Zofia Stryjenska, was born May 13, 1891, in Krakow, and died February 28, 1974, in Geneva.one of the most acclaimed artists in Poland during the period between the two World Wars, was called ” Her Royal Highness, Princess of Polish Painting.” A multifaceted artist, she was a painter, muralist, graphic artist, book illustrator, as well as designer of kilims, toys, posters, stage sets, and costumes. After World War II and the subsequent institution of the Communist regime in Poland, she was systematically relegated to insignificance, her contribution to Polish art ignored.1 In fact, she was discredited because she refused to join the government-run Union of Polish Artists. The government’s efforts were so successful that even today her contribution is considered minor. Yet, despite this treatment, the Communist government, without her permission, appropriated her paintings and illustrations of Polish subjects and folklore for mass-produced postcards, calendars, plate decorations, and other objects, and used her graphic designs for various commercial purposes. Her name even was signed to works created by others. Needless to say, she was never paid royalties, nor did she claim any; she merely lamented the poor quality of the reproductions.
Her subject matter and use of line may have been influenced by Mloda Polska (Young Poland), a stylistically diverse art movement active between 1890 and 1918 whose practitioners embraced Impressionism, Realism, Naturalism, Divisionism, Neoromanticism, Symbolism, and even identified with the Secessionists.7 All these styles were tied to the ideology of Mloda Polska, to its philosophy, literature, and lifestyle. The movement embraced a social struggle that was more apparent in literature than in painting. The artists, mostly from the upper classes, wanted to leave the city and live in nature. Although Mloda Polska touted art for art’s sake, an important element of the movement was patriotism and nationalism. For inspiration, the artists turned to Podhale, a foothill region of the Tatra Mountains where the town of Zakopane is located. Some settled there, a few developing “peasantmania” and marrying peasant girls; others came periodically. They felt that the seeds of Poland’s regeneration resided in the “pure” peasant class. Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907), one of its most prominent members, idealized the Lech, or prehistoric Slavonic Polish tradition. His work is known for its Japanese-influenced flat areas of color and Secessionist or Art Nouveau line.Stryjenska also emphasized line and flat color areas, but her choice of subject was probably influenced as well by her own early love of Polish folklore. Krakow, where she was born and raised, was surrounded by villages in which folk-life was alive. She was able to witness peasant wedding pageants, folk religious processions, markets, trade fairs, and festivals of all sorts. in her memoir she described eloquently her early morning walks with her father to the Krakow Rynek (Market Square) where she saw… a mass of peasants … from different villages in the environs of Krakow … who in their fantastic, colorful folk costumes created the impression of some magical meadow eplete with flowers of the most beautiful colors …. We walked among this mass of village people of incomparable beauty and grace, whose gestures and style are not to be encountered in any other place, there in Krakow Rynek the initial images of Slavic Gods germinated in my mind, and a distant premonition of a grand Slavic resurrection led by Poland…. Later, all my life, I painted these village people, this vision of my first youth, in the midst of which I grew up … it is only to be pitied that my brushes failed to render faithfully their real enchantment, which always remains in my memory … my father called my attention to different types, scenes, details of dress, not because of my ambitions of being a painter … but because he him self loved all this…. Frequently ostentatious and boisterous peas ant weddings, with their music, arrived in front of St. Mary’s Church, and on Sundays, in front of St. Barbara’s, a procession formed, accompanied by the playing of the drums, and the women in starched skirts, with a wealth of coral bead necklaces, and their high headdresses, reciting the litanies in a sing-song…. At times at the Maly Rynek [Small Market Square] were drunken happenings so funny that one could burst laughing, especially the fights between the women merchants.9
Princess of Polish Painting
By Danuta Batorska
published in WOMAN’S ART JOURNAL FALL 1998 / WINTER 1999