The review is illustrated with installation shots of the exhibition that this book accompanies. They were taken by Nicola Tree, and kindly provided by the gallery itself (and selected and captioned here by Jacqueline Banerjee). The exhibition runs at the William Morris Gallery, London from 9 October 2021 - 30 January 2022. Details can be found here. Please note: Waldemar Januszczak's enjoyable nine-minute introduction to the exhibition can be seen on his You Tube channel, here, and a longer 40-minute film about the movement, currently being shown inside the exhibition, is available here.
Front cover of book: Stanisław Wyspiański's repeating pattern mural decoration, Pansies, 1897, at the Franciscan Church, Kraków.
Young Poland: The Arts and Crafts Movement, 1890-1918 is the first comprehensive presentation in English of the Young Poland (Młoda Polska) movement in fine and decorative arts. This superb publication, edited by Julia Griffin, an art historian and curator in the William Morris Gallery in London, and Andrzej Szczerski, Director of the National Museum in Kraków, Poland, accompanies the exhibition of the same title at the William Morris Gallery.
The book, meticulously researched, written with great clarity, beautifully and richly illustrated, sheds a new perspective on the origin and development of this fin-de-siècle movement. The volume is divided into two thematic parts. Part I, titled “The Making of the Polish Arts and Crafts Movement: Key People, Places and Ideas,” contains ten essays that provide insights into the ideology of the movement, its leading representatives and their achievements in both fine and applied arts. Part II, titled “Objects and Craft Practices in Focus,” brings together seven studies that analyse particular branches of Polish crafts featuring interior decorations and design of furniture, textiles, ceramics, toys and even Christmas-tree decorations, as well as artistic book design and paintings. The publication contains extensive notes and a select bibliography.
Christmas-tree decorations originally made and designed at the Kraków Workshops by Zdzisław Gedliczka and others, and recreated by the contemporary designer Dr Anna Myczkowska-Szczerska, form the centrepiece of this dazzling room.
The book begins with the Preface by Alison Smith, who traces the origins and development of the Young Poland fine and applied art movement in the fusion of the original Polish folk and craft tradition with the new ideas and techniques of the British Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession in order to achieve an original national style for Poland ‒ then a non-existent country, due to its partition by the three powers, Russia, Germany and Austria. This vernacular art revival emerged at the fin de siècle in the historic city of Kraków and the remote village of Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains, then under the more liberal rule of the Austrian Monarchy. The Young Poland movement coexisted in parallel with the many arts and crafts revivals of the late nineteenth century and is viewed as a most fascinating period in Polish art history.
The Editors’ Introduction, “Young Poland and the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1890–1918 – A New Perspective,” provides a concise overview of the Young Poland movement in fine and decorative arts, which ‒ according to the art historian Jan Cavanaugh ‒ was both culturally autonomous from the rest of Europe, and simultaneously cosmopolitan” (17). The underlying proposition in the book is that Young Poland shared fundamental ideological parallels with the British Arts and Crafts Movement (17), which was manifested by a particular search for simplicity of form and natural beauty in order to rehumanise the ongoing industrialisation processes. The works of the critic John Ruskin, who lay the philosophical foundation of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and of the artist and textile designer William Morris, who became one of its most significant representatives, were a captivating inspiration for young Polish artists to shape the new distinctive Polish cultural identity through creating an innovative national art and design based on local traditions. Although Galicia was untouched by the Industrial Revolution, its vernacular crafts, threatened by an influx of mass-produced foreign goods imported by the partitioning powers, became a symbol of Polishness.
Some of the exquisite "Young Poland" craftwork on display at the exhibition. Left to right: (a) Zakopane style armchair similar to one shown in the book, from the National Museum in Kraków. See ill.11.2. (b) Samples of paper-cuttings by Karol Kłosowski, like those shown in ill. 8.6 in the book, from the Tatra Museum. (c) Curtain in Zakopane Style, from the House under the Firs Trust. See ill. 13.4 in the book.
