Stanisław Lentz is a painter of the Young Poland movement. Born on the 23rd of April 1861, died 19th of October 1920. Most well-known for his painting Strike, made immediately following the 1905 revolution in the Polish Congress.
Using the term Young Poland, we often forget that there might be a few of these Young Polands. Not only because of differences in ideas or styles, but in terms of geography. The countries of Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire had completely different standards of freedom of speech and dissimilar political situations. To a certain point the difference lay foremost in the ideological and aesthetic bond with Russia, which was strong in Warsaw and absent in Kraków and Lviv. However, with time, a political vacuum separated the two countries.
1970s the polemic of the art historians Tomasz Burek and Andrzej Z. Makowiecki opened up a discussion on whether it was significant to acknowledge the revolution of 1905 as a fundamental turning point in Young Poland’s history. Regardless of whether we consider the revolution as only a difference or an absolute barrier between the two partitions of Poland, it is obvious that after the revolution nothing in the new territory of Russia and the art created there was the same as before. In addition, the trauma caused by the struggle had a significant influence on this change. There are plenty accounts of this in literature. In great works such as Stefan Żeromski’s Rose, Wacław Berent’s Winter Grain or Andrzej Strug’s The History of One Bullet and in those which are mainly significant documents of their times like Swallow by Gustaw Daniłowski. Such accounts may rarely be found in works of fine arts. Great is the import of Stanisław Lentz’s Strike, probably the most significant painting work created as an aftermath of the revolution in the Polish Congress.
It seems to be a peculiar coincidence that the creator of the a work so closely linked to the events of 1905 was a painter who, because of his ostentatious anti-avant-gardism, had a very distinct position among Young Poland artists. Most of his contemporaries were inspired by post-impressionism and symbolism. Stanisław Lentz remained faithful to realism. He received an academic education in Munich, which again set him apart from his contemporaries, who most often studied in Petersburg or at the completely unorthodox school in Kraków, which was a haven for the avant-garde. What he learned in Germany influenced his style and led to a thoroughness of drawing, a taste for dark and limited colour schemes and also a reverence with which he treated the traditions of painting.
Despite his participation in the salons of Europe’s most important academies (which ought to be regarded as a manifestation of conservatism), Lentz chiefly continued the trend of realism in painting, which unexpectedly began to fade at the beginning of the 20th century. He was inspired by the tradition of Munich and Warsaw and by the works of the Gierymski brothers amongst others. One might ponder whether it is possible to link Lentz’s work to the trend of neo-academism, which was rapidly developing just before World War I. Neo-academic artists such as Alexander Yakovlev or Boris Grigoriev strove to create pure painting in a form that referenced the old masters. They wanted their art to be in constant dialogue with contemporary tastes and topics. At the same time they contested the academic compliance with past canons and the usage of formal and topical stereotypes. If one were to search for such a link, then it would be best to consider Lentz’s painting an alternative to what Russia had to offer. His style originated from a completely different, German-Dutch realist tradition.
Being completely free of Russian influence and remaining faithful to the German style was another characteristic that distinguished Lentz. Other great Warsaw painters from the beginning of the 20th century were strongly involved with Russian art (Kazimierz Stabrowski, Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Konrad Krzyżanowski, Waldemar Okuń). It seems that Lentz’s student and successor Tadeusz Pruszkowski came closer to Yakovlev and his declarative pictor classicus sum. Pruszkowski had a masterly style and concentrated on the painting form in common with the Russians. Although around 1910 Satnisław Lentz became fascinated by Dutch painting and began to openly refer to the tradition of the Dutch group portrait (on occasion he would also paint genre scenes directly referring to the 17th-century painter Frans Hals), his priority was always to remain faithful to reality.
This dedication is the main reason for which the anti-avant-garde Lentz accidentally (but with a great strength of expression) became one of the most prominent glorifiers of the revolution. The Russian neo-academics declared, "I consider nothing that is human alien to me", addressing epicurean issues and mixing each and every European tradition; Lentz said the same portraying Warsaw’s societies.
He painted everyone. From distinguished, indeed slightly academic, portraits of aristocrats and plutocrats, realistic representations of the patriciate and scientists, in which he most accurately revived the tradition of the Dutch group portrait (Under Staszic’s Sign), to stylisations in the portraits of actors inspired by the works of Frans Hals (depictions of Lentz’s close friend, the great comic Mieczysław Frenkl) and luministic, virtuosic compositions of double and triple portraits of artists and intellectuals maintained in the style of Rembrandt (for instance the wonderful Conversation, a double portrait of the celebrated figures of Warsaw intellectual life: Feliks Jabłczyński and Franciszek Fiszer).
Lentz also created works depicting the Warsaw proletariat. He began doing this at the start of his artistic path and carried on making such paintings throughout his entire career. Although he descended from a community of factory owners, not their workers and remained faithful to his ancestral community his entire life, he also painted the incipient working class’s honour. Strike refers to the best canons of German realism. Its characteristic, oblong composition, which focuses the attention of the viewer on the faces and the hands of the depicted figures, brings vividly to mind Wilhelm Leibl’s masterpiece Three Women in Church. Contrary to the hyper-realistic, filled with meticulously crafted details painting of Leibl, Lentz’s piece is devoid of anything that could draw the viewer’s attention away from the emotions of the portrayed characters. A lack of detail, an ascetic composition, a simple colour scheme, the usage of large, homogeneous colourist planes - all of this amplifies the adequacy of the form in its context and the painting indeed strikes one with true impact.
Author: Konrad Niciński, March 2011. Translated by Marek Kępa, February 2012.
• Stanisław Lentz
Oil on canvas, 74 x 118 cm
Owned by the National Museum in Warsaw