Józef Czajkowski was one of the most outstanding pro-national artists of the inter-war 1920s, and a man convinced of the social function of art.
Architect, a teacher, and a designer of interiors, furniture, fabric, and stained glass.
'In whatever material he composed, he always had the whole of the room, the apartment, or the house in mind'. Thus wrote Jerzy Warchałowski, a figure devoted to Polish applied arts, on Józef Czajkowski’s designs and projects. His article Wnętrza i meble Józefa Czajkowskiego (Józef Czajkowski’s Interiors and Furniture) begins with the words: 'Show me how you live and I shall tell you who you are.' Warchałowski felt that it was reasonable to judge a person by his/her place of residence, claiming that it spoke volumes about a person’s upbringing and his/her relationship to modern civilization. Warchałowski felt that modern civilization, 'in its mad rush surpasses the natural evolution of man’s essential preferences and needs, giving him formulae instead of style, fashion, and convention instead of the things he needs, trash and imitation objects instead of honest goods […].' The rebirth of Polish crafts was initiated at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries by a group of theorists, artists, and designers (Józef Czajkowski among them). This rebirth, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movements and their postulates of joining art and industry, was meant to oppose the state of things described above. The intention was to serve the Polish craftsman, who 'had lost the thread of tradition, was being fed poor designs […], crushed by the flood of foreign factory-produced goods, deprived of a good school, and unable to respond to the longing of the cultural spheres for its own mode of expression […].'(1)
The early-modernist concept of space and interior design with which Warchałowski described Czajkowski owes a great deal to the notion of the synthesis of the arts. In this case the integration was to be based on folk art and the old artistic crafts. In his inaugural lecture at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts in 1923, Józef Czajkowski declared:
And here we arrive at the conviction that there is neither applied nor pure art, neither great nor small; there is no such thing as ornament, for it is creation, not ornament we seek. And whereas in times past various objects were dealt with first, today the whole has become the first goal. […] The development of the home and its external forms must grow from the inside, as from a primitive cell, the shape and the essence of the whole emerge from the needs of the inhabitants and their character.(2)
In 1928 Józef Czajkowski wrote:
Poland has been politically resurrected and it shall be reborn internally as well, and as such it must find its visual mode of expression. [...] It was through art that Poland endured from within during the invasion, and it is through art in these times of freedom that it must win the place it deserves in the world of culture, bringing in its own creative values. For like no other nation it cannot live without its own language, and so it cannot live without its own visual form in all its possible incarnations.(3)
For Czajkowski, who was coming out of the Polish Applied Arts Association and who belonged to the Krakow Workshops Association, it was essential to create a separate national style in the arts and the applied arts. To this end studies of national heritage, the culture of the nobility (the phenomenon of the Polish court), wooden architecture on Polish lands, and folk art were of the essence. The artists and designers of the Polish Applied Arts and Krakow Workshops Associations thought that folk art best rendered the spirit of the nation. After all, it was the work of local artists, and not foreigners or Polish artists influenced by foreign art. It was in this way that Poland, which regained independence in 1918, could achieve independence in art, thus bringing its own values to the world culture.
As the designer of interiors and their furnishings and fixtures, Czajkowski was first influenced by art nouveau, and shortly afterward became one of the most important co-creators of the Polish art déco (whose influences included classical, Biedermeier, art nouveau, expressionist, and folk styles). In this attempt to create a national style one ought to recognize a political awareness which, especially after the 1918 independence, changed from a defensive reaction to a policy of affirming and propagating Poland in the world, a policy which accentuated a distinct national culture.
Initially, Czajkowski worked in Kraków as an interior designer, furnishing a few dining rooms, a buffet hall, and the office complex at the Stary Theater (Members of the Polish Applied Arts Association co-designed the interiors of the reconstructed Stary Theater from 1905-1906), as well as the mayor’s office (1907, 1910-1911) and a showroom at the Krakow City Hall. His early architectural work was affiliated with the 'manor style'. In 1908 he won second prize at a competition to design a country manor in Opinogóra. One expression of the search for a 'national style' and the neo-vernicular tendencies in architecture was this 'manor style', whose model was the wooden, baroque-classicist Polish mansion of the nobility. Czajkowski’s team, which included Władysław Ekielski, Tadeusz Stryjeński, Ludwik Wojtyczko and Kazimierz Wyczyński, submitted work for a Great Kraków plan competition in 1909 and received first prize. The vision of Krakow they presented was a city of the future, with lush greenery and many recreational and leisure areas. Czajkowski executed many of his designs, along with the development of the exhibition grounds, at the very important Architecture and Interiors Exhibition in Gardens Surroundings in Krakow, 1912, making reference to Ebenezer Howard’s idea of the garden-city and its program for a better life. His designs included the main pavilion (in collaboration with Ludwik Wojtyczko), which was called the 'Little Manor'.
