Painter, born 1898 in Kraków, died 1974 in Warsaw.
Born 1898 in Krakow, died 1974 in Warsaw. Nacht-Samborski was a mysterious painter, one who remains underrated despite indubitably being an outstanding artist worthy of recognition.
Nacht-Samborski was a mysterious painter, one who remains underrated despite indubitably being an outstanding artist worthy of recognition. His art defies definition, is difficult to describe in words, and remains beyond all "isms." It is steadfastly independent and not reproducible.
He studied painting briefly between 1918 and 1921 at Krakow's Academy of Fine Arts under Jozef Mehoffer and Wojciech Weiss. In his free time he was an amateur boxer and had a career that spanned several matches. He abandoned his studies and spent the next several years (1921-24) in Berlin and Vienna, where he was exposed to the work of the German Expressionists. He developed a particular interest for the work of Archipenko, Chagall, Kandinsky, and Klee. When in 1924 he returned to the academy in Krakow, he first enrolled in the studio of Felicjan Szczesny Kowarski and did not become a student of Józef Pankiewicz until later. That same year he departed for France, guided by Pankiewicz and in the company of Paris Committee members (Capists) Jan Cybis, Piotr Potworowski, Hanna Rudzka-Cybisowa, and Zygmunt Waliszewski. Nacht-Samborski remained in that country until 1939, spending most of his time in Paris with periodical trips to La Ciotat. In 1929 he won a painting competition organized for Polish painters residing in Paris, and it was from this city that five years later he embarked on an artistic voyage to Spain and the Balearic Islands. He spent the initial years of the wartime occupation in Lvov. Extracted from that city's ghetto by friends, he lived out the war in the environs of Warsaw under the assumed name of Stefan Samborski (he officially changed his name to Stefan Artur Nacht-Samborski in 1956). After the war he was a professor at the State Higher School of the Visual Arts in Gdansk (1947-49) and the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (1949-69, with a brief break between 1950 and 1952, when Socialist Realism dominated art and Nacht-Samborski was deprived of his job). Jointly with other art teachers in Gdansk, including Jan Cybis, Piotr Potworowski, Juliusz Studnicki, Janusz Strzalecki, Jan Wodyński, and Hanna Żuławska - all of whom belonged to various groups of pre-war Colorists - Nacht-Samborski significantly influenced the character of the "Sopot School", viewed as a movement that preserved the Colorist aesthetic. His oeuvre remained enthralling to numerous artists, among them, Teresa Pągowska, whose mature works rest within the realm of new figuration. Nacht-Samborski's students in Warsaw also included Jacek Sienicki. Though he exhibited very infrequently and provided only modest comments to his students, he remained an artistic and moral authority to them throughout his career as an educator.
His oeuvre is perceived as unique, the result of a creative path shaped simultaneously by the traditions of German Expressionism and Polish Colorism (Capism). The influence of Roualt's paintings is also evident in his early works. Thanks to an inborn sense of structure, he skillfully combined his sensitivity for color nuances with an ability to extract expressive tones to create compositions that are unusually balanced and harmonious wholes. His oeuvre is truly outstanding and throughout it, Nacht-Samborski restricted himself to a handful of subjects, treating them as mediums that would help him penetrate the secret of art. Although his primary motifs remained constant, his paintings elicit nothing near weariness. Rather, one is impressed with the degree to which he stayed true to himself and enchanted by the humility towards reality and economy of means he demonstrated in creating these canvasses. Still lifes remained a focus, and in these Nacht-Samborski most often combined the massive silhouette of a dignified, broad-leafed ficus with that of a crumbling flowerpot or a simple vase (Czarny kwiat / Black Flower, c. 1923; Liście fikusa / Ficus Leaves, 1957; Liście / Leaves, 1968). His flatly treated female nudes in intimate interiors (Akt z twarzą w cieniu / Nude with Shadowed Face, c. 1923; Leżąca / Woman Lying, 1958) are particularly worthy of note, while landscapes remain a rarity in his oeuvre (Krajobraz z Hiszpanii / Spanish Landscape, after 1934). The artist focused nearly all of his attention on these seemingly simple topics. He "worked them out" from ever new viewpoints, in new spatial arrangements and color combinations. His persistent study of them (many of his works remained unfinished) reflected the degree to which he identified with his work. He was able to achieve a variety of effects though he used only muted, gray, gloomy color tones (primarily before the war), or schemes of intense, shimmering, brilliant color (beginning towards the end of the 1960s). He was capable of harmonizing his hues with his values. In spite of not caring for the aesthetic consequences of the choices he made in painting, he rejected the Capist cult of pictorialism, characteristic particularly of the paintings of Cybis and Potworowski. Instead of exhibiting an infatuation for color textures, he opted for a celebration of "ugliness" (in the words of Joanna Pollakowna) and many of his canvasses, especially his still lifes, enchant the viewer with fantastic color combinations. His figural works, on the other hand, especially his nudes, demonstrate a sensitivity for the treatment of models, who, far from being reduced to a visual sign, succeed in retaining their human dimension. The mature compositions of Nacht-Samborski are infallibly and clearly constructed using flat areas of color underlined with a clear, dark contour placed within shallow space (Martwa natura z liśćmi i żółtym krzesłem / Still Life with Leaves and Yellow Chair, 1957).
In 1959 Nacht-Samborski's paintings were presented at the Venice Biennale. The artist himself avoided solo exhibitions during his lifetime, not even having one during his lifetime. A small selection of his works was presented posthumously by the National Museum in Poznań (1974), which currently possesses the largest collection of pieces by this artist (several hundred objects). Extensive monographic exhibitions of these works were held in 1977 at the National Museum in Warsaw, and in 1999 at both the National Museum in Poznań and at Warsaw's Zachęta Contemporary Art Gallery.
Author: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, Art History Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin, Faculty of Art Theory and the History of Artistic Doctrines, December 2001