The reception of the Pre-Raphaelites and The Arts and Crafts Movement in Poland is comprehensively discussed by Andrzej Szczerski in the opening essay of Part One. The author contends that “(E)ven though the Pre-Raphaelites’ original works were not exhibited in Poland and the direct contacts between Polish and British artists did not develop significantly, Polish cultural life in the years around 1900 was permeated by British influences” (29). This was due to the fact that the Pre-Raphaelites were already popular on the continent, particularly in France, where a lot of Polish artists and art critics sojourned temporarily and were influenced by their works. At the turn of the nineteenth century, two important books by the French critic Robert de La Sizeranne, Ruskin and the Cult of Beauty and Contemporary Painting in England, were published in Polish translation. Apart from that the ideas of Ruskin were quite well known among the reading public thanks to translations and critical studies. Ruskin’s outstanding disciple, William Morris, was less popular in Poland, although his works were also discussed in magazines and books on art. Ignacy Matuszewski (1858‒1919), one of the leading critics of the Young Poland movement, found affinities between the Pre-Raphaelites and the Young Poland artists, such as Stanisław Wyspiański (1869‒1907), Jacek Malczewski (1854–1929) and Leon Wyczółkowski (1852–1936). The Pre-Raphaelites as well as the Arts and Crafts Movement were seen in partitioned Poland as a uniquely modern national school of art, which prompted the Polish artists “to merge the notions of modernity and artistic reform with the hopes for national rebirth, both in the cultural and political spheres” (32). Examples of the reception and transfer of British ideas include The Museum of Technology and Industry established in Kraków in 1868 by Adrian Baraniecki (1828‒1891), who during his three-year sojourn in Britain, was inspired by the foundation of industrial museums, such as the South Kensington Museum in London and the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art. The Kraków museum exhibited not only industrial machinery and tools, but also works of craftsmanship, industrial and folk art. Baraniecki also organised the higher education learning courses for women and Sunday craft courses. His activity contributed significantly to the promotion of the arts and crafts reform in Poland. Stanisław Witkiewicz (1851–1915), a painter, art theoretician, and amateur architect, is known for his creation of the “Zakopane Style,” a concept of vernacular-inspired architecture, which has strong affinities with the ideas of both Ruskin and Morris. In one of his books, Witkiewicz wrote: “What Ruskin dreamed of and Morris attempted to realise happened here [in Zakopane]: the poor and the rich come closer to one another in art” (36). The Zakopane Style, inspired by the regional art of Poland’s highland region known as Podhale, mostly manifested in architecture, but also in furniture and other craft objects, blended the idea of national style with the appraisal of the social function of art. Professor Szczerski concludes that “(t)he (reception of British art and design in Poland shows the ambition to merge the ideology of modernity with national rebirth, in both the cultural and political spheres. British works were seen by Poles as an example of a national art and they were treated – at the ideological level – as the inspiration to pursue the idea of a Polish ‘national style’” (40-41).
Julia Griffin’s essay, “Fellow Arts and Crafts Reformers. Stanisław Wyspiański and William Morris: Parallel Lives”, is devoted to the artistic activity of Stanisław Wyspiański, the painter, designer and playwright, who is sometimes called the “Polish William Morris.” Although the two artists never met, they shared a common interest in decorative arts, but above all were polymaths as accomplished writers, painters and innovative applied arts designers. Like Morris, Wyspiański designed furniture, stained glass pictures, embroidery and kilims. Seeing the decline in quality of the industrial book production, Morris revived the book arts in Britain and set up his own publishing company, the Kelmscott Press, which published beautifully ornamented and illustrated books. Likewise, Wyspiański contributed to the typographical reform and the development of the book design in partitioned Poland. His unfulfilled goal was to create a national Polish typeface. Thanks to him book design acquired the status of art. Another affinity between Wyspiański and Morris was their love for indigenous plants. Wyspiański was the first Polish artist to have expressed a fascination with wayside flowers and other ornamental plants as significant subject matter in his paintings and designs. Wyspiański, like Morris, was also an accomplished interior decorator. The author ends her essay with a quotation from Adolf Nowaczyński (1876–1944), Wyspiański’s friend, playwright and critic: “I got the impression that . . . his intention was to play the same role in Poland as Morris did in England” (55).
