Painter, draughtsman and graphic artist, representative of the expressionist Young Poland art movement and of the colouristic tendencies of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in 1875 in Leorda, Romania, he died in 1950 in Kraków.
Painter, draughtsman and graphic artist, representative of the expressionist Young Poland art movement and of the colouristic tendencies of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in 1875 in Leorda, Romania, he died in 1950 in Kraków...
Wojciech Stanisław Weiss was the son of Stanisław Weiss and Maria (nee Kopaczyńska). In 1888 he was sent to study in Lvov at the St. Joseph Gymnasium. At the end of 1890, his parents moved to Płaszów, a suburb of Kraków, where Wojciech continued his education at Kraków's St. Anna Gymnasium. Although he was not enrolled, he also attended evening drawing classes at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, where he finally enrolled in 1892. He completed his studies in 1898, receiving a gold medal and the Franciszek Urbański scholarship. Under the influenced of Jan Matejko he painted historical scenes, including Bolesław Chrobry Entering Kyiv in 1891 and, during his studies, Evocation of the Spirit of Barbara Radziwiłłówna (1894). In 1896, he took his first trip around Europe, visiting Wrocław, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. In the autumn he enrolled in Leon Wyczółkowski's master's class, and the following year he spent three weeks in Paris, visiting the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gallery and Versailles. While there he painted Self-Portrait with an Apple, followed by Schoolgirls in the Park upon his return. In 1898, Weiss received a gold medal prize from the government. He painted The Melancholic and The Consumptive the same year, and showed the former at the 2nd Exhibition of the "Sztuka" Polish Artists Society.
In 1898, after meeting Stanisław Przybyszewski, Weiss started collaborating with the Kraków -based periodical "Życie" and joined the "Sztuka" Polish Artists Society.
He began plein-air painting in Strzyżów in 1899, and it was there, around the turn of the century, that he painted his most expressive landscapes: Kiss on the Grass, Radiant Sunset, Poppies, Evening, Shallows and Ghost in the Willow. That August he did more such painting in Zakopane with Wyczółkowski and Tetmajer, and in October he went to Paris. He took up graphic arts, making his first etchings around the time his parents moved to the Kraków neighbourhood of Podgórze. Wojciech graduated from the academy as the top student, and soon afterward he painted his famous Portrait of Parents.
In 1890 he spent more time in Paris, as well as taking a three-week trip with his friend Tadeusz Okoń to Treport, Normandy. In Paris he created a series of works that paint a dark portrait of a turn-of-the-century metropolis, the most famous of which are Self-Portrait With Masks, Café d'Arcourt, Morgue in aquatints and Luxembourg Gardens at Night.
That autumn, Weiss spent a lot of time painting in Strzyżów. He also received a scholarship from Count Tyszkiewicz, and his Portrait of Parents won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle. In 1901, Weiss used Count Tyszkiewicz's scholarship to finance a trip to Italy, where he stayed in Florence and Venice. There, he made friends with Antoni Procajłowicz, Wilhelm Mitarski and Włodzimierz Perzyński. That autumn, he painted landscapes and fantastic compositions in Strzyżów and Odrzykoń. In 1902, while in Rome and Florence, he painted the landscapes From the Palatine Hippodrome, In a Florence Bower and Pierrot and Colombina.
Weiss began collaborating with the Warsaw-based periodical "Chimera", and exhibited his work at the Krywult salon. In 1903, Antoni Łada Cybulski and Konstanty Górski described his style in a booklet published by Sztuka Polska and financed by H. Altenberg in Lviv, and the following year Weiss painted Demon, City Funeral, Musicians and Cello Player. He and his father bought a house with an orchard in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, and Weiss rented a studio on Podzamcze street near Wawel Castle. There he painted a series of brilliant (mostly male) nudes.
The year 1906 marks the beginning of Weiss's "white" period, which lasted through 1912. Between 1905 and 1906 he was a member of the Vienna Secession and was active with the Society of the Friends of Fine Arts in Kraków , having been appointed to its board in 1907. He painted Scares around this time. In 1908 he was elected president of the "Sztuka" Polish Artists Society, and that same year he married his student, Irena Silberberg, who would become his favourite model and the subject of many of his portraits. In 1909, Weiss had his first solo exhibition in the salon of the Society of the Friends of Fine Arts (TPSP) in Kraków . He was nominated associate professor of the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts in 1910, and took his students on plein-air painting trips to Poronin in the Tatra mountains. In 1913, he was nominated full professor of the Kraków ASP, and took a trip to Italy. He was awarded the Probus Barczewski Polish Academy of Learning prize for his painting Fruits.