One of his most outstanding projects from this period was the early-modernist facade of the Technical and Industrial Museum building in Krakow. 'This facade of simplified classicist forms is marked, on the one hand, by a consistent proto-functional composition, and on the other by a sort of mono-harmonic picturesque quality, achieved through the 'wavy' texture of the building’s face [...].'(4) Czajkowski and other members of the Kraków Workshops also took part in setting up its interiors, designing a wrought iron balustrade with a 'repeating motif inspired by folk cut-outs, and freely reworking them,' as the main decorative accent of the central staircase.
Czajkowski’s ongoing work in furniture testified to his fundamental knowledge of tradition, technique, construction issues, and materials. It was functional, well made, and composed of fine materials. The designer made reference to Biedermeier, and sometimes even drew from the baroque. 'Cultivation and education', wrote Jerzy Warchalowski, 'with extremely high taste, alongside a practical mind and sober judgement; ability; one almost detects a sense of humor. Use of space, placement of furniture, the sentiment of a painter in creating a living atmosphere, never formulaic, pouring from the source of the warm, individual tradition of the old Polish manor. A proclivity for fine materials and precise work, a feel for construction and a refined sense of color harmonies – the constant input of the painter supported by the architect, and vice versa. And finally a special property, the cult of the sophisticated line [...].' Thus Jerzy Warchalowski sought to describe the genius, talent, and taste of Jozef Czajkowski.
Jozef Czajkowski’s best-known architectonic project was the ostentatiously geometricalPolish Pavilion with its shining glass tower at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris, 1925. This building was both modern and national in form, and became an icon of the architecture of the inter-war 1920s. The pavilion, with stylized, triangular crystal motifs, was an example of a symbiosis between neo-vernicularism (the 'Zakopane' tympanum) and Central-European expressionism.(5) Czajkowski, one of the main organizers of the Polish contribution to the Paris Exhibition, received four Grand Prix for the architecture of the pavilion, for his tower, for the furniture, and for the interior unit and metal products. He was also given awards for his fabrics on display.
Józef Czajkowski (1872–1947) was an architect, a teacher, and a designer of interiors, furniture, fabric, and stained glass. He also painted, and made graphic arts and applied graphics. He studied at the Julian Academy in Paris and at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna, and continued at the School of Fine Arts in Krakow from 1894-1895. In 1901 he became a founding member of the Polish Applied Arts Association. Later, from 1914 onward, he belonged to the Krakow Workshops Association. He designed the Polish Pavilion building at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925, where he was given four Grand Prix, two gold medals, and an honorary diploma. He was one of the main designers at the workshops held by the Carpet Association in Krakow. In 1926 he co-created the Ład Artists’ Cooperative in Warsaw. After 1913 he lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, the Fine Arts Department of the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius, and the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw. promoted his concept of official art, deeply rooted in the national tradition, serving to integrate and modernize society.(6) He was among the artists who created the readily recognizable style of Polish decorative art.
Author: Janusz Antos
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.
For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl
(1) J. Warchałowski, Wnętrza i meble projektował Józef Czajkowski, Krakow 1920, passim.
(2) J. Czajkowski, Sztuka stosowana, "Zeszyty Naukowe ASP w Warszawie. Wykłady inauguracyjne w Akademii Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie w latach 1923-1983," Year III: 1984, no. 2, pp. 7-8.
(3) J. Czajkowski, Cele i zadania Szkoły, w: Szkoła Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie. Cele i zadania, Warsaw , p. 32.
(4) Z. Beiersdorf, Muzeum Techniczno-Przemysłowe w Krakowie, "Rocznik Krakowski", vol. LVII, 1991, p. 159.
(5) A. Miłobędzki, Architektura ziem Polski / The Architecture of Poland, Krakow 1994, p. 112.
(6) A. Chmielewska, W służbie państwa, społeczeństwa i narodu. "Państwowotwórczy" artyści plastycy w II Rzeczypospolitej, Warsaw 2006.