Shown at the exhibition too is Apollo: Copernicus's Solar System, a stained glass window designed by Stanisław Wyspiański (1905), recreated by artist and master-craftsman Piotr Ostrowski, made at the Young Poland Krakow Stained Glass Company (2017) based on the pastel cartoon, from the National Museum in Kraków, 343 x 146 cm. See ill. 1.4 in the book.
In her essay “‘Let Us Surround Ourselves With Our Own Beauty’: Stanisław Wyspiański’s Decorative Scheme for the Franciscan Church in Kraków,” Magdalena Laskowska presents Wyspiański as an original artist-craftsman, who designed, supervised and in part carried out the decorative scheme of the medieval Franciscan Church in Kraków, which is counted amongst the most outstanding achievements of European applied art and the pinnacle of Young Poland monumental wall painting (57). Wyspiański’s great achievement as an artist-craftsman was the creation of monumental wall painting decorations and magnificent stained glass windows for the church.
The first of the two essays by Anna Rudzińska, “‘Disappointed Love’: Stanisław Wyspiański and Wawel,” deals with Wyspiański’s unfulfilled grand scheme to convert the historic Wawel Hill into the nation’s Acropolis, the spiritual, political and cultural heart of the reinstated country. The project assumed the location of the Houses of Parliament (the Seym and the Senate, the National Museum, theatres and a stadium. The second essay, “Wyspiański’s Chochoły: A Meditation on the ‘Straw Man’ Generation,” deals with Wyspiański artistic expression of the the political situation and spiritual state of Polish society at the end of the 19th century. His pastel painting entitled Pałuby na plantach tańczące (Straw Men Dancing in the Planty) – known today as Chochoły ‒ expresses the artist’s growing disappointment with the contemporary generation of Poles, who had fallen into a state of political and social lethargy. “Wyspiański ‒ writes Rudzińska ‒ identified them with the figure of the pałuba (straw man) – a term used to describe dummies which imitated the shape of a live figure, and, by analogy, also meaning a person of only nominal importance, a figurehead, who merely keeps up an appearance of addressing serious issues. Left exhausted by futile attempts to regain national independence, and conscious of the irrecoverable destruction of many generations’ legacy, the turn-of-the century generation is portrayed as one of silent complainants, ashamed of their own weakness. (…) Such low spirits impeded the chance to regain sovereignty of an independent state, which is symbolised in the picture by Wawel Castle” (88).
Architectural model of "The House under the Firs" (Dom pod Jedlami), made for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1900: Stanisław Witkiewicz's most iconic building, making a stunning centrepiece to another room in the exhibition (from the Tatra Museum). See ill. 6.12 in the book.
Zbigniew Moździerz in collaboration with Anna Wende-Surmiak discuss in their essay, titled “The Zakopane Style of Stanisław Witkiewicz”, the origin and development of an architectural style inspired by the regional art of the highland region known as Podhale. It was conceived by Stanisław Witkiewicz, an art critic, architect, painter, novelist and architectural reformer, who fell in love with the Tatra Mountains and settled in the remote village of Zakopane. The article presents Witkiewicz’s most iconic building, the House Under the Firs (Dom pod Jedlami), and the designer’s attempts to promote the Zakopane Style in other parts of the Polish lands. Although Witkiewicz managed to realise only 10 designs in Zakopane itself and 3 elsewhere, the Zakopane Style, regarded as the national style, soon became very popular and gradually extended to residential, civic and church architecture, interior decorations as well as applied arts, including fashion (91). “The Zakopane Style became a national design movement which facilitated the preservation of the Polish cultural identity at the time of the country’s political non-existence” (103).