Following the outbreak of the war in 1914, Weiss went to Vienna, where he was decorated with the Bavarian Order of St. Michael and the Austrian Medal of the Iron Crown. At that time he was making Cézanne-esque watercolours and oil landscapes. Between 1915 and 1918 he often painted in Kalwaria, mainly creating landscapes (Orchard in Kalwaria and Summer, 1916; Afternoon Tea in the Garden, 1916; and Autumn. Parents Under a Pear Tree, around 1920). He also painted compositions with mythological staffage (Ceres, 1916), religious rituals from the Kalwaria region (In Front of Pilate's Town Hall, 1916; and Kidron, 1916) and family portraits.
During the 1918/1919 academic year, Weiss was appointed independent Poland's first vice-chancellor of the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts (ASP). He would also serve in this position during the academic years 1934/1935 and 1935/1936. He undertook to reorganise the academy and amend its statutes, and he opened it up to allow women to study in the artistic faculties. He took his students on plein-air painting trips to Zakopane, Bukowina Tatrzańska and Puławy. From 1924 to 1934, he sat on the editorial board of the periodical "Sztuki Piękne", which published a comprehensive description of his work by Stanisław Świerz in 1925. That same year, Weiss became a full member of the "Zachęta" Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts, and was also appointed presidium member of the First National Congress of Polish Fine Artists in Warsaw. He exhibited a lot during the interwar period and won numerous awards for his works, including the 1919 Polish Academy of Learning prize for Floriańska in Mourning and the 1924 Warsaw Arts Society Salon award for Helen. On his fiftieth birthday he was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, and in 1934 he staged the largest of the post-war solo exhibitions, where he also presented the work of his disciples. He won the jury's award at the 1st National Salon in Kraków , and a year later the gold medal for Advertising at the TPSP Jubilee Salon in Warsaw. He actively participated in the organisation of the exhibitions of the Society for the Promotion of Polish Art Among Foreigners, working with them until 1939. In 1937 he received an award for lifetime achievement, and in 1939 he was awarded a honorary prize for Fishes (Art Propaganda Institute exhibition, Warsaw) and an honorary mention for Storm (3rd Maritime Exhibition, Zachęta).
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Weiss continued to hold his post as vice-chancellor of the Kraków Academy through December 1939; he even returned to the academy after the war to make sure its collection was safe. In 1946 he received his pension. Around that time he painted a series of compositions reflecting the new reality, including Strike, Look, Wonderful Peace March and Manifesto. In 1948 he received the City of Kraków award for lifetime achievement, and in 1950 he won first prize in the field of painting for Manifesto at the 1st National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He died on December 6th, 1950.
In 1882, on Jan Matejko's personal recommendation, Weiss was admitted to the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts as a student. During the first four years he studied drawing under Florian Cynk, Marcin Jabłoński and Władysław Łuszczkiewicz, and painting under Józef Unierzyski. Between 1895 and 1898 he attended the so-called Meisterschule, a master's class run by Leon Wyczółkowski. Following Matejko's death in 1893, the Academy underwent a reorganization. The new vice-chancellor, Julian Fałat, hired new professors, introduced modern teaching methods and promoted impressionism. Of the various artistic models and conventions to which he was exposed, the artists who had the strongest influence on Weiss were Jacek Malczewski and Leon Wyczółkowski.
During that period the artist painted a number of landscapes of the area around the Płaszów train station. The single most important piece from the time was Heat (1898), showing a fragment of the railway track bathed in merciless white heat under a narrow strip of leaden sky. In the summer of 1896 Weiss went on a school excursion to Europe, visiting Wrocław, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna and Budapest; in April 1897 he also passed through Vienna and the Swiss Alps en route to Paris, where he stayed for three weeks. In the museums he was particularly beguiled by the paintings of Holbein, Velasquez, Rembrandt and Van Dyck, and Weiss's early portrait exercises should be viewed through the lens of these juvenile preferences. His dialogue with the Old Masters was just beginning, and would continue throughout his entire career. Weiss began painting portraits using the most sophisticated artistic references, which is why the majority of his early portraits have a "museum quality" to them – the characteristic downplaying of all contrasts, and the "academic" use of colour. This can be seen in his student-era portrait of a girl (1895), Portrait of Antoni Procajłowicz (1895), The Melancholic (1898), Portrait of Parents (1899) and the slightly later Portrait of Feliks Jasieński (1902). By the end of his master's course in 1898, Weiss had fully matured as an artist and had already won a number of academy awards. In May 1898, his Melancholic was selected by the demanding and despotic Jan Stanisławski for the "Sztuka" exhibition, at which the artist, having just graduated, presented his own work along with that of his professors.
