Kraków and Paris in life & art of Stanisław Wyspiański

Cities where he lived and where he was creating, cities which he portrayed in his art. Always missing Kraków, while in Paris and missing Paris while at home.

By The National Museum in Krakow

Luxembourg Garden in Paris (1892) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

First artistic trip

Stanisław Wyspiański set off for his first artistic trip across Europe, paid for with the money earned for the restoration of Saint Mary’s church, in March 1890. The twenty-one-year-old artist went abroad hiding it from his patrons – the aunt and uncle Janina and Kazimierz Stankiewicz and his teacher and master – Jan Matejko. The travel route ran from Vienna through Venice, Padua, Verona, Milan, Como, Lucerne, Basel, and Paris. Wyspiański arrived in Paris shortly after 24 April and stayed in the city for 6 weeks. 

Barges on the Seine (1892) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Thanks to the preserved correspondence and drawings from the tour it is possible to reconstruct, with great precision, details of the visited places and sights. In one of the artist’s letters to Rydel, Wyspiański described his first impressions of the city with his characteristic sensitivity. He boasted he could “go to town any moment and without going too far (…) – find himself in front of Notre-Dame – on the Seine – gape at people, at pretty female heads".

He enthusiastically shared his impressions and views on art and modern lifestyle: “I’m drinking art (…) You can feel you live in the 19th century – that you have touched all the aspects of this modern life – that you must breathe it in – and so tempting is this life that you would like to give oneself, one’s mind, attention, over to this contemporary intellect, to this full and fresh life, your power and talent, leaving only your heart for the homeland.”

The Interior of Saint Etienne's Church in Paris (1892) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

While in Paris, Wyspiański absorbed this “fresh life” and discovered the places which enriched and enhanced his aesthetic impressions. In letters he noted his reflections and comparisons with Krakow.

A bend of the Vistula (1904) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Missing Krakow on the one hand and on the other a desire to continue the trip was expressed by Wyspiański in a letter written to Lucjan Rydel from Amiens on 19 June 1980: “I have a constant feeling someone wants to call me away – forces me to return – and I won’t be able to finish the way I planned. – I am often under that illusion and have to tell myself out loud and convince myself I have not returned yet. - Asleep, I continuously dream about my country – and return lazily every morning."

View from the window at the city walls of Krakow (1895) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

"Dreaming, I dream so clearly and so sensitively – that when I compare the day I live – with the dream – I actually do not know where I am – and what a dream is – France or Krakow and Wawel.

Virgin Mary's Church (1905) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Having returned to Krakow, the artist continued studies at the School of Fine Arts and kept collaborating with Jan Matejko on the decoration of Saint Mary’s church.

After receiving a scholarship he decided to return to Paris, with a plan to undertake art studies at the École des Beaux Arts.

View from a window in the studio of Józef Mehoffer and Stanisław Wyspiański in Paris (1891) by Józef MehofferThe National Museum in Krakow

Next trip

Wyspiański set off on the next trip, which went through Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Rapperswil, Zurich, Bern, Bielersee, Neuchâtel, Dijon, and Troyes, on 11 May 1891. He arrived in Paris on 23 May.

The artist shared an apartment with Józef Mehoffer in the Saint Germain quarter, in rue de l’Echaudé, on the third floor of a house no. 14. Wyspiański wrote: “A very cosy flat in the very centre of the city, far from all the noise. Wherever we go, it is close, probably it is only Wawel that is far away.”

The contemporary view of the street where Wyspiański lived: rue de l’Echaudé, no. 14

A double portrait of Józef Mehoffer (1891/1892) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

The results of the competition drawing at the School of Fine Arts were unfavourable for both Wyspiański and Mehoffer. They started painting in one of the local studios, Colarossi’s atelier, every day from 8 to 12. In the afternoon they draw panes for the Virgin Mary church. It turned out soon oil paints were bad for Wyspiański’s health.

Apart from the mentioned occupations, Wyspiański spent a lot of time reading books, going to the theatre, visiting galleries and museums.

Fragment of the Krakow Cloth Hall and the frontage of the Main Square by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

He wrote to his friend, Karol Maszkowski: “Whenever I have some free time, I go to the Panthéon to admire frescoes. If only it were possible to walk like this among the painted walls of Wawel, Collegium Novum, etc. I even think of a room in the town hall, where it would be possible to show the entire history of Krakow.”

On 6 January 1892 Wyspiański moved out of the flat shared with Mehoffer to a separate room at 106 Boulevard Montparnasse. He described this new situation in a letter to Maszkowski: “I’m content with my present situation (…) in the morning I paint in the atelier, in the afternoon – at my place, in the evening – drawings."
Contemporary view of the street 106 Boulevard Montparnasse.

