1840 - 1909

Helena Modrzejewska Chłapowska - Madame Modjeska, Countess Bozenta

Theatre Institute in Warsaw

“In the end, it is not applause that is the best reward for an actor. It is a consciousness that he or she will live in the hearts and memory of the audience".

The titles of books and movies about her are quite meaningful and of one voice: The Star of Two Continents, The Life of Modjeska, Fair Rosalind, Starring Modjeska, Triumphant Women. Words of one of her memorial epitaphs are very intriguing: “She broadened minds with her art and nurtured hearts. She spread the glory of Polish art beyond the oceans. In her glory, she sought the glory of the nation. She lived by doing good.” Who, therefore, was she?

Born Helena Jadwiga in Kraków on 12 November 1840
In her “Memories and Impressions”, she wrote: “Cracow! – my cradle, my nurse, my mentor and master.” She was born as one of many children of Józefa (Josephine) Benda, from an unknown father, however family ties would become the most important values in her life. Her half brother, Feliks Benda, was an excellent actor who introduced her to the theater world. Years later, she would often quote Magda from the popular play by Herman Sudermann: “My home is with my child!” Faithful to this rule, she remained till the end of her life where her son and grandchildren lived, in America, to which she had been led over a long, unpredictable course. At age 6, she witnessed fighting between Poles and Austrian authorities in Kraków; trauma from the latter's occupation stayed with her throughout her life. At 10, her family house in Kraków burned down.

She also gave birth to her children out of wedlock: Rudolf and Maria. Their father, Gustaw Zimajer, invented the stage name "the Modrzejewskis" after they had performed in an amateur show in Bochnia for victims of a mine disaster. The success of that performance led to the creation of a small, family-like touring company under the directorship of Konstanty Łobojko.

Their chances of success were limited. However, as Modjeska would write: "And I also had my dreams".

Those dreams were fulfilled, insofar as theater historians, both Polish and American, have placed her atop a very high pedestal.

Her daughter Maria died tragically at age 4. Her son Rudolf, after graduation from an elite engineering school for in Paris, became the distinguished bridge designer Ralph Modjeski in the United States.

During 1861–1865, she performed widely in the province of Galicia in southeast Poland; first in a traveling provincial troupe, later in the cities Lviv and Chernivtsi.

Her first husband and manager, Gustaw Zimajer, wanted her to play on the German-language stage. A visit to Vienna was not successful – the queen of the stage at that time was Karolina Wolter.

In 1865, with her sons, she left Zimajer and returned to Kraków, where Adam Skorupka and Stanisław Koźmian were creating a modern theatre, a place for stars and for teamwork. The exceptional talent of Modjeska was discerned and appreciated by a director at this theater, Jan Tomasz Jasiński, who began commissioning her in more important roles.

In Kraków, she debiuted in the role of the Jewish Sarah in Salomon by Wacław Szymanowski. “Outstanding external qualities and big vocal capability went together with an instinctive artistic shrewdness.”

Over four seasons, she played over 100 roles. She started with “roles of naive lovers” in contemporary plays. Her performances in her Kraków era (1865–1868) were summed up the following descriptions: “she was already a mature and conscious realist,” and she was “a vivid person taken straight from nature.”

Adrienne in Adrienne Lecouvreur by Sardou and Legouvé would become one of her principal roles; played as her debuts in Warsaw, San Francisco, New York City and Boston, and enthusiastically received everywhere.

Attention of critics was drawn by scenes of madness performed by Modjeska: as Maria in Marie-Jeanne, ou la femme du peuple by Adolphe d’Ennery and Gustave Lemaine, Prakseda in Carpathian Mountaineers (Karpaccy górale) by Józef Korzeniowski, and lastly and most famously as Ophelia in Hamlet by Shakespeare, played in Poland and America.

Ophelia would remain long in her repertoire; her interpretation of this role would change. The great American theater critic William Winter would write about this role: “Her scene of madness was so realistic that I felt shivers on my skin when I looked straight in her eyes.”

Her Shakespeare roles during this era included not only Ophelia but also others among her well-known roles, which she also played for years: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Lady Anne in Richard III. Many of these she would hone for years; and new roles would come.

“In place of stiltedness, a truth of emotion came in, honed by a restraint in using effects". This applied mainly to her tragic roles.

Among her Polish repertoire was Barbara Radziwiłłówna by Alojzy Feliński, a pseudo-classical tragedy in verse, Anna Oświęcimówna, a tragedy by Mikołaj Bołoz Antoniewicz, Królowa Jadwiga (Queen Jadwiga), a drama, and Halszka z Ostroga (Halszka from Ostróg), both by Józef Szujski.

Among her foreign-drama roles were Doña Sol in Hernani by Victor Hugo, Princess Ebola in Don Carlos as well as Maria Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, the latter chosen for her benefit performance ending her Kraków engagement.

"How much heart, what noble soul she put into this unspoken meaning with her eyes," a Kraków critic wrote. Years later, William Winter concluded: "In theater history, an instance rarely happens of such absolute unity between the imagined and real representation."

