The work of Stanisław Wyspiański was inseparably tied to the city of Krakow and the pastel Straw Covers on Rosebushes, one of the artist’s most famous pictures, is no exception. Wyspiański presents an evening scene of the Planty park surrounding Krakow’s old town. Looming in the background, past the dark tangles of leafless tree branches, is the silhouette of Wawel Hill with its Royal Castle and cathedral. The alley running through the park is lit by gas lights. But it is not Wawel Hill, the lights or the trees that are of primary importance here. The foreground is populated by a number of mysterious-looking straw covers sheltering rose bushes in anticipation of winter. A friend of the artist’s, Ludwik Puget, recalled one of their walks together, I remember once, when we were walking in Planty at night […] we noticed […] a group of rose bushes. It was very early spring […] and the roses were still wrapped in their winter coverings made of straw. Wyspiański remarked, ‘Look, they are dancing. They are absolutely dancing.’ Not long afterwards, he painted that group of bushes […] performing an almost human dance amidst Planty’s chestnut trees in the lamp light. In his work, Wyspiański chose the straw cover as a symbol of cyclical rebirth. Indeed, beneath the outer layer of straw a dormant life waits to blossom in spring with even more vigour than before. For the artist, nature’s winter slumber was a romantic metaphor for the dormancy of a nation in bondage waiting to be awakened.


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