In September 1898, Stanisław Przybyszewski arrived in Kraków from Berlin. Przybyszewski was the author of Confiteor, and his philosophical views and artistic preferences had a profound influence on the young Weiss. It is thanks to Przybyszewski that traces of Munch, Vigeland, Goya and Rops began to appear in Weiss's art, but even more important to the young artist was the catastrophic vision of the world and the existential view of man contained in Przybyszewski's writing.
Weiss created a series of compositions that can be linked to specific works by Przybyszewski, sometimes as literal illustrations of the latter's ideas; examples include Chopin (1898), which shows the musician being consumed by the elements of music and death; Sunflowers (1904), painted in a minor key; Scares (1907), which portrays a shepherdess being chased by scarecrows; the ecstatic Dance (1899); and Possession (1899). As the bleak themes inspired by Przybyszewski's prose filtered into Weiss's work, his landscapes became ever more visionary and introverted, showing scenes recreated from the imagination rather than from nature. The result was landscapes that were very much in the vein of the Young Polish movement – they are hollow and empty, their emptiness accentuated by lone willow trees, secretive little lakes and distant mountain ranges. This was the quality of the slightly undulating landscape around Strzyżów, cleansed of redundant elements, into which the artist introduces swirling human processions plucked from his own imagination.
His 1901 trip to Italy marked a spectacular turning point for the sensitive Weiss. He likened the Italian landscape to "frescoes", and these were precisely the types landscape paintings he produced – filled with light and but muted in the fresco style, decoratively composed of patches of colour (Courtyard of Florence Palace). Here he made some of his most beautiful pastels ever, in which, through the diffused light, emerge silhouettes of cypress trees, ancient colonnades and ruins (Ruins and Cypress Trees, 1901). Ecstatic colours slowly gave way to milder, more melodious compositions. Colours became muted and purer. Grey and limestone white slowly began to dominate his work. This same tone dominated the pieces Weiss painted following his return to Poland, in works such as Musicians (1904), City Funeral (1904) and Autumn (1905).
This affirmation of nature was accompanied by a mature affection when, in 1906, eighteen-year-old Irena Silberberg, a student of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, arrived in Kraków from Łódź. In 1905 Weiss' father was pensioned off, and he fulfilled his long-time dream of buying a small house in Kalwaria set picturesquely in an old orchard. Shortly thereafter, the artist moved there with Irena, his new wife, and from then on the house in Kalwaria became for him an Arcadia of family life. This was the theme of countless paintings of the house and its immediate surroundings, or of the garden and the wooded hills of Kalwaria overlooked by the outline of the monastery above them. It was in Kalwaria that Japanese elements became visible in Weiss's art, a penchant he had picked up from Poland's leading collector and promoter of Japanese art, Feliks Manggha Jasieński.
Weiss' enchantment with the art of Japan appears to be the key to understanding this period of his work. It nudged his colour schemes toward a matte, silvery scale. In Kalwaria, these colours became radiant and opalescent, resulting in ceremoniously bright landscapes overflowing with light. In 1906 he began his white period, which lasted until around 1912. During this time, white became the key colour in Weiss' palette, and these fragmentary compositions are like haiku poems written by the artist in nature's honour. Between 1910 and 1912 Weiss painted a series of visionary sunsets in Kalwaria using watercolours and pastels. The white-dominated colour scheme gradually became more vivid, until it peaked around 1915 with representations of the sunlit Kalwaria orchard.
Once again, Weiss was engaging in a dialogue with classical themes and the work of the Old Masters. That dialogue – which started with his student-era Odysseus in the Vaults of Hades and continued through illustrations of mythological motifs in Bacchanalia (1903), Perseus (1904) and Abduction of Nymphs (1911) – recommenced in Kalwaria with the painting Ceres (1916), portraying a sunny orchard governed by the goddess of harvest and abundance. The classical theme is also exemplified by the dozen or so sculpted female nudes and busts the artist made between 1915 and 1920. He spent the period between 1916 and 1918 creating compositions that are classicist by definition, given their choice of motif and the manner in which it is treated. These are above all painted nudes spread across white blankets (Venus, 1916; and Venus and Cupid, 1917), a clear reference to the Old Masters' work. The 1916 Venus, for instance, is based on Diego Velasquez's Toilet of Venus. Three Graces too refers to Renaissance or Baroque interpretations of the theme in the work of Boticelli or Rubens. The classicist thread in Weiss's interwar art ended with the 1927 Muses. In Ceres painted a decade earlier, the goddess of the harvest appears at the edge of a forest to accompany luxuriant nature; she serves as an allegorical sign, reminding the viewer of the ideal harmony of the world of art and of the nature that art creates. In Muses the situation is reversed, and this time it is nature that accompanies art. Classicist motifs would recur in Weiss's art a number of times, often coupled with a vision of a fertile nature that bestows fruits, wine and joy, as in the paintings Parcae Cutting the Thread of Life (1931), Fruits (1936), Drunken Girl (1937) and Grape Harvest (1937).