This is an opinion quite in accordance with Modjeska's own. "I need to see myself in the role totally, from head to foot. If I don't see this, if I don't hear my voice in the role, then I know I am not able to play it convincingly."

For this role and for several others, music was composed by Ignacy Nikorowicz.

In the Kraków period, there was also, a lead role in the comedy Maiden Vows by Aleksander Fredro. Again, a critic pays tribute to her eyes: “in early scenes, those admirably beautiful eyes staring at indefinite remove […] slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly, they invigorate with a spark of emotion, turn to earthly hope and radiant with her anticipation of happiness. ”At this time, there was also a rivalry, with Antonia Hoffmann who was playing Klara in the Fredro play.

In this same period, there also came a particular role – that of a man: Adam Kazanowski in a comedy by Szujski, Dwór królewicza Władysława (The Court of the Prince Władysław). It proved a unique occasion to see the remarkable charm of Modjeska's figure more closely, usually hidden beneath long dresses; beautiful ones, by the way, and sometimes designed by her.

12 September 1868 may have been the happiest day of her adult life. In the university church, St. Anna, in Kraków, she married Karol Chłapowski from a gentry family in the Wielkopolska region, with an outstanding tradition of patriotism. Chłapowski had been imprisoned in Moabit in Berlin for some months, by the Prussian authorities.

He accompanied her for years; they were together in Paris though marriage to an actress did not meet approval with his family at first, even more so because Modjeska didn’t think of stopping her stage career. But later she was accepted absolutely, and well received at Chłapowski residences at Żegocin, Turwia and Kopaszewo. The motto on the family coat of arms was “Strive toward good”.

After triumphant guest performances by Modjeska, she was engaged on a permanent basis by the Warsaw Theatre Directorate, with the highest income in the company. This theater was one of the most original institutions of its day – a conglomeration of three stages, for opera, ballet and drama. At the head of the institution was a honored Russian general, and it was financed by St. Petersburg. Most astounding was that even in the period in Poland of the strongest Russification, dramatic performances were not stopped from being played in Polish! The theater engaged the most distinguished of Polish actors. Modjeska had good fortune in that the wife of the general who directed the Warsaw Theatre Directorate, Sergiei Muchanow, was Maria Kalergis, muse and protector of many European artists. Their ambition was to run the theater on the highest European level; many guest performances by international stars were hosted, including Rachel Felix, Adelaide Ristori, Sarah Bernhardt and others. Modjeska, with her talent, was an opportunity for and also a favorite of the Muchanow couple; they even maintained social relations. In those circumstances, her popularity reached an apogee.

Modjeska played repertoire typical for this era, successfully rivaling other actresses from the company as well as the guest stars. In Warsaw, she began with the Adrienne role. However, her ambition went further. She introduce to the Warsaw stage plays so far forbidden by censorship. First of all, Maria Stuart by Juliusz Słowacki, and his Mazepa (the censor didn’t give approval for Balladyna), along with Shakespeare with Romeo and Juliet (played for the first time in Warsaw in a translation from the original), Hamlet (played despite resistance by the censor), Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing.

The price she paid for recovering her son was quite high – she paid it to Zimajer, who in 1866 stole their son Rudolf from her Kraków dressing room, agreeing to give him back only in exchange for a high ransom.

In 1870, she fell sick from typhus. In 1874, her protector Maria Kalergis Muchanow died, jaundice set in and the censorship allowed her to perform less and less. It was time for a change. A time for change, because time flies – in 1876, Modjeska completed her 36th year and as she wrote then about one of her roles: “Life is in movement! Life is hard work! Life is pain! It is ten thousand times better to suffer and live – than stay asleep.”

“And also I had my dreams,” she writes in her verse “Sen artysty,” translated into English by Oscar Wilde as “The Artist’s Dream.” This dream, present since early in her youth, the most fearless, was to play Shakespeare – in English – in his homeland. On the basis of this mood, she would write later to a friend: “Crazy is the one who doesn’t like to go higher if he/she only can.”

In Modjeska’s salon, the idea for a great expedition was born – of crossing the ocean.

Taking part in the preparations:
Henryk Sienkiewicz, future laureate of the Nobel Prize in literature.
Adam Chmielowski, the future Brother Albert, a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, nota bene elevated to that position by Pope John Paul II, who had written a play about him, Our God’s Brother (including a scene with Modjeska).

Stanisław Witkiewicz, future creator of the Zakopane design style, father of the writer and artist Witkacy, to whom Modjeska was godmother.

The choice became California. Why?
Officially, she takes leave to recuperate, yet it's because she didn’t know spoken English, because she didn’t know any roles in English. Best for achieving this was seclusion, far from reporters who needed to take as sufficient the information that the group of Poles was creating a community in Anaheim, California, a colony in the Brook style – a commune of world-famous artists famous.

Why in Anaheim? Certainly because it was located a reasonable distance from San Francisco. And also because German colonists predominated there, which simplified communication for the newcomers.

The deciding element was proximity to San Francisco, a city at the end of world but also a city with seven theaters, and where the California Theatre directed by John McCullough hosted the biggest stars of American and European theater as guests.

