A painter, politician and a writer, one of the central figures of the Young Poland folk-inspired art.
In 1875, he began his artistic education at classes taught at the Szkoła Sztuk Pięknych (editor’s translation: School of Fine Arts) in Kraków; in 1882, he went to Vienna to study at the Academy of Fine Arts under the guidance of C. Griepenkerl. He finished his regular studies at the university in Kraków between 1882 and 1886 under the supervision of F. Cynk, L. Löffler, and W. Łuszczkiewicz. At the same time, he also studied classical philology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He mastered his craft between 1886 and 1889 in Munich under the guidance of A.Wagner. He supplemented his studies at the Académie Colarossi in Paris; he received an imperial scholarship for his visit to Rome. Between 1889 and 1895, he attended Jan Matejko’s masterclass at the academy in Kraków.
From 1890, he spent his summers in Bronowice Małe, a village near Kraków, where he settled in around 1895. In 1901, he opened the Szkoła Sztuk Pięknych i Przemysłu Artystycznego dla Kobiet (The School of Fine Arts and Artistic Industry for Women) where he taught as well. That year, he also co-created the Polska Sztuka Stosowana Towarzystwo (Polish Applied Arts Association). From 1899, he was a member of Sztuka Towarzystwo Artystów Polskich (“Art” Association of Polish Artists) which presented Polish art at international exhibitions. In 1908, he was one of the founding members of the Zero Group, which contested the work of the Sztuka association. He was active in politics and community work as a member of Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe (Polish People's Party) and he co-founded the PSL-Piast splinter group. Between 1911 and 1918, he was a member of the Parliament in Vienna; he wanted to take part in Sejm elections in the independent Poland, however, he withdrew his candidacy.
Tetmajer’s artistic orientation was shaped by Munich realism and Aleksander Gierymski’s verismo manner of depiction. His mature paintings fully reflect a fascination with home folklore, a trend typical of the Young Poland artists. In his paintings, he faithfully depicted the customs, alluring rituals and episodes from the everyday life of the peasants living near Kraków. In the framework of realism, he developed his own original style. He skilfully composed scenes with many figures and he enriched them with a dramatic dimension. He introduced his characters with synthetic patches of colour modulated in a smooth and overflowing fashion. Characteristic of his paintings, the deep red and white counterpoint was complemented by wide surfaces of browns and greens with varying textures. Reminiscences of post-impressionism in Tetmajer’s art can be found in an outline-like approach to forms, strong, almost exaggerated contrast between lights and shades and decorative technique of depicting planes. The frames of the wedding celebrations and haying scenes were dynamised by bold compositional diagonals (Wiejskie Wesele; Countryside Wedding, approximately 1920). The solemnity of religious rituals was represented by the static portrayal of a crowd of praying women with colourful scarves (Święcone; Blessing of the Easter Baskets, 1897).
Tetmajer’s depiction of coquetry, festive meetings, and holiday repose at the pillared porch of the manor house in Bronowice evoked an air of homely warmth, peace of mind, and the cheerfulness and vigour of peasants, who, according to Young Poland artists, were the holders of traditional moral values and Polishness (Scena na Ganku w Bronowicach; Scene at a Porch in Bronowice; Zaloty; Coquetry, 1894). Done in a realistic style, the portraits of the artist’s family members showed the models in their everyday milieu, in huts, orchards, and gardens (Rodzina Mikołajczyków / The Mikołajczyk Family, approximately 1901; Dorobek / Prosperity, 1905). Sunny sceneries in Bronowice, huts and manors were common in Tetmajer’s landscapes. In many of his paintings, the artist focuses the frame on sunlit fields and depicts their heaviness and swinging with dynamic brush strokes (Łan Zboża / Field, 1901; Kłosy / Wheat Ears, 1901).
The patriotic sentiment is the main theme in his triptych called Racławice (1906-1907) – a testament to the importance of peasants in the history of Poland. The topic of national liberation was approached in a theatrical-academic fashion in the sketch Alegoria Wyzwolenia Polski (Allegory of Polish Liberation). Sztandary (Flags) stands out from Tetmajer’s works with its exceptional iconography depicting a grotesque allegory of Poland’s partitions: the abnormally deformed faces of the aggressors embody the antagonistic powers – Russia, Prussia, and Austria. They are accompanied by emissaries of the devil stabbing the naked body of the defenceless Polonia. Both the procession spinning in the air and the manor looming in the distance echo the reminiscences of J. Malczewski’s patriotic-symbolic compositions and the galloping horsemen with flags resemble J. Brandt’s battle scenes. The painting is consistent with the modernism associated with the Zielony Balonik (The Green Balloon) cabaret founded in 1905 in Kraków in Jan Apolinary Michalik’s Cukiernia Lwowska (The Lviv Confectionery). W. Wojtkiewicz, K. Frycz, S. Kuczborski, S. Rzecki and K. Sichulski, young artists who started with newspaper caricatures in which they parodied the coryphaeuses of Polish art (Katalog IX Wystawy Sztuki; The 10th Art Exhibition Catalogue, Kraków 1905), tried to rework the artistic models of the Young Poland and the cultural legacy of the 19th century.
Tetmajer also drew a few satirical drawings which decorated a different art café in Kraków, Ferdynand Turliński’s Paon, alongside S. Wyspiański’s, J. Mehofer’s, W. Wojtkiewicz’s, and A. Procajłowicz’s works.
The artist also created stained-glass windows, illustrations, wall paintings, and stage sets. In 1902, he painted a polychrome in the chapel of Queen Sophia in the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków. He married the daughter of a peasant from Bronowice, Anna née Mikołajczyk, and he served as the inspiration for the Host in Wyspiański’s play Wesele (Wedding). Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński described his psychological profile was described this way: He is very vivid in Wesele with his noble sentimentality, aristocratic gestures, vigorous imagination, and bad temper.
Originally written in Polish by Irena Kossowska (Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences) December 2002, translated by Adam Petrėtis, 13 November 2017