Konrad Krzyżanowski was a Polish painter and illustrator who was a representative of early Expressionism. He mostly worked in Warsaw and Kyiv. He was born in 1872 in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, and died in 1922 in Warsaw.
He began his artistic education in 1887 at the Kyiv School of Drawing under the direction of N. Murashka. He continued his studies in the years 1892-1897 at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts under Klavdy Lebedev and Ivan Tvorozhnikov. He also came into contact with Arkhip Kuindzhi, whose art significantly influenced his creative attitude. After being expelled from the university because of a conflict with the rector, he left for Munich, where he took private classes with Simon Hollósy. He took part in summer open-air workshops organised by his professor in Nagybanya, Hungary (now Romania). In 1898, he went on a study trip to Italy.
In 1900 he settled in Warsaw, where he joined the circle of modernists gathered around the elite art and literary magazine Chimera edited by Zenon Przesmycki – he collaborated with him as an illustrator. During this period, he also met Stanisław Przybyszewski, who propagated the philosophy and aesthetics of early Expressionism in the Polish artistic community. In 1904-1909 he was a professor at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts. He took his students to open-air studies in Arkadia near Nieborów (1904), Zwierzyniec near Zamość (1905), Istebna near Śląsk Cieszyński (1906) and Werek near Vilnius (1907); he also painted with them in Finland (1908) and Ukraine (1909). Krzyżanowski also developed his pedagogical activity in a private painting school which he ran from 1900. In 1907 he visited Italy, in 1912 he stayed in Paris and London.
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He spent the period of World War I in Polesie and Volhynia; in 1916 he settled in Kyiv, where he taught painting at the Polish School of Fine Arts. After returning to Warsaw, in 1918 he reactivated his private art school. He went with students to Płock (1919), Kartuzy and Chmielno in Pomerania (1920, 1921). He was a member of the St. Petersburg-based association Nowoje Obszczestwo Chudożnikow. He exhibited his works in the Warsaw Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts (1899, 1902, 1903, 1905, 1912, 1914, 1918, 1919, 1921), Krywult’s salon (1901-1904), the Warsaw Artistic Society (1901, 1920), the Artistic Salon on Nowy Świat Street (1913), the Salon of Modern Polish Artists (1920) and at the Polish Artistic Club (1921). He also presented his work in the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts (1901, 1903, 1912, 1914, 1917), in Vilnius (1907) and Częstochowa (1909). Abroad, he participated in exhibitions in London (1908), St. Petersburg (1908), Rome (1911), Munich (1912, 1913), Amsterdam (1912), Venice (1914, 1920) and Paris (1921). The artist had individual exhibitions in 1918 in Kyiv and Warsaw.
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Krzyżanowski, one of the most outstanding representatives of Young Poland’s art, was an artist of original, expressionist painting style and an excellent portraitist. He combined the depth of psychological characteristics with the gift of depicting basic physiognomic features using a few fast, dynamic brushstrokes that summed up the forms. Krzyżanowski mastered a free, sometimes even daring style of painting as a member of the circle of St. Petersburg painters who remained under the influence of Scandinavian art. Portraits created in the early period of his career bear the stigma of decadent pessimism; the figures brought out with brushed streaks of paint are dematerialised and blend into an abstract background (Portrait of a Russian Actress, 1897). The power of expression is concentrated in the faces of models as if they were absent, captivated and self-absorbed (Portrait of Maria Krzymuska, c. 1900). Sometimes their features are deformed by a painful grimace – a premonition of death (Portrait of Pelagia Witosławska, 1912-1913). Elusive like phantoms, these characters become visual equivalents of feelings and mental states – depression, despair, melancholy. The concentrated expression of the images is intensified by a dark range of black, brown and Parisian blue, enlivened by small carmine accents. In this key, almost monochromatic, a bright spot of the model’s face becomes a counterpoint. A fascination with Rembrandt’s luminism and admiration for the contrasting chiaroscuro with its mystical message played an important role in shaping Krzyżanowski’s artistic vision.
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Connected with the modernist bohemia, the artist painted images of women famous among the intellectual elite, giving them the traits of femme fatales, evoking pathetic exaltation or deep sadness (Portrait of Dagna Przybyszewska, 1901; Portrait of Bronisława Ostrowska, 1901). In his works, he gave more demonic expression to the figures of men – famous writers, poets and artists – who emerged from nothingness like phantoms (Portrait of Zenon Przesmycki, 1902; Portrait of Stanisław Przybyszewski, 1902). In Krzyżanowski’s work, expressionist deformation also affected landscape motifs painted synthetically with fast, wide brushstrokes, only alluding to the forms of nature (Clouds, 1906; View of Istebna, 1906). Like many Polish symbolists, the artist liked to confront the theatre of heaven with a narrow scrap of land or sea (Clouds in Finland, 1908). In the interior views painted by Krzyżanowski, space lost its three-dimensionality and statics to stretch and dissolve sideways together with the paintbrush duct, transforming into an image of the ‘soul’s interior’ (Room, 1902).
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Krzyżanowski’s portrait formula made his models’ faces more sensual by subtly differentiating the complexion (Portrait of Alina Bondy-Glassowa, c. 1903; Portrait of Janina Korsak-Dziekońska, 1908-1910). He also introduced objects which seemed like only sketches but which sometimes determined the image’s expression (The Bride by the Lamp, c. 1905; Portrait of Roman Laskowski, 1905-1906). Gradually, he paid increasing attention to the physiognomic features of characters, adding more realism (Portrait of Izabela Buttowt-Andrzejkowicz, c. 1908; Portrait of Mrs. Makowska, 1914; Portrait of Wincenty the Drabik with his Wife, 1921). He enriched his colour gamut with strong tones, sometimes dissonantly harmonised, on large planes of dynamically placed spots (Evening in the Studio, c. 1906; Portrait of Wife with Cat, 1912). With time, he lightened the palette by introducing aesthetic combinations of white, pink, blue and yellow (Portrait of the Artist’s Wife and Dog, 1911; Portrait of Janina Wilczyńska, 1912). In some portraits, he carefully arranged the interior design (Portrait of Józef Piłsudski, c. 1920). Krzyżanowski late painting is characterised by a return to a narrow colour palette and sharp chiaroscuro contrasts. Images from this period became psychological studies painted quickly and skilfully (Portrait of Kazimierz Mazaraki, 1921). In addition to oil painting and illustration, Krzyżanowski also designed the stained-glass windows for St. Stanislaus Bishop’s Church in Brześć Kujawski (1908).
Originally written by Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, April 2004, translated by P. Grabowski, November 2019
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