There, one could learn what an American theater was, and about its actorship. There, one could risk a debut – far from Europe. But necessarily in English: her dream about Shakespeare was always to be presented in England, but Modjeska refused to play him there in Polish.

San Francisco. California Theatre. 20 August 1877.
The long-awaited debut. Modjeska, in the fail-safe role of Adrienne. “Even her costume seemed to be consistent with the way she developed the style of the character.” In the California Theatre, she played the Shakespearian roles of Juliet and Ophelia, also in “Dalila” by Octave Feuillet. The anonymous author of a verse published in San Francisco foresaw the future by writing: “Keep Polish memories in your heart alone,/ America now claims you for her own.” It would mean over 30 years in America, and would mean 26 tours across the nation. Around 4,400 performances, 34 roles including 15 in Shakespeare plays. First, there were short provincial tours – Californian tours – a lesson about the audiences in small towns, a test for her English in new roles. She played for the first time in English in “The Lady of the Camellias” by Alexandre Dumas, fils, also known as “Camille”.

In San Francisco, she signed an early 3-year contract with Harry J. Sargent. Her first tour lasted 5 months and included 17 cities, among them New York City, Washington and Boston, so important for her future career.

In New York City, she performed for the first time on 22 December 1877 in the Fifth Avenue Theatre rented by Sargent for up to 5 weeks. She lived in an apartment of the most expensive hotel, the Clarendon, which would become her favorite.

In the beginning, Modjeska played the reliable Adrienne under new directorship, the veteran Dion Boucicault. New actors (her lead partner was “Mr. Burroughs”), and also new stage situations. “I was terribly scared and payed worst than ever […], despite of that there was no end to the applause.”

The top authority among critics – and later her friend – William Winter proclaimed in New York's Tribune an unequivocal verdict: “Madame Modjeska is a great artist.” Others add: “Huge success” (The Mail), “The greatest actress since Rachel” (New York Times), etc., etc. American theater fans begin Modjeska scrapbooks.

Intensives rehearsals for “Camille” – with new text. A new costumes worthy of New York was needed. She bought fabric, hired a tailor. “She designed and finished those new costumes herself and they shook the feminine part of New York.” In 1878, “Camille – The Lady of Camellias”. “A storm of ovations.” The audience was packed – even on Saturday afternoons, “hundreds of ladies stood through the whole performance.” The Gilder clan broke into her wardrobe after one performance, her future big friends and admirers; they would make sure that the greatest poet in America, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was in Boston among the audience. It may have been in his New York salon that she met Walt Whitman; she sent his poems to Karol Potkański in Poland. Washington, D.C.: “All ministers visited her in Washington; all wifes of diplomats.” She met many prominent politicians, and at a lunch given by Eugene Hale and at the request of another congressman, Roscoe Conkling, “I dared to talk about the position of my nation.” Among her good friends would later be the Mr. and Mrs. Grover Cleveland – on 24 February 1886, she paid a visit to the White House upon the invitation of the president’s wife. Harry Sargent confessed to Winter that he didn’t know if Madame Modjeska’s social success was not bigger than her performing career – she played only Camille. That role had become a fixed part of her repertoire. After performances in Denver, a poem about the spontaneous reaction of the audience, “Modjesky as Cameel” by Eugene Field, was written in miner’s dialect from Colorado. Boston Museum. The city that decided an actor's position. Again she plays Adrienne. “This week I played two times on Wednesday, two times per day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Those who couldn’t get a ticket, pleaded for one more performance in day time.” Later, “ten performances of Camille in six days,” “Seats were sold at auction.” In the audience was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – who paid a visit to her dressing room, invited her to visit him with her son. Rudolf (Ralph) played Chopin superbly, Longfellow read a verse by Campbell about Poland. He commissioned a statuette of her and gave a recommendation to London – their friendship would last until the poet's death; later, Modjeska would visit his tomb on each stay in Boston.

The account of her first season is impressive:
• the most important theater centers conquered, including Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C.; open doors to the most elite salons
• critics writing paeans to her
• the most popular rivals defeated

• Modjeska as a queen of advertisement. Her picture in the role of Gilberta from Frou-Frou was on candies, on Petersburg cigarettes made by the Epir brand. In America, she advertised Waterman ink pens, powder for cleaning teeth, Madame Rècamier creams and perfumes; she becomes a face of the Larkin company
• Fashion for Modjeska: dresses à la Modjeska, hats à la Modjeska, dishes named after Modjeska, sweets endorsed by Modjeska – to this day, they are still produced in the U.S. by two companies.