Many people associate Weiss chiefly with his interwar work, above all his "colouristic" landscapes and sensual nudes. In 1923 the artist took his first trip to Nice where he stayed with his sister-in-law, the painter Maria Sperling. From then on he travelled almost every year to the south of France and to Italy. In the 1930s the Baltic coast became a regular subject of his plein-air work, and he would also continue painting Kalwaria landscapes throughout his career. The landscapes painted in the 1920s and 1930s in Italy, mainly in Venice, incorporate a silvery-blue colour scheme that captures the humid atmosphere of the place. Just as he was thirty years earlier, the painter remained enchanted with the beauty of the Italian landscape. He also created a series of woodcuts during that time in which he managed to achieve a painterly effect, capturing the changeability of the natural scenery through simple contrasts of black and white, which could, for instance, reproduce the dazzling reflections of light on rapidly flowing water. Weiss created dozens of Côte d'Azur oil landscapes, watercolours, woodcuts and monotypes during plein-air expeditions in the south of France. These works are astonishing – the oil paintings for their intensity of colour, the woodcuts for their "bird's eye-view" images of seaside boulevards lined with rhythmic rows of palm trees, and the monotypes for the amorphous quality of their shapes. The watercolours feature an incredible transparency of tone, and make surprising use of accidental splashes of paint and white expanses of unpainted paper. In the 1920s and 1930s Weiss used prints as a complement to his painting, experimenting with a parallel artistic field. He particularly mastered the techniques of aquatint and monotyping.
In his landscapes painted in Jastrzębia Góra on the Baltic coast, the artist unifies the elements of sky and earth. In the Italian, French and Baltic landscapes important changes occur in the way Weiss treats colour, the colour structure becoming looser and linear rhythms muted. He came to express himself primarily through patches of colour, which are applied with particular saturation and textural density. The 1930s and 1940s landscapes painted in Kalwaria and Ojców are marked by a blunt oil technique and rich texture. In later Kalwaria landscapes, the characteristic patch of colour is sometimes broken into fragments of pure purple, violet, Paris blue or orange.
The second trend in Weiss's interwar work was nude paintings. These nudes were treated as still-lifes, images of mindless creatures and faceless bodies whose beauty the artist admires. In the mid-1920s a certain dichotomy began to appear in Weiss's art – on the one hand, close contact with nature made him openly pantheistic, but he also had a tendency to seclude himself in his studio to paint nudes and still lifes. Isolated from family life, deprived of the sunny radiance of nature and locked away in the confines of his studio among piles of canvases and stretchers, he set about analysing the medium of his art. He painted a series of compositions exploring this theme between 1920 and 1934, concluding with Crisis (1934), the image of a mannequin abandoned on stretchers – a symbol of useless art. The picture's dark message is consistent with another piece from the same year, Advertising, whose title was later changed to Ecce Homo. The latter takes an even more accusatory tone than Crisis, no longer bewailing the tragic fate of the artist and art but rather the suffering of the simple man, exemplified in the monumentalised figure of an old paperboy.
Weiss would later achieve such monumental expression again in his final picture, Manifesto (1950), for which he won first prize at the 1st National Exhibition of Fine Arts.
In the last phase of Weiss's work he returned to the subject of Kraków , painting views of the Barbakan and Floriańska Gate during the war from the windows of his academy studio, which faced onto Basztowa street. This series of paintings was complemented by monotypes representing St. Anna's and the Dominican church in the morning mist, as well as woodcuts such as Morning in Front of St. Mary's Basilica and the panoramic Kraków From Afar, in which, on the horizon above the rolling hills, appears the skyline of the city to which the artist had bound himself for life. He was returning to the starting point, to Kraków , a city he had chosen to be his permanent residence as a mature artist and professor of the Kraków academy; it was a city he had portrayed in many of his works, and he had filled it with his art. The series of Kraków paintings Weiss created toward the end of his life represents the ultimate confirmation of the values to which the artist had always been faithful. It was a farewell to the wealth of national tradition, culture and history that the city had offered him, and which had come to define his art.
Author: Irena and Łukasz Kossowcy, September 2005