His "petit bourgeois" furniture of 1918 and his interiors for the Warsaw Cadets’ School of 1919 still contained elements of art déco combined with aspects of folk art.
Wojciech Jastrzębowski, photo: the National Digital Archives
Wojciech Jastrzębowski developed his characteristic style in the 1920s. His "petit bourgeois" furniture of 1918 and his interiors for the Warsaw Cadets' School of 1919 still contained elements of art déco combined with aspects of folk art.
His work and interests were astonishingly diverse, concentrated on the applied arts: graphic design, furniture, fabrics, trophies, medals, coins, and certificates. At the beginning of his creative life he also worked in painting and studio graphics, but his most important work is considered to be art affiliated with practical objects.
He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow until 1909, under the tutelage of Józef Mehoffer, Stanisław Wyspiański, and Jan Stanisławski, among others. In 1911 he joined a group of friends in founding the Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, and Crafts Artists' Union. Till the end of his days, Jastrzębowski remained faithful to the mottoes of coherence and synthesis of all the fields of art. When he co-created the Krakow Workshops in 1913, he stated that the basis of all artistic work was the ability to "assess precisely and practically the techniques and the materials being used, in order to increase knowledge of constructionand of the attributes of a material; but above all, the ideological basis should be to know and understand why and for whom a given work of art is being created."(1)
Even before World War I, Wojciech Jastrzębowski was interested in applied graphics, which was his field of work for as long as he remained active. He designed a range of honorary diplomas, including ones for Marshall Foch, the town of Nowy Sącz, and for Maria Curie-Skłodowska; magazine headpieces, e.g., "Tygodnik Ilustrowany"; books (including "Onetime" by Władysław Orkan, and "Chopin and the Nation" by Stanisław Przybyszewski); and posters (Nationwide Exhibition, Poznań 1929). In 1921 he forged an ongoing work relationship with "Grafika Polska" magazine and tended to its graphic layout. Typography played a substantial role in Jastrzębowski's work here: "tight, sharp, straight lines made of segments, so that the flow of letters becomes ornament. […] The areas with text are balanced with other spaces appropriately laid out,"(2) sometimes with delicate strands of plant motifs. His cover for "Grafika Polska" and the book design for Jerzy Warchałowski's "Polish Decorative Art" met with great acclaim.
In the multifaceted work of Wojciech Jastrzębowski there was also place for architecture, in its broadest definition, and interior design. His most important projects from this period were the cemetery complex in Rossa, Vilnius, and the interior of the "Birds" Room of the Royal Wawel Castle in Krakow. The latter was complicated, involving the idea of linking the surviving baroque hearth and doorframe with modern elements. The artist's sgraffiti filled this task to perfection. The plant ornament covering the walls in flowing lines, winding about animals and people, "emphasized the gravity of the interior's proportions."(3) Jastrzębowski also designed wall paintings for many churches, including the Holy Virgin Mary in Warsaw (1910–1912) and the parish church in Radłów (Krakow township, 1915).
One of the foremost fields of Jastrzębowski's work was interior furnishings. The main lecture hall on the second floor of the Technical and Industrial Museum in Krakow on Smoleńsk Street was done according to his design (1912–1914). His designs for pine chairs, desks, and paneling were marked by a simplicity. The radiator in the office was covered by pressed and cut brass plate with embroidery of wood and wire, while the hall curtains were composed of decorative, sheer squares. He also made sgraffiti depicting the deer of St. Hubert in a thicket of floral ornament to decorate the staircase.
The "Jastrzębowskiesque," as the style of the objects he designed was later named, first appeared at the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Paris in 1925. The artist used the rhythms of simple geometrical forms as his basis, multiplied them, and used chiaroscuro for emphasis. Elements that signal a work by Jastrzębowski are cubist shapes, surfaces meeting at right angles, ornaments "triangularly" offset and rough-hewn, with aspects alluding to folk art. This was the look of the Invalid Gallery Exhibit in Paris: the furnishing of the hall, the office furniture (designed with Józef Czajkowski), and the dining room with its furniture, fabrics, and ornaments devised to create a coordinated, geometric whole. It was this furniture that won the Grand Prix in 1925. Apart from the interior furnishings, he also did the sgraffiti that circled the courtyard of the Polish Pavilion. For this design, Jastrzębowski used a whole arsenal of stylistic resources: triangular ornament and simplified lines, arranged with right angles.