The past as a period was definitely closed: forgotten is her difficult Galician start; Helena Jadwiga, in America, was a distinguished aristocrat – Countess Bozenta. The challenges were no less. “The destiny of us is to fly always higher and higher. […] It is ten thousand times better to suffer and live – than stay asleep!” Shakespeare was still waiting; England was waiting. Spent a few months in Europe: Ireland, and London where she saw Henry Irving in the role of Van der Decken in The Flying Dutchman – she was thrilled with his original role. Later, in Paris, she saw Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Doña Sol in “Hernani” by Victor Hugo – “she conquered me.” In Paris, she commissioned costumes at a renowned tailor, Madame Duluc; she poses for Carolus Duran for a portrait commissioned in Philadelphia. A short visit at Kraków, at her mother's and with Karol’s family.
Dreams about her own home. The holidays 1879 become the first attempt to fulfill her dreams. The choice is Zakopane. Here she will build her house, in which she practically didn’t live. She generously gifts the town – she promises to found in Zakopane a school of lacing for girls; she sends in 1882 1200 Ren zlotys for this purpose. The school is open on 1 of May 1883 – it will survive over 100 years. The girls got many European prices for their work. In the meantime occurs a real tragedy. Ignacy Neufeld shot himself in Warsaw – he tried to defend his colleagues relegated from gymnasium for handing to the artist a wreath with an inscription “To Helena Modjeska – from Polish youth” with a red-white band. The German press calls her a Polish Joanna d’Arc. It complicates strongly her stage plans on German scenes, also Russians. Attempts to stay away from politics doesn’t help.

In London again. The Chłapowskis make necessary acquaintances: Hamilton Aide, Alfred Tennyson who reads her his poem Poland (“I like the old man for that”), queen’s chaplain – Satnley, Robert Stanley, Robert Browning, Gustave Dore, young Oscar Wilde, whom she later gives recommendation for his trip to America.

London. Royal Court Theatre 1880. London debut of Modjeska: next version of The Lady of Camellias.

Severe exam. The prince and princess of Wales at the audience, actresses: Mary Stirling, Madge Kendal, Effie Marie Bancroft, Ellen Terry; some of them didn’t hide her agitation.

There is Sarah Bernhardt in London; she comes to her performance, to her wardrobe, she complements Helena and admits that she cried. „The Illustrated London News” will write about both of them giving their portraits. Constance, the name of the character, will be played up to 63 times.

The premier of Maria Stuart; the British elites at the audience, among them the prime minister Glandston with his son Herbert, lady Bancroft, Bronson Howard, J. P. Simpson, George Augustus Sala, Dion Boucicault. The reviewer could write: “In each inch a queen, indeed! Nobility in suffering, queen majesty in face of death.”

London premiere in the Princess Theatre of Adrienne Lecouvreur, and of one Shakespearian role, Juliet, then later in Odette by Sardou. By the end of June 1881, a benefit for Modjeska at the Princess Theatre. Irving, Bernhardt, Ellen Terry, the Kendals, John Lawrence Toole – hard to find an equally beautiful set of stars.

Nevertheless, a feeling of need stayed with her. She played in 1882 in the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, however they fail in creating a subsidized theater. Little of Shakespeare in the repertoire. She would not fulfill her dreams about Shakespeare in Great Britain.

In 1885, she returned for a short tour with 30 people of Henry E. Abby’s team.

Return to America for new Shakespearian roles, for money, for justly deserved signs of admiration. Books about her appear: in England by Mabel Collins, The Story of Helena Modjeska (Madame Chlapowska) in 1883. America can not be bested – that same year, Helena Modjeska by J.T. Altemus appears.

Painters don’t like to be last. In Poland, Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz finished the great portrait of her. In Boston there is portrait by Carolus-Duran. A new one is painted by Wyatt Eaton – in 1883, a pencil sketch is published in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, while in 1884 Frank Fowler will show an oil portrait in New York City.

There was other big news: a premiere of “Maria Stuart” with the Globe Theatre in Boston, and a premiere of probably the most important American role for Modjeska – Rosalind in “As You Like It” by Shakespeare. Great success. She began with Rosalind in Booth's Theatre in New York City. The most beautiful, ambitious theater in America could not sustain itself. On 30 April 1883, at Edwin Booth’s request, it would close with a performance of “Romeo and Juliet“ with Modjeska. Her articles and appeals for creating subsidized theatre lacked the necessary effect.

America is fascinated by Madame Modjeska's strange, incomparable way of performing and, first and foremost, by her costumes. Gilberta and Odette are occasions for this fascination.
“She wore skirts made from a pale pink silk embroidered in front with roses and forget-me-nots. The bodice and train in glitter silk, in light wheat hue. The long bodice had embroidery fitting the skirt and high ruffles around the shoulders. Along its ends, a satin drape cascaded to a long train. This train was lined to fit the skirt. The coat atop it was of blue glittering velvet lined in swan down. For her second costume, worn in the act played in the gambling den, a white glittered satin bodice and skirt. Heavy plaiting around the bottom of the skirt was decorated with white sprays. The bodice ended in point forms at front and back, and from the back point hung a long white satin train. A ribbon of heavy diamond pendants was on her neck. The last costume: black, densely decorated with black jet.”

Modjeska said of her roles: “I try to add to my scenic incarnations ennobling elements of poetry or idealism, grandeurism.”

This is not the end of Shakespeare. In Washington, D.C., she plays Viola in Twelfth Night.