A Boy, nude (1894) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Wyspiański was struggling for his independence: "I want to achieve something one day - people want me to go to the School of Fine Arts - it seems to them it will be of benefit to me – I sometimes think it would be better not to have so many friends and patrones. Those who trade in art should try to get to these places. Am I French? Why should I go to their school, what should I go there for - I want to be myself of nothing.”

Vistula River, near Krakow (1905) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

On 10 October 1892 Wyspiański went from Paris to Krakow via Munich and Vienna. During his short stay in Krakow he thought back to the time he had spent in Paris. “I feel constantly sad in Krakow, and I don’t know where to put myself (…) The only places which attract me all the time are Wawel and the bank of the Vistula.”

The View of the Barbican and the Florian Gate from Zacisze Street (1894) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

When he lived in Krakow in 1894, Wyspiański took up new challenges. Already in November that year he started composing decoration for the Franciscan church on his own initiative, and going back to Paris became his deep desire and goal.

He submitted application for “an aid or a grant for continuing his painting education", unfortunately his request was rejected. “My life is terrible now,” he wrote in a letter to Laszczka “no hope, no work, nobody around needs things I could and would like to do, incomprehension at every turn, local people understand nothing but platitudes and when someone does not use them, they do not understand him.”

The vault of the Franciscan church in Krakow with the paintings by Wyspiański (1895/1896) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

On 12 June 1895 Wyspiański received a commission for the painting decoration of the Franciscan church. It was the beginning of the period of very hard, intensive work, which lasted nearly until the end of that year.

Ornament. Design for painting decoration in the Franciscan church in Krakow (1895) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Despite being busy from dawn to dusk, Wyspiański found time to escape to Paris in his thoughts.

Portrait of Konstanty Laszczka (1894) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

From the letters to the artist's friend, Henryk Opieński: "I think about Paris, and I can see you there, and my other acquaintances. It’s a pity I don’t know anything about them. What is going on with Mr Laszczka?"
“I feel bored here in Krakow despite all the activity" and: "I’m busy with developing my own style, which I’m very close to. But Krakow is too small for me. You won’t believe how much I miss Paris."

Sow thistle flowers. Design for the painting decoration the parish church in Biecz (1896) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Wyspiański found himself "in he whirl of work". He was working on the polychrome for the church in Biecz. “I live here without memory, working doggedly. Now not for myself. I have no time, and I am exhausted".
"No contact with people (…) Life and staying with the family is unbearable for me. I can hardly stand it".

Early Morning near the Wawel Castle (Planty Park at Dawn) (1894) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Back to Kraków for good

The idea to get away from Krakow and take part in the Salon du Champs-de-Mars is a frequent motif of letters written by Wyspiański to his friends ("I will do my best to leave Krakow, going far away, to Paris, to settle there. I absolutely won’t stay in Krakow any longer"). The effort made by the artist, through no fault of him, - failed, and he was not able to achieve the desired and anticipated goal.

A View of Kościuszko Mound from a window. A Gloomy Day (1905) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

He didn't manage to take part in Salon du Champs-de-Marswas in Paris, but in 1897 he was invited to the anannual Polish salon in Krakow. Finally, “billion ideas” and prospects for new creative undertakings made Wyspiański resign from “going abroad” and settle in Krakow for good. The latter half of 1897 and next years were for the artist a time of intensive work in the field of fine arts and writing.

As to painting, he composed stained glass windows and painted portraits and landscapes, and in the field of the applied arts he designed furniture and interior decoration as well as worked in typography and editing. As far as literary work is concerned, he wrote poems, rhapsodies, dramas and tragedies.

Parisian - portrait study (1891/1892) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Wyspiański started making pastel portraits of various people during his first stay in Paris, is summer 1893. In the beginning the artist made these portraits for free and “for practice” and he developed his passion for portraiture throughout his artistic path. The National Museum in Krakow boasts over 45 images drawn with pastels, charcoal, crayon or pencil. They date from different periods of his career and constitute a fascinating “gallery” of well known and unknown faces.

Landscape from Rudawa (1905) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Also, from letters written to friends we can learn Wyspiański did not develop an interest in landscape until his stay in Paris, in 1892. It was then the artist saw he was “driven in this direction” and painted oil land scape studies walking “through the city, streets and gardens.” During his stay on the Seine Wyspiański changed his attitude to nature. The collection of the National Museum in Krakow includes around 30 landscape compositions (oil, pastel, pencil and graphic ones).

Self - portrait (1903) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

It's out of the question that his trips and stays in Paris helped to shape Wyspiański as an artist.

Credits: Story

Curators of the exhibition / texts: Danuta Godyń, Magdalena Laskowska (selection: Agata Jabłońska)
Reproductions: Photographic Studio NMK: Bartosz Cygan, Katarzyna Wojdyła, Jacek Świderski

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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