#photography & visual arts
The master of atmospheric landscapes did not look for spectacular scenery. With virtuosity, he was able to convey the mood of the most cliched views of rural meadows and wastelands, sometimes making a wildflower the main character of a painting.
Verbascum thapsiforme (commonly known as mullein) is a wild plant that particularly likes dry locations and even grows in sandy or rocky areas. It is a popular flower in Poland, where it can be found in meadows and fields. Mullein flowers have medicinal properties which were known as early as in the Middle Ages. Infusions, syrups, or tinctures from this plant are recommended for diseases of the upper respiratory tract, but also for stomach and intestinal ailments, thanks to their anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. However, this is not all. The mullein is also considered a magical plant: it protects against lightning and various misfortunes; a great advocate of the use of this plant was the female mystic and healer Hildegard of Bingen, who lived at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries.
All this information about the field plant probably had no meaning for Jan Stanisławski when he decided to include it in his landscape. The master of the atmospheric landscape did not delve into its botanical properties, nor was he even interested in the views he depicted in the paintings. Instead, he created atmospheric, ephemeral, impressionable records of landscapes of villages near Kraków and landscapes from Ukraine (where he originated and often visited).
Mullein, painted in 1895, is one of the painter’s most famous works. Its traditionally composed frame – the horizon intersects the picture about halfway through – shows a meadow typical of the Polish landscape. In the foreground, one can see the buildings of a nearby village. In the background, there are clumps of grasses and weeds. However, the ‘main character’ of the canvas is a slender, soaring mullein, a plant with an unusual shape covered with small, yellow flowers on a tall stem (for this reason it was sometimes called a ‘royal candle’). If it was not for the distinctive appearance, perhaps it would not have been possible to identify the plant that inspired the painting. Jan Stanisławski painted his landscapes not to capture the details or to precisely reproduce the features of painted shrubs, fields and flowers. In his painting, the most important thing was to convey the mood, the ephemeral impression one can experience when wandering on a hot summer afternoon among the buzzing of insects in a hot meadow.
Jan Stanisławski is considered to be a master of the chamber landscape (his paintings were usually small). The artist initially studied mathematics with success, but after graduating from the Academy of Drawing in Warsaw, he enrolled at the Wojciech Gerson School of Drawing. He took his next steps in painting education at the School of Fine Arts in Kraków, and in the mid-1880s he settled in Paris for three years. This was an important moment in his development. In the French capital, he came across the works of the Impressionists and their subjective painting, which did try to record the reality at all but instead captured the impression of the moment, had a significant impact on the Polish painter. Fortunately, Stanisławski did not decide to merely copy or imitate French Impressionists. He created his own style of capturing momentary impressions on canvas.
Stanisławski often created his small paintings in the open air. It was a novelty in Polish art – before then painting works were created mainly in ateliers, preceded by sketches. Stanisławski often worked outside and also urged his students to do the same – beginning in 1897, he taught at the School of Fine Arts in Kraków. What is more, he put outdoor work into the curriculum of compulsory classes. This tradition has survived at the academy to this day.
19th century paintings
The orange glow of the setting sun, the air vibrating from the heat, the dust rising from the nearby road, the clatter of sun-dried grasses – this is what viewers will easily notice in Jan Stanisławski’s paintings. They will not recognise places, plants, or the details of buildings, because the painter did not pay attention to them, constructing paintings from small brushstrokes, spots of colour and light. Mullein is not painted precisely either. This painting by Stanisławski was composed by differentiating the shades and textures of the applied paints and the size of colour splashes. The uneven surface of the painting harmonises with the synthetic approach to the theme and with the impression of the moment when the soaring mullein blooming in the summer heat proved to be worthy of being captured on canvas.
Originally written in Polish by Anna Cymer, translated by P.Grabowski, September 2019