For her next tour, managed by Karol Chłapowski with Fred Stinson as a director, Modjeska starts in the Grand Opera House in Chicago, playing Rosalind. The excellent Helena Modjeska Company is composed of Maurice Barrymore and his wife, Georgiana (née Drew), Charles Vandenhoff, William F. Owen, Mary Shaw; they travel with the Barrymore children: Ethel (to whom Modjeska becomes godmother) and Lionel, with John later joining them – the Modjeska legend remains in the Barrymore family to this day.

Imogene and Desdemona join the Shakespearian roles in Modjeska’s repertoire.
In Louisville, Kentucky, Nora by Ibsen doesn’t strike the audience's taste. But in Baltimore on 8 February 1884 is the great premiere of the play by Barrymore, Nadjezda. Modjeska plays two roles, of mother and daughter.

Great success, but a question remains – where is my home? My theater and family homes? An answer to the last question seems more and more clear. Karol Chłapowski and Ralph Modjeski receive U.S. citizenship, and she also accepts it. So, America? On 28 December 1885, Ralph marries his finacée, Felicja, in a Polish church in New York City – he has a serious job as an engineer. Soon grandchildren will come to the world, for whom Madame will write, while in Arden, a beautifully illustrated book (in English and in Polish).

What about house the in Zakopane, a mansion in Kraków? The Zakopane house, named Modrzejów, finished in 1884, stays practically uninhabited. The mansion in Kraków was almost complete the same year, but it also stayed uninhabited. Modrzejówka, as it was named, was sold in 1889; today, it is a property of the Piotr Skarga Sodality of Mercy. The building is included on the list of monuments waits, and awaits the return of Madame Modjeska.

She choses California and Santiago Canyon in Orange County, where Chłapowski acquired rights to a lot of land in 1876. In 1883, Modjeska buys 120 acres from the local Pleasant family, and later buys more. The excellent architect Stanford White designs and helps to set up the house. It will be a residence worthy of the great actress, and at the same time it will fulfill Chłapowski’s dream about his own ranch. The ranch – first called El Refugio (the Refuge), later called Arden by Modjeska-Rosalind, the name by which it has gone to this day – is situated in front of the Modjeska Fire Station. Maintaining Arden consumes all their savings, but it's only here that Modjeska can really rest.

Or maybe to go to Europe?
In June 1884, she leaves for there. Rests in Zakopane, where she meets the talented young pianist Jan Ignacy Paderewski. Her participation in the artist's Kraków concert brings income, which allows him to study in Vienna, opening doors to his worldwide career. Paderewski visits her later in Arden, and she will visit him in Morges, Switzerland. In 1905, the future Polish prime minister would organize a farewell performance for Modjeska at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. She’ll play on Polish stages, but this is now too small theatrically. Besides… in Kraków she plays to collect funds for a construction of a new theater, but the national campaign was not met with enthusiasm. But something else is more important. In her hometown, she’ll play for the first time as Rosalind, Viola, the Lady of the Camellias. She also gave a show of directorship, staging “Twelfth Night" in her own adaptation. The performance was also distinguished by the fact that she had excellent young partners: Ludwik Solski as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Frenkiel as Sir Toby Belch. Later, in 1901 in Lviv, Solski will give a legendary show as Stary Wiarus in “Warszawianka” by Stanisław Wyspiański, with Modjeska at his side. Along with that performance, Wyspiański saw her in the role of Viola. In Warsaw, the reaction is quite restrained; her new Shakespearian roles were received with grimaces. But the money was gladly accepted: for the reconstruction of the fire-damaged Teatr Rozmaitości, for the building of the Society of the Friends of Beaux Arts, for loans for artists, for a domicile for teachers and many other charity purposes.
To play in St. Petersburg, in Paris?
Modjeska has plenty of offers but withdraws from one after another. Victorien Sardou will not write a play for her. Her access to German stages is sealed off when her statement is republished by U.S. newspapers from an unknown source, some years later: “Bismarck hates us and always says that the government should turn us into Germans. They took away our liberty, but they can not take away our talents.” In 1886 in New York City, the Chłapowskis engage in aiding 30,000 Polish refugees from Prussia; in the Star Theatre on 18 February, Modjeska gives a performance of As You Like It for this purpose. She plays “not only thinking about the immediate financial success, but also to gain sympathy among the Americans for those wretches.” She receives invitation from Russia, again and again; she can not decide. But the czarist police decided. Having given an anti-czarist speech at an international women’s congress in Chicago in 1893, Modjeska receives a lifelong ban on entering the Russian terrain. In newspapers across the world, an uproar. Lawyers appeal, but even a humble letter from Modjeska, a U.S. citizen, to the czar's wife won't help – the ban will be never lifted.

She needs to perform, she needs to earn money. Next seasons. Among the most interesting news: Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, premiere in Boston in 1886, along with the premiere of a play by Pierre Berton based on Balzac’s Les Chouans. Great success with the audience, but financially almost a disaster: 2 wagonloads of stage decor, 100 costumes.

Measure for Measure – the beautiful role of Isabella.

Next Shakespeare – Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

In 1888 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, she plays one more exceptional role from Shakespeare. This is in Hamlet, in a benefit for Lester Wallack. On her friend’s request, she plays Ophelia in a cast including Booth, Barrett, Jefferson, Morris. Astonishing success.

