Painter, drawer and graphic artist, representative of the folklore movement in the art of Young Poland.
He studied art from 1900 to 1908 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków under Leon Wyczółkowski, Józef Mehoffer and Stanisław Wyspiański. In 1902, he improved his technique at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule des Österreichischen Museums für Kunst und Industrie under Anton von Kenner. In 1904 he visited European cultural centres, including Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Rome, Venice and Florence; in Paris, he attended the Académie Colarossi. In the winter of 1904 and 1905, he left for the Hutsul region with Fryderyk Pautsch and Władysław Jarocki. It was then that his long-standing fascination with Hutsul customs, rites, religious rituals, and folklore was born. Between 1903 and 1905 he collaborated as a drawer with the satirical leftist magazine Liberum Veto; from 1905 onwards, he was one of the creators of the literary and artistic cabaret Zielony Balonik (Green Balloon), whose performances took place at the Jama Michalika confectionery in Kraków. That same year Sichulski joined the Sztuka (Art) Society of Polish Artists; he was also a member of the Vienna-based Hagenbund group.
In 1907, he settled permanently in Lviv. During World War I, he fought in the ranks of the Polish Legions. At that time, he recorded the images of his colleagues and military personalities in his sketchbooks, which he later presented at exhibitions and published in albums. Between 1920 and 1930 he lectured at the Lviv State School of Decorative Arts and Artistic Industry, and in 1930-1939 he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
Sichulski’s exhibition debut came in 1903 when the artist showed his pastels at the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts. His first solo exhibition took place at the TPSP in Kraków and Lviv in 1905. In both these institutions, he regularly exhibited his works, just as he did in Warsaw, in the Krywult Salon and Garliński Salon. At the General National Exhibition in Poznań organised in 1929, he was awarded a gold medal. He also participated in many international exhibitions, including in Munich (1905), Venice (1907, 1910, 1914, 1932), Rome (1911, 1934), Berlin (1914, 1937), Paris (1923, 1930, 1931), Budapest (1926), Pittsburgh (1926), Helsinki, and Stockholm (1927).
Sichulski’s work was dominated by Hutsul themes (e.g., Hutsul Wedding, 1906; Hutsuls in Moonlight, c. 1920); the artist was also known as a creator of excellent satirical drawings. He also painted landscapes and still life, historical compositions and – less often – portraits. Throughout his career, he kept returning to religious themes – mainly in the form of cardboards for stained-glass windows and polychromes reflecting the influence of Stanisław Wyspiański’s and Józef Mechoffer’s art (Resurrection, 1909; Dies Irae, 1909; Assumption, 1910; God’s Torment, 1924; The Descent from the Cross, 1924; Holy Mother of the Forest, 1926; Saint Stanisław Kostka, 1929). When it comes to technique, he developed his talent in a variety of ways; he practised both easel and monumental painting, designed frescos and stained-glass windows, designed interior decoration and architecture, made posters; he perfected his skills in oil, pastel, tempera and watercolour painting, drawing and lithography. His style was shaped by the influence of Viennese Art Nouveau; hence the flexible, soft contours of his early works, which contoured forms drawn out by flat spots of paint; the saturated, sometimes contrasting and expressive, at other times subdued and harmonised colour palette; the profusion of floral ornaments forming dense networks, into which human figures are inscribed (Warsaw triptych, 1909; Madonna with Angels triptych, 1909; Angel, 1911; Adoration of the Magi triptych, 1913). Sichulski’s early landscape painting was significantly influenced by the art of Jan Stanisławski, which manifested itself in the synthetic rendering of nature’s forms, the use of dense paint and impasto texture (Bodiaki, 1904). In later landscapes, the artist began to break up patches of colour with tiny brush strokes, giving the paintings a post-impressionist flicker and limiting the role of the contour defining shapes (Deep Blues. Tatra Mountains Landscape, c. 1913; Cottages, 1914). The texture of the carefully arranged still lifes gained a similar quality (Still Life with Jug and Fruit, 1912; Still Life with Teapot, Pears and Lemon, 1923).
