#photography & visual arts
Ferdynand Ruszczyc was a master of the art of creating expressive, emotional landscapes with minimal means, which is especially evident in his painting 'Cloud'.
The following was written in Tygodnik Ilustrowany (Illustrated Weekly) just after the premiere of the painting in 1902:
[...] it is really difficult to understand what the excellent artist wanted to express in this work since it is uninteresting as a composition, unpleasant in terms of lines, disorganised as a combination of colour spots, and unexciting in terms of mood.
Ferdynand Ruszczyc was already a well-known painter at that time. Most of his works considered to be his best and most mature date back to the 1890s. Why, then, this critique of the esteemed artist?
In the second half of the 19th century, a lot of changes took place in Polish painting. One of them was the development of a new form of landscape. It was no longer merely a realistic reflection of the existing place, a record of reality; it became a pretext for a peculiar play with form, expression, experiments with colours, tones and textures. What is more, through their interpretation of landscapes, painters talked about emotions and hid symbols and metaphors . These changes were, of course, connected with the revolution taking place in Western painting – Polish artists knew of the achievements of the Impressionists and Symbolists and followed these great changes. However, they did not arrive in Poland as they originated but were creatively transformed, not copied directly.
Ferdynand Ruszczyc’s Cloud is a vivid emanation of these changes – and the review published in Tygodnik Ilustrowany shows that it may have even been too vivid. Although seemingly trivial shots and unattractive views of the ‘new’ landscapes were already widely accepted, the audience was apparently not prepared for such a minimalistic composition. A white cloud rushing with the wind, a clump of trees or shrubs and wavy grass – this is a composition on the border of abstraction.
Although the painting by Ruszczyc, composed of few elements, is full of expression and power, one can conclude that the subject of this canvas is the power of the forces of nature in which man does not play a significant role (or even is not needed at all). With wide brushstrokes and splashes of paint, Ruszczyc composed a simple landscape, buffeted around by gusts of wind. There is more for the viewer to guess than see here – the painter masterfully created an entire story out of a grassy meadow and sky in the dynamically changing summer weather.
Cloud is often mentioned together with Ruszczyc’s similar works painted at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Earth and Mill from 1898 or Emptiness (The Old Nest) from 1901 are similarly saturated, dynamic, and full of mood and power of expression. In Cloud, however, all these impressions were achieved using fewer means.
19th century painting
Ruszczyc was born in 1870 and the peak of his painting career was in the last years of the 19th and the first years of the 20th century. Later, the artist abandoned his artistic activity for pedagogy – he laid the foundations for the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, lectured on landscape painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, and finally, having settled in Vilnius, he shaped the cultural life there and co-created many arts organisations and institutions. During his activity as a painter, which spanned for only a short part of his adult life, Ruszczyc focused on landscapes from the very beginning. Born in Bohdanów near Vilnius, he studied in St. Petersburg (first law, then painting), and later travelled often – Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Crimea. The landscapes there undoubtedly inspired the painter – a number of his interpretations of coastal views, rocky coastlines, mountain peaks, and green hills have been preserved. What is also important is that although Ruszczyc used to visit Paris, Venice, and Brussels, he was never taken by monuments and urban spaces. The subject of his works were always the natural landscape in its pure form, undisturbed by man.
Originally written in Polish by Anna Cymer, translated by P. Grabowski, September 2019