Modjeska knows that she has neared the peak of her career. She knows that her theater work has no chance in England, neither is there a chance for a subsidized national theater, modeled on the Comédie Française the Burgtheater, or even the Warsaw Theatre Directorate. In America, nothing is decided yet – in many interviews, she speaks of the idea of subsidized national theater. She dreams that the best could unify: Booth, Daly, Frohman, Jefferson, herself. In 1892, in The Forum, she publishes a text summarizing her ideas: “Subsidized Theaters and the American Stage.” Edwin Booth’s manager and stage partner, William Barrett, propose a joint season to her. Modjeska sets a condition: the greatest Shakespearian actress will only play with equal billing alongside the greatest Shakespearian actor in America. It is intended to be the apogee of her stage career, and the season with Booth is about this. The Booth-Modjeska-Barrett Company. 30 weeks together. In their repertoire: “Hamlet”, “The Merchant of Venice”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “Donna Diana” by Moreto. At Modjeska’s request, “Macbeth”; at Booth’s request, “Richelieu” by Bulwer-Lytton. “Booth was great, Modjeska was great.”

For the first time, Modjeska performs on stage as Lady Macbeth; the official premiere on 18 November at the Broadway Theatre in New York City is received by critics in a measured way, but she’ll perform it across America over 500 times till the end of her career.

In Poland, it is one of the most known and valued of her roles – thanks in large part to Wyspiański, who in his “A Study on Hamlet” described it in a very suggestive way.

The joint season was beautifully summed up by Booth: “She is a genius; each day I am learning something from her.” Modjeska will write the same about her partner in her Memoirs and Impressions. The creation of a stable theater with their participation, however, did not come about.

1890 in Europe. Performances in Poznań, Lviv, Kraków, Warsaw, Lublin, Łódź, in April at the National Theatre in Prague; everywhere she makes generous donations for charity purposes.

In Zakopane, she becomes godmother to Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz – who would become famous as Witkacy. His godfather is the legendary highlander Sabała.

She rests in Arden, active socially. The closest friends of the family are the Langerberger and Rice families. In 1892, a major premiere of “Henry VIII” by Shakespeare at the Garden Theatre in New York City. New decor, costumes designed by Modjeska. In May 1893, the international Congress of Women in Chicago. Modjeska gives a speech, “Women and the Stage.” Of a sudden, she needs to speak in the name of Polish women, and presents a speech innocently titled “The Development of Women’s Organizations in Poland”, which was in fact a forceful attack on anti-Polish activities by occupation authorities, especially Russians. In 1895, she’ll receive a lifelong ban on entering Russia; she’ll never perform again in Warsaw.

In Autumn 1893, a major premier in Chicago. A play by Hermann Sudermann, not yet known in America, translated and adapted by Karol and Ottis Skinner, performed under the title Magda. It is a novelty in Modjeska’s repertoire; success – till the end of the season, she’ll play it over 70 times.

Disaster in 1896 – paralyzed hand, blood clots. It seems to be the end – she “spends a few days at the edge of death.” Chłapowski is with her. She heals in Arden, takes curative massages in San Francisco. Struggles. After a year-long struggle, she returns to the stage. In the Baldwin Theatre in San Francisco in 1898, the great gala premiere of “Antony and Cleopatra”.
Autumn 1899, “Marie Antoinette” by Clinton Stuart. January 1900 in Boston, “La Bataille des Dames”, ou un Duel en amour by Scribe and Legouvé. 17 October 1900 is an important date – the Trenton, NJ, premiere of “King John” by Shakespeare, with her impressive role as Constance.
1902 – final return to her homeland. In Lviv, a great sensation: Modjeska as Idalia in “Fantazy” by Juliusz Słowacki. Early 1903 in Kraków in “Macbeth” – this is when Wyspiański saw her in this role. She feels well enough to debut in a new role in a play by Gabriela Zapolska, “Jesienny wieczór (Autumn Evening)”. In February 1903, she says a definitive farewell to the Poznań stage. Short visit with Chłapowski in the Paderewski residence. In Berlin, she commissions new costumes for two plays in which she’ll appear in Kraków: “Antigone” by Sophocles and “Protesilas i Laodamia (Protesilas and Laodamia)” by Wyspiański. 25 April 1903 is the day of the premiere. Modjeska defers on her fee only to make it possible for the theater to prepare decor according to Wyspiański’s design. Her final appearance on the Kraków is on 28 April 1903 – on the program are Sophocles and Wyspiański.
In June, she travels for the last time to America. She rejects a substantial financial offer to perform in vaudeville – she doesn’t care to cap her career with such an offer. She writes her memoirs. One more Shakespeare – with amateurs in 1904 at the Mason Opera House in Los Angeles: Hermione in “The Winter’s Tale”. From New York City, a letter signed by 30 American celebrities from the arts. The world comes to her with an invitation for 2 May 1905 at the Metropolitan Opera House for a specially organized performance. She gives a positive response, clearly touched, to the care of impresario Daniel Frohman. 2 May 1905. At the Metropolitan Opera House, her day of glory. 4,000 people in the audience. Performers include Vladimir de Pachman, Ada Rehan, the singer Elsa Russell, Patrice Campbell. Modjeska appeared in three scenes from “Macbeth” and in the last act of “Maria Stuart”. “In the end, it is not applause that is the best reward for an actor. It is a consciousness that he or she will live in the hearts and memory of the audience.” She added, in Polish: “Bóg zapłać [God bless you].”