The aesthetics of Japanism was a strong creative impulse for Sichulski. According to its principles, he used asymmetrical composition (Birch, 1909), silhouetted forms against a neutral background (Tropaeolums, 1910), and brought the frame closer to sections of the microcosm (Fish, 1908; Iris, 1911). Sichulski’s genre scenes and images of peasants are testimony to his sensitivity to colour, they are studies of intense colours and their expressive combinations, as well as a manifestation of his fascination with the native customs, rituals and religiousness of the people, whose existence is subordinated to the rhythms of nature (First Spring, 1906; The Hutsul Wedding Parade, 1909). Apart from their decorative qualities, Sichulski’s Hutsul portraits often had a grotesque aspect obtained through the crude characteristics of the physiognomic features of the models. The expression of Sichulski’s paintings is intensified by the dynamic, multi-directional brush technique and suggestive rendering of luministic effects. The folklore element also dominates in compositions with symbolic meaning (Spring, 1906; Living Tree of the Cross, 1909). In the 1920s Sichulski’s work took on a historicising and eclectic character. Within the framework of the traditionalist convention, the artist paraphrased old styles of imaging, reached for mythological and biblical themes; the rhythmisation of forms and synthesis of shapes determined the decorative qualities of the composition. Influenced by the events of World War I and the Polish-Soviet war, Sichulski developed the historic-patriotic style in his paintings (Piłsudski with Stańczyk and Wernyhora, 1917; Defense of Lviv triptych, 1920; The War series, 1920). He also drew on motifs from Poland’s distant, heroic past (Battle of Beresteczko, 1922; Władysław Warneńczyk, 1922; Bolesław the Brave’s Entry into Kyiv, 1928).
Sichulski’s drawings were popularised in the form of lithographs included in graphic portfolios. In the collective portfolio published in Kraków on the occasion of the 11th Congress of Physicians and Naturalists held in 1911, his nocturne Church of The Piarists distinguishes itself with its expressive mood. In 1912 the artist, together with Władysław Jarocki, published the Lamus graphic portfolio in Lviv. The sunflower motif imagined in one of the lithographs manifested the pantheistic understanding of nature characteristic for Polish modernists. The engraving depicting the heroised image of King Władysław of Varna included the character of Kraków’s bugler, clad in a colourful local costume. The power of expression and dynamics of movement also characterise the image of the biblical hero, the Archangel Michael – he is depicted as the victorious and triumphant angel, imagined in a halo of decorative feathers. Sichulski was one of the few Polish graphic artists to take up the motives of Christian iconography, transforming and paraphrasing them and updating various stylistic traditions. He depicted the poignant image of the crucifixion of Christ in the lithograph titled Valley of Tears – Christ. The intensity of the expression of pain in this drawing equals the late Gothic images of the tormented body of Christ, characteristic of German art. The quintessence of the suffering ascribed to the temporal human existence is contained in the figure of a ploughman bent under the cross, who humbly drags his burden. This motif was transposed by Sichulski from Käthe Kollwitz’s Die Pflüger etching (1906) which opens the famous Bauernkrieg graphic series (1908).
Sichulski perfected the formula of the caricature, whose main means of expression was a black contour sparingly describing generalised forms. His lithographic albums were extremely successful. Because of the accuracy of the concise, penetrating and witty characterisation of the Polish artistic elite in the album XXX Caricatures, Sichulski deserved to be called a continuator of the tradition of Piotr Norblin, who initiated the history of the caricature genre in Polish art. Sichulski intensified his jovial wit and gentle sting by giving the portraits of the coryphaei of Polish culture intense colours; the artist exhibited these pastels in 1906 at the Kraków TPSP, attracting crowds of viewers. The lithographic images of the members of the Galician Parliament contained in four volumes were less deep psychologically, but closer in their ascetic, abbreviated form to the ideals of the caricature ‘hieroglyph’. The eighty caricatures of the most eminent ministers, deputies and journalists, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Italians, Slovenians and Ruthenians were viewed in Vienna as a cultural and social event. Sichulski’s technical proficiency, the accuracy of physiognomic characteristics, ability to grasp the most important behaviours and appearance of the characters, were compared to the artistry of Jean Louis Forain and Caran d’Ache. The invitation to London that Sichulski received, where he was to create caricatures of English parliamentarians, was an expression of recognition and proof of international publicity; however, this ambitious project was not finalised.
Originally written in Polish by Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, April 2003