In her essay, “Karol Kłosowski and the Silent Villa: Living the Arts and Crafts Life in the Tatras”, Edyta Barucka writes about the artistic life of Karol Kłosowski (1882‒1971), an outstanding artist-craftsman and educator associated with the Podhale region, who lived in his beautifully hand-crafted home called the Silent Villa (Willa Cicha) in Zakopane. The next essay, “Karol Kłosowski (1882–1971): The Last Young Poland Artist and a Genius for Ornament,” contributed by Julia Griffin, adds more information about this lesser-known artist, who ‒ according to the author ‒ “counts amongst Young Poland’s most original painters, designers and master-craftsmen,” who had “a Morrisean genius for ornament” (112). Kłosowski’s designs for wall friezes and ornaments “featured birds and stylised flowers and plants, such as nasturtiums and bracken, as well as carved panelling for domestic and church interiors” (117). Kłosowski also designed furniture, including tables, stools, benches, shelves, cabinets and the intricate dining-room dressers, as well as coloured decorative woven textiles. His paper cuttings are reminiscent of William Morris’ geometric, floral and figurative patterns.
Roisin Inglesby’s essay “‘Fine Handwork of Various Professions’: The Kraków Workshops” is devoted to a commercial cooperative of artists, artisans and art professionals founded in Kraków in 1913. The Workshops were associated with the earlier mentioned Museum of Technology and Industry. Their studios in metalworking, bookbinding and leatherworking, weaving, batik, dyeing, and cabinet-making were based in the Museum’s building. The members of the Workshops believed that there should be no distinction between the so-called fine and decorative arts. Włodzimierz Konieczny (1886‒1916), a sculptor, printmaker, poet, and lieutenant of the Polish Legions, was a major influence at the outset of the Workshops’ activity. Konieczny’s ideas on art echoed William Morris’s statement that “nothing can be a work of art which is not useful” (124). Konieczny called for the eradication of any distinction between the fine and applied arts. His theories were shared by other members the Workshops, who blended the basic ideology of the British Arts and Crafts Movement with the Polish vernacular experience. As he said: “In desiring a Polish art we must desire Polish crafts – without them there can be no Polish art” (125). After Konieczny’s death in action in World War One, the practice of the Kraków Workshops was influenced by Karol Homolacs (1874‒1962) and Antoni Buszek (1883‒1954), two outstanding creators of the new Polish decorative arts, whose goal was to restore the unity of art and handicraft. Homolacs worked as a teacher, and in addition to painting he designed kilims, furniture, metalwork, book covers and illustrations. His theories on the nature of ornament were implemented in the craft objects produced at the Kraków Workshops. Buszek created an immensely successful batik studio, where young girls were given rudimentary training in the batik dyeing technique and encouraged to create designs according to their own imagination (126). The batiks produced at the Kraków Workshops included wall hangings, table napkins and coasters, as well as elements of female dress (shawls, headscarves, ribbons, and eventually outfits). Apart from batiks, the Kraków Workshops produced many other saleable products, such as furniture, toys, metalwork, woven kilims, and beautifully bound books. At the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts held in Paris in 1925, the Kraków Workshops won 20 of the total 35 Grand Prix awarded to Poland (130).
Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska's Self Portait with Elf, c. 1920, watercolour and pencil on paper, 34.5 x 39cm (Museum of Literature, Warsaw), and Jan Pawlikowski with Butterfly, date unknown, watercolour and pencil on paper, 15.5 x 22 cm (private collection, courtesy of Desa Unicum), are shown here. See ills. 10.6 and 10.7 in the book.
The final essay of Part One, “Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (b. 1891, Kraków, d. 1945, Manchester): The Pictorial Art of Young Poland’s Daughter”, contributed by Barbara Bogoczek and Tony Howard, presents a prolific poet known as the “Polish Sappho”, who ‒ like Stanisław Wyspiański ‒ was also a playwright and painter. The article focuses on Maria’s pictorial achievement. Both her grandfather, Juliusz (1824–1899), and father, Wojciech (1856–1942), were outstanding representatives of realist historical and military painting. Maria was endowed with great literary and artistic talent. In some periods of her life Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska was engaged with painting as intensively as with writing. Her early watercolour works mainly feature fairy-tale nymphs, dancers, flowers, and butterflies. Her later paintings contain many allusions to her subsequent loves and marriages.