She returns to California richer by $12,000 and with an invitation for her next farewell tour, organized by Jules Murray from November 1905 till April 1906. She performs in three plays: Maria Stuart, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing.

In 1906, Arden is definitively sold. The Chłapowskis live temporarily in Tustin, later they buy a house on Bay Island, near Los Angeles.
In 1906, her next farewell tour – this time really the final one. Macbeth, Maria Stuart and The Lady of the Camellias. From the autumn 1906 to late March 1907.

An interesting accounting was made by her biographer Józef Szczublewski. He calculated that Modjeska played in Warsaw 740 times, in New York City 520, in Kraków 390, in London 370, in San Francisco 300, in Chicago 260, in Boston 190. Her most played roles: Maria Stuart 620 times, Lady Macbeth 520, the Lady of Camellias 500, Rosalind 440, Adrienne 370, Queen Katherine in “Henry VIII” 210, Beatrice 200, Frou-Frou 170, Juliet, Viola and Portia around 160 times, Odette 140, Magda 130, Ophelia and Cleopatra 100 times. Hard to find better evidence for the domination of her beloved Shakespearian roles: among 4,300 performances played in English, 2,250 relate to those Shakespearian roles.
In 1908, she’ll play on 27 April with amateurs on the stage of the Mason Opera House in Los Angeles, for charity, of course. In January 1909, she’ll play (almost speechless) as Lady Macbeth at the Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles, in a performance for victims of the earthquake in Sicily. By the end of 1908, she’ll bring to her finished memoirs to Gilders in New York City; they select photographs. Memoirs and Impression: An Autobiography will be published the year after her death, by Macmillan. Helena Modjeska dies on 8 April 1909 in her house on Bay Island, due to kidney malfunction. The funeral ceremony was held in Los Angeles by three priests; thousands of people walked past the coffin with her body. In San Francisco, a mass was performed by the archbishop, and 600 American nuns prayed for peace for her soul. The embalmed body was put in a double coffin and taken to Chicago, later to New York City. The final funeral was performed in Kraków, in the Church of the Holy Cross on 17 July 1909. She was buried, in accordance with her will, in the Rakowicki Cemetery, not far from the grave of her mother. There is a memorial epitaph in the Church of the Holy Cross in Kraków, which brings out the essence of her life.

Helena Modrzejewska Karolowa Chłapowska, born 12 November 1840
In Kraków, died 8 April 1909 in Newport, California.

She broadened minds with her art and nurtured hearts.
She spread the glory of Polish art beyond the oceans.

In her glory, she sought the glory of the nation.
She lived by doing good.

Foundation for Support of Modjeska's Life and Art Research

Pracownia Badań nad Życiem i Twórczością Heleny Modrzejewskiej, the research workshop at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków

Helena Modjeska today
The memory of Modrzejewska / Modjeska in Poland and America

1. The Artist's Houses

A: Californian Arden in Calfornia is owned by Orange County, which finances the activities of the museum; run by the Modjeska Foundation in California
B: Modrzejówka in Kraków is owned by Sodality of Mercy; the building was registered as a monument and is waiting for renovation and setting up.

2. The Salon of Helena Modjeska, run by the Foundation for Support of Modjeska's Life and Art Research in collaboration with the Jagiellonian University's Pracownia Modrzejewskiej.

Numerous souvenirs after her are dispersed usually in Polish, American and British archives and museums: A: costumes from her roles in the Museum of the City of New York, the Polish Museum of America in Chicago, the National Gallery in Kraków, etc. B: Manuscripts, among them hundreds of letters, sometimes sent from unexpected places. She usually wrote her letters on carefully selected paper, bearing the coat of arms of the Chłapowski family or her monogram. C: photographs from many Polish, American, British photo studios In the National Gallery in Kraków, there is a beautifully ornamented album by Ignacy Nikorowicz with music to her roles and pictures selected by her. There are also commemorative coins, postage stamps, memorial medals, along with promotional chocolates, perfumes, photographs – often found up for auction on Allegro and other online auction sites.

Other signs of memory about her are geographical and topographical: Modjeska Peak, Modjeska Canyon, Modjeska Historic Park. Movies about Modejska include Triumphant Woman by Barbara Myszyński in the U.S. and a TV series in Poland with Krystyna Janda in the role of Helena Modjeska.

Many dramas have been dedicated to her; most have played in America, Canada and Poland, such as Kazimierz Braun's Pani Helena (Madame Helena) and the intriguing play including a scene with Modjeska, Brat naszego Boga, by Karol Wojtyła, and others collected in the two-volume edition Sztuki o Helenie Modrzejewskiej. Antologia (Plays about Helene Modjeska: An Anthology). Maria Nowotarska played Modjeska in the Braun movie; along with Krystyna Janda, other Polish actresses taking up her role include Anna Lutosławska, Anna Polony and Beata Malczewska.

