", Lwów 2004
- Janina Mierzecka, "My world, my times", Warszawa 1989
- Ignacy Płażewski, "The History of Polish Photography", Warszawa 2003