A glimpse of some of the vibrant paintings and designson display at the gallery.
Part Two begins with Alicja Kiliańska’s essay “Interiors and Furniture,” which considers the manifestation of the Zakopane Style in interiors and furniture. Stanisław Wyspiański, who was fascinated with the Polish vernacular crafts, devised a decorative scheme for the newly built premises of the Medical Society in Kraków. He designed the staircase, the entrance hall, the meeting hall and the interior of the reading room. He treated the items of furniture as a key element within the architectural and artistic composition of the interior (151). Several other outstanding interior designers of the Young Poland era include Józef Czajkowski (1872–1947,), Karol Tichy (1871‒1939), Edmund Bartłomiejczyk (1885‒1950), Edward Trojanowski (1873‒1930), Karol Frycz (1877‒1963), and Ludwik Puget (1877‒1942).
Zofia Weiss’s essay “Edward Bartłomiejczyk’s Design for a Nursery” discusses a rare set of furniture designed by Bartłomiejczyk for the Architecture and Interiors in a Garden Setting exhibition held in Kraków in 1912. The next essay, “Textiles”, written by Joanna Regina Kowalska, discusses the revival in the design of textiles. The author draws attention to Polish kilims which differed significantly from English Arts and Crafts tapestries. The author contends that “(k)ilims were the favourite decorative textile of Young Poland artists. They were an indispensable part of the Polish Applied Arts Society exhibitions” (171). Apart from kilims, artists associated with the Young Poland milieu began to design embroideries around the year 1900. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Zakopane Style, inspired by the Highlanders from the Podhale region, became one of the most visible influences on Young Poland fashion. The first dress in the Zakopane Style was exhibited in 1902 at the first Polish Applied Arts Society exhibition.
Bożena Kostuch in her essay on ceramics states that “(f)or Polish ceramicists the era of Young Poland was one of searching and of experimentation” (187). Ceramic products reflected a variety of styles: Art Nouveau, the exotic art of the Far East, Symbolism and Naturalism, as well as folk art and archaeological ceramics. Folk art became a characteristic inspiration for potters who wanted to create a national style. In 1900, J. Niedźwiecki faience factory was established in Kraków. It produced objects for ordinary use and purely artistic items. Two outstanding sculptors, Konstanty Laszczka (1865‒1956) and Stanisław Jagmin (1875‒1961) were pioneers of modern Polish ceramic art. Laszczka’s diverse output included heads and half-length figures of elderly women, overworked men, and young girls dressed in decorative Kraków peasant bodices. Educated in Paris Jagmin made ceramic sculptures and bibelots, and also experimented with ceramic glazes. In 1906, he presented his works at the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Warsaw, which was a turning point in awarding artistic status to ceramics in the partitioned lands of Poland. Women were generally involved only in painting designs on finished pieces of ceramics. Educated in Munich Zofia Szydłowska (1887–1944) made decorative vases and vessels, some of which drew on pre-Slavonic pottery urns. Szydłowska’s work was praised by the press, and described as "maiolica changing colour with the hues of the rainbow" (192).
Anna Myczkowska-Szczerska’s essay “Children’s Toys and Christmas-Tree Decorations from the Kraków Workshops” presents the achievement of Zofia Stryjeńska (1891–1976), a painter, graphic and stage designer, illustrator and toymaker. Her unique style combined the aesthetic ideas of the Kraków Workshops with the influences of contemporary Art Déco. At the Kraków Workshops, Stryjeńska, and a few other artists, Wojciech Jastrzębowski (1884‒1963), Zygmunt Lorec (1891–1963) and Zdzisław Gedliczka (1888–1957) designed Christmas-tree decorations, elevating them “to the status of stylistically distinctive decorative arts” (198).
Display cases show examples of the "book beautiful." Prominent here is the Missale Romanum ex decreto SS. Concilii Tridentinial restitution..., the binding designed by Henryk Uziemblo and executed by Gustav Baer, Robert Jahoda Workshop, from the National Museum of Kraków. See ill. 16.5 in the book.