The literature dedicated to Modjeska is amazing. Among the most important authors are Mabel Collins, Jameson Torr Altemus, Marion Moore Coleman, Juliusz Kydryński, Tymon Terlecki, Jerzy Got and Józef Szczublewski, Anna Litak, Andrzej Żurowski and Beth Holmgren. There are also collected works and exhibition catalogs. The research about the life and work of Modjeska is made more possible thanks to consecutive editions of source material: her “Memories and Impressions” known in its Polish edition as “Wspomnienia i wrażenia”, her texts, the Polish edition of Modjeska’s tales for her grandchildren, poems dedicated by American and Polish authors to Modjeska and, of first importance, editions of the correspondence between Helena Modjeska and Karol Chłapowski. Modjeska is patron of many schools, associations, of amateur and professional theaters including acclaimed companies in Legnica, Poland, and the National Stary Teatr in Kraków.
The accomplishements of Modrzejewska/Modjeska can be summed up by the title of one text dedicated to her: “Made a long route, finished the run, preserved the faith.” This doesn’t mean that research or attempts to introduce her figure in a living cultural circuit have ended because, as one poet prophetically wrote: Lady Macbeth. – I saw in her eyes thousands of swords! Not to forget. – Who’ll cure these eyes from those eyes?! (Stanisław Wyspiański, “A Study on Hamlet”) Those eyes recently fascinated a young graduate student at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts who, after long discussions with students of culture management, chose Helena Modjeska as the focus of a large mural he created for the seat of the Culture Institute at the Jagiellonian University.

In a production of Hamlet by Krzysztof Garbaczewski on the main stage of the Helena Modrzejewska National Stary Teatr (premiered on 13 June 2015), the theater's patron steps out of the frame of her famous portrait hung in the theater to instruct actors with words by Wyspiański on how to play Shakespeare; she then appears in the scene of Ophelia’s death, in the outfit and pose depicted in photographs by Walery Rezwuski from a performance in 1867. She is “horribly beautiful” again. And this is how her wish is realized – she remains “in the hearts and memory of the public.”


Coleman, Marion Moore, Fair Rosalind: The American Career of Helena Modjeska, Cherry Hill Books, Cheshire 1969.
Got, Jerzy, Helena Modrzejewska na scenie krakowskiej 1865-1869, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1956.
Got, Jerzy, Helena Modrzejewska. Almanach, PIW, Warsaw 1958.
Helena Modjeska Modrzejewska, ed. Bianka Kurylczuk, Anna Litak, Narodowy Stary Teatr im. Heleny Modrzejewskiej, Kraków 2010.
Helena Modrzejewska 1840-1909. I ja miewałam swoje sny, ill. Łukasz Lenda, text Emil Orzechowski, Kraków 2012.
Helena Modrzejewska. Artykuły-referaty-wywiady-varia, ed. Emil Orzechowski, Attyka, Kraków 2009.
Holmgren, Beth, Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012.
Kydryński, Juliusz, Gwiazda dwóch kontynentów, Nasza Księgarnia, Warsaw 1989.
Madame Helena Modjeska Countess Bozenta. Amerykańscy poeci ku czci Heleny Modrzejewskiej, ed. Emil Orzechowski, Attyka, Kraków 2010.
Madame Helena Modrzejewska. Polscy poeci ku czci Heleny Modrzejewskiej, ed. Alicja Kędziora, Attyka, Kraków 2014.
Modrzejewska, Helena, Wspomnienia i wrażenia [Memories and Impressions], transl. Marian Promiński, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1957.
Modrzejewska. Listy, ed. Alicja Kędziora, Emil Orzechowski, PIW, Warsaw 2015, vol. I, II.
Modrzejewska/Modjeska. Zamknięcie obchodów stulecia śmierci Heleny Modrzejewskiej. Materiały z konferencji w Muzeum Teatralnym w Warszawie 10 stycznia 2010, ed. Alicja Kędziora, Anna Kuligowska-Korzeniewska, Attyka, Kraków 2010.
Szczublewski, Józef, Żywot Modrzejewskiej, PIW, Warsaw 1977.
Sztuki o Helenie Modrzejewskiej. Antologia, ed. Alicja Kedziora, Emil Orzechowski, Attyka, Kraków 2010, vol. I, II.
Terlecki, Tymon, Pani Helena. Opowieść biograficzna o Modrzejewskiej, Państwowy Instytut Sztuki, Warsaw 1959.
Z miłości do sztuki. Helena Modrzejewska (1840-1909), ed. Agnieszka Kowalska, Muzeum Historyczna miasta Krakowa, Kraków 2009. Helena Modrzejewska 1840-1909. I ja miewałam swoje sny, ill. Łukasz Lenda, text Emil Orzechowski, Kraków 2012.

Credits: Story

Exhibition scenario: Dr. Alicja Kędziora, Prof. Emil Orzechowski

Translation: Klementyna Suchanow with Alan Lockwood

Coordination and collaboration: Klaudyna Desperat, Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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