Saturday, January 17, 2015

Stanislaw Wyspianski, View of Kościuszko Mound

Stanislaw Wyspianski, View of Kościuszko Mound, 1904

Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907) was a Polish artist and writer of plays and poetry.  In addition to painting, he was also an interior and furniture designer.  Wyspianski's writing displays strong patriotic and nationalist beliefs and he joined themes of the Polish folk tradition with the modernist movement.  Born in Kraków, Wyspianski was raised by his aunt and her husband after his mother's death.  His aunt and uncle were middle class intellectuals, and it was there that the young Stanislaw became acquainted with painting and his talent was recognized.  As a student, he took great interest in both art and literature, as well as Polish history, and he went on to attend the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts.  After traveling Europe, he returned to Kraków in 1894 and began receiving commissions, such as church stained glass.  Throughout his career Wyspianski worked in a number of genres.  He painted scenes of Kraków, several portraits of his daughters and depictions of his family, as well as several self-portraits.  His vies of Kościuszko Mound are among his most celebrated works.  He painted quite a few views of the scene (1234, 5678), each showing the mound from a great distance in different conditions. Kościuszko Mound is a Polish monument to General Kościuszko that sits over 1000 feet above sea level, and is itself 112 feet tall.  It is the somewhat pointed peak that appears on the mountain toward the left.  This painting, and all Wyspianski's views of the mound, present an interesting image of the monument.  Rather than conveying the great size of the monument, he chose to show it dwarfed by nature and distance.  Wyspianski's style is rather minimal in this painting, creating he basic shapes of his subject and using very loose brushwork to do so.  This gives the painting a very immediate feel, as well as adding to the distancing effect.  There also appear to be train tracks in the scene (most visible in the eighth linked painting) so the dark splotches are clouds of train smoke encroaching on the snowscape.  There is something unsettling in this painting, elicited by the bright yellow sky (a rather unnerving sunset), which appears sickly and sunny at the same time, and the shapes of the trees in the foreground that reach their finger-like branches outward.  The swirling snow adds to this sense of unease, and suggests an element of loneliness at play here.  This is underscored by the singular height of the mound that nothing can approach.  Wyspianski paints the immense size of the Kościuszko Mound, but leaves it appearing minuscule and solitary.  He shows the beauty of the Cracovian snows and mountains, but paints them with clouds of ash under a sallow sky.  Wyspianski uses these contradictions to create an extremely engaging painting of great beauty and interest.

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