Monika Paś writes in “The Book Beautiful” that “(a)ttempts to raise the aesthetic status of the book, begun in England by William Morris (…) spread at the turn of the 20th century to many European countries. Poland was no exception (…). These ideas were integral to the art of Young Poland, which had inherent patriotic undertones and a wide reach” (209). The author describes the achievements of the Kraków-based bookbinders, who wanted to implement the ideal of the "book beautiful" in Poland. The revival in artistic bookbinding in Kraków at the turn of the century was associated with the activities of the Museum of Technology and Industry, which promoted the aesthetic principles of John Ruskin. The Museum established in 1909 a professional bookbinding studio, which also used William Morris’s Golden Type fonts from The Kelmscott Press. The Industrial School in Kraków offered courses of bookbinding techniques, composition, drawing and typography which promoted the ideal of "book beautiful" (210). Bonawentura Lenart (1881‒1973), a graphic artist, bookbinder, and a co-founder of the Kraków Workshops, while staying in London, came into direct contact with several of Morris’s disciples, who familiarised him with British artistic bookbinding techniques. After his return to Kraków, he created in his studio artistic book bindings which were characterised “by practical construction and sensitivity to the properties of the materials used, painstaking execution and simple ornamentation, always in keeping with the nature of the book” (211).
The final essay in the volume, contributed by Piotr Kopszak, deals with Young Poland painting, which provides a wide perspective on the issues of the nation’s history, spirituality, religion, and the celebration of nature. The Young Poland visual arts were exposed to many foreign influences and they exhibited immense variety in style and subject matter. Young Polish artists, who studied painting in Paris, Munich or Vienna, brought home inspirations of modern European art: impressionism, symbolism, and secession. Many of them were familiar with the works of the Pre-Raphaelites and the British Arts and Crafts movement. They also had a growing appreciation of the applied arts and the role of painting in interior decoration. As noted earlier, Stanisław Wyspiański, a Young Poland’s polymath, was also an accomplished portrait painter. He excelled at depictions children imbued with an aura of sadness and melancholy. Leon Wyczółkowski painted impressionistic and symbolist scenes from the Tatra Mountains. One of his most famous paintings is Giewont at Sunset, the most famous mountain in Poland, shrouded in legends, a symbol of national existence. In the artist’s representation it looks like a sleeping knight, who would wake up one day to liberate Poland. Jacek Malczewski, one of the most outstanding painters, associated with the Young Poland movement, was influenced, among others, by Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898). He painted canvases dedicated to Polish martyrdom, Christian and Greek mythology, and the beauty of landscape. Teodor Axentowicz (1859–1938) was fascinated by the folk art of the Hutsul region in the Eastern Carpathians and depicted many rural scenes. Olga Boznańska (1865–1940) was the most outstanding female painter of the Young Poland movement. Some of her paintings bear affinity with the paintings of James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), one of America’s greatest painters, a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites.
The book about the Young Poland movement and its individual representatives is an important contribution to the study of the various manifestations of the Arts and Crafts movement and its legacies. This excellent book is persuasive on the ambivalence that surrounded the genesis of Young Poland, but it does emphasise strong affinities between Young Poland and the British Arts and Crafts movement. The emphasis of the book is in fact on decorative arts, crafts and architecture, not fine arts. As an overview of the applied arts and architecture of the Young Poland period, it is the first such study in the world in any language, as there have been so far no comprehensive studies in Polish on this topic because scholarly publications focused mainly on the painting of Young Poland. In the light of the above reflection, Young Poland: The Arts and Crafts Movement, 1890-1918 will prove of interest to the students and scholars of fin-de-siècle art who will welcome this impressive work which reinterprets the origins and development of the unique art movement.
Griffin, Julia, and Andrzej Szczerski, eds. Young Poland: The Polish Arts and Crafts Movement, 1890-1918. London: Lund Humphries Publishers, in partnership with William Morris Gallery and National Museum in Kraków, 2020, reprinted 2021. Includes 254 colour and 43 b&w illustrations.
Last modified 21 March 2017