Success at the Paris Exhibition brought Jastrzębowski such great popularity that his style began to be identified as the Polish version of art déco. Commissions poured in for interior designs, including the (still extant) interior of the Ministry of Religion and Education on Szucha Avenue 25 in Warsaw (1927–1928) and the Railway Workers' Union House (decorated together with Edward Trojanowski and Romulad Miller), as well as a range of Polish diplomatic institutions abroad, such as that in Moscow (1928). The furniture he designed, always produced from Polish wood, had simple geometrical shapes when made for large show rooms, and drew somewhat from historical forms when it was for smaller sitting rooms. "His light ash varnishes make for very inventive harmonies of veined wood, creating cruciform ornaments from the lighter and darker stripes, the light-green table settings harmonizing with the yellow tone of the wood; the backrests are cut in notches. This furniture has a character all its own, with the slightest hint of folk culture."(4)
Jastrzębowski's fabric designs can be described in much the same way – geometrical patterns, so typical of his own work and art déco in general, with aspects of folk art. His renowned "Saws" kilim design, which he made as early as 1919, is "the most outstanding achievement of Polish kilim art of the period."(5) The kilim ceased to be a picture on fabric and became itself a decorative fabric, its motifs drawn from the technique and from the material used.
Mention must also be made of Jastrzębowski's accomplishments in the field of medal design and metal work in general. His best known designs were for pre-war coins of the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50-grosze [Polish cents – trans.] denominations, which alluded to the design of the 50-złoty coin of 1922. He also designed medals for the 1st Brigade of Polish Legionnaires and for "Dedicated Service," whose motif was used for an ornamental plate on the bow of the S. S. Piłsudski. His famous medal of 1933, pressed to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the victory at Vienna, was displayed at world fairs in Paris (1937) and in New York (1939). In 1958 he made a design for a 2-zloty coin, which entered general circulation. The background for the number was a geometrically stylized sheaf of grain. Jastrzębowski also designed: trophies, including one for the International Archery Tournament in Lwów (1931); the chandelier decorating the interior of the present Ministry of Education (1927–1928); and the forged metal signboard at the Technical and Industrial Museum Building in Krakow. He also accepted occasional commissions – for example, he designed the monumental decor at St. John's Cathedral in Warsaw for the funeral of Marshall Józef Piłsudski.
During the occupation and until 1947, Jastrzębowski stayed in Great Britain, where he chiefly painted; but upon his return to Poland, he resumed his previous diversity at work. He furnished the interiors of the Polish Consulate in Moscow, the assembly hall of the Ministry of Justice, and the quarters for the Israeli ambassador to Warsaw, and he reconstructed some of the interiors of the S. S. Batory. He took active part in academic life, working as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and was a member of the Board of Culture and an activist for the Polish Visual Arts Union.
Jastrzębowski's style – with its characteristic "triangularity" and "jack-knife angles" – and his multifaceted abilities have caused him to be identified with the standard style of Polish applied art in the inter-war period, which became the "official calling-card" of Poland's Second Republic [the inter-war period – trans.]. One might even hazard the thesis that Jastrzębowski was the leading artist of the Polish art déco. Whatever the case, he had a significant influence on the face of Polish applied art.
Wojciech Jastrzębowski (1884–1963) was a designer of interiors, furniture, fabrics, artistic crafts, and metal products, a painter and a graphic artist who, from 1904–1909, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. He co-founded the following unions: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, and Crafts (1911), The Krakow Workshops Association (1913), and the Ład Artists' Cooperative (1926). In 1923 he began teaching as a professor at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and from 1936 to 1939 he served as its rector. He was in England from 1940–1947, employed as an organizer and teacher in Polish émigré circles in Sudbury and Kingwood. His more significant awards include 1st prize for a furniture set at the competition in the Industrial Museum in Lwów (1911), 1st prize at the Architecture and Interiors in Garden Surroundings Exhibition in Krakow (1912), the Grand Prix at the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Paris (1925), and the silver medal at the National Exhibition in Poznań (1929). His larger projects included furnishings for the new building of the Industrial Museum in Krakow (1913), the cemetery complex in Rossa in Vilnius (1935–1936), the interior of the Ministry of Religion and Education (1928), and the Polish Pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris, in 1925 and in 1937, and in New York in 1939.
Author: Anna Kostrzyńska - Miłosz
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) Quoted from: I. Huml, Twórczość Wojciecha Jastrzębowskiego, [in:] Z zagadnień plastyki, Warsaw 1968, p. 101.
(2) I. Huml, cf., p. 87.
(3) A. Szyszko-Bohusz, Wnętrza wawelskie. "Rzeczy Piękne" 1918, no. 1.
(4) W. Husarski, Meble dla polskich urzędów za granicą, "Tygodnik Ilustrowany" 1929, no. 27.
(5) I. Huml, cf., p. 101.