Stanisław Wyspiański: a life revealed in pastels

Stanisław Wyspiański's pastels show his life, his wife and children and the places in which he lived.

By The National Museum in Krakow

Tenement house at ul. Krupnicza 26 in Krakow (Dom Józefa Mehoffer), currently a branch of the National Museum in Krakow, place of birth of Stanisław WyspiańskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Childhood and youth

In 1886, the sculptor Franciszek Wyspiański (1836-1901) moved into the house in Krupnicza Street, which was later owned by Józef Mehoffer. In 1868 he married Maria, the daughter of the landlord house, Mateusz Rogowski. Their son, Stanisław Wyspiański was born here on 15 January 1869.

Franciszek Wyspianski, sculptor - the father of Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Franciszek Wyspiański - the father of the outstanding artist, sculptor and the inhabitant of Krakow. He was connected with a group of young Krakow intellectuals, co-called "Przedburzowcy" ["Before the Storm"], who, in the first half of the 1860s, played a significant and enlivening role in the cultural life of Krakow at the time.

Maria Wyspiańska, Maria, the mother of Stanislaw Wyspianski, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more
Stanislaw Wyspianski as a several-year-old boy, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more
Stanislaw Wyspianski - graduation photo, 1887, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more

Self-portrait of the artist. Sheet from a sketchbook by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Self-portraits, self observation

In July 1898, after the paralysis attack, Wyspiański admits his aunt Jadwiga Stankiewiczowa to his illness - syphilis. Further years of life will be marked by a disease that leads him to premature death. Activity in all fields of art: in poetry, drama, painting and drawing, was the way of Stanisław Wyspiański to fight the passage of time.

Self-portrait, from a sketchbook, Stanisław Wyspiański, 1890, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more

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

This work, dating back to 1903, is one of the artist’s several self-portraits. Wyspiański portrayed himself as a proud creator, aware of his role, position and achievements.

He showed his figure with a slim face fringed with softly falling hair and a neatly cut beard in the en trois quatres bust, in close-up, against a neutral, empty background.

What attracts attention in this portrait are Wyspiański’s eyes which look at the viewer (or maybe at the mirror reflection?) unwaveringly and piercingly.

Self - portrait with Wife (1904) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

At My Place

“What’s going on at my place?,” Stanisław Wyspiański asked his friend
Adam Chmiel in a letter sent to him from Venice on 30 August 1903. The
artist, who went to Italy to improve his health, must have felt lonely
since he finished his letter as follows: “I would like to have them all
with me here.” Who was he thinking about and missing that August day? 

Stanisław Wyspiański married the mother of his children, Teodora Teofila Pytko, on 17 November 1900. "Self-Portrait with Wife" is an essential part of the series of family portraits. This picture, painted by Wyspiański in 1904, was inspired by images of husbands and wives (including artists with wives), known in art history. The self-portrait with Teofila, dressed in a colourful Krakow costume, is undoubtedly a symbolic work. With his "Self-Portrait with Wife" Wyspiański highlighted the essence of his existence and deep attachment to the beauty and diversity of native tradition.

Teodora Wyspiańska, the wife of Stanisław Wyspiański, with children, 1900, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more

“Cheerfulness – brightness – warmth”, this is how Jan Bartosiński described the change observed in the artist’s disposition after marrying Teofila. Writing these words, Wyspiański’s friend did not hesitate to admit that what made the author of "Wesele" happy was his love for wife and children. The artist expressed this feeling in a beautiful and extremely expressive way not only in the aforementioned portraits of his wife and children, but also in his poems and dramas, the "Raptularz" and letters to his friends.

Motherhood (1905) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

The birth of the youngest son inspired the artist to work on a series of paintings devoted to his immediate family, his wife and children, among other things "Motherhood". In this depiction, dating from 1905, with a double portrait of the daughter Helena, the artist copied, very faithfully, the “picture” of his wife breastfeeding Staś, painted three years earlier. He changed only the colours of the clothes of the mother and the baby. Teofila “is clad” in a colourful, green and red tunic with “embroidered” fuchsias, and Staś – in a plain shirt in the colour of warm ochre.

Little Helen's Head (1900) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Images of the artist’s wife and children often appeared in Wyspiański’s paintings and drawings executed in 1904–1905.

Little Helen with a Vase (1902) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

As to portraits of Helenka, the collection of the National Museum in Kraków includes five – two pastel and three graphic ones. Both pastels: Helenka’s Head from 1900 and Helenka with a Vase from 1902, gifted to the Museum’s collection by Feliks Jasieński, are excellent portraits of the artist’s beloved daughter, inventive both in form and composition.

Heluśka, Stanislaw Wyspianski, 1899, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more
Sketches for the artist's children, Stanislaw Wyspianski, 1902/1903, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more

Sleeping Mietek (1902) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Other works expressing paternal love are three pastel portraits of the son Mietek, from 1901, 1902 and 1904, and two graphic ones, from 1901 and 1902.

Mietek Leaning on His Arms (1904) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

Mietek and Teodor, Stanislaw Wyspianski, 1902, From the collection of: The National Museum in Krakow
Show lessRead more

The artist’s famous Blue Atelier was situated in Krowoderska Street in Krakow.

Mietek and Staś, children of Stanisław Wyspiański (1904)The National Museum in Krakow

Blue Atelier

A highly significant piece of furniture in the Blue Atelier, often mentioned by those who had a chance to visit it, was “a large table, covered with red baize.” It was at this table, “scattered with plenty of sheets of paper,” “pencils, quills,” that Wyspiański made his drawings as well as wrote poems and dramas. At times his little sons, Mietek and Staś, “created” at the same table. A scene like this can be seen in a photograph taken in 1904.

View from a window in the artist's house: Kościuszko Mound in Krakow (1904) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

The painting Views over the Kościuszko Mound was made by the artist confined to the four walls of his Blue Atelier because of his illness. The driving force behind Wyspiański’s studies were a desire of a sick person to go outside.

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

Chronicle of
a Few Days

Out of landscapes from the series called by the artist the "Chronicle of a Few Days", made in January and February 1905. Part of artworks were gifted by one of the greatest collectors and Museum’s donators – Feliks Jasieński.

Konary village (1905) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

The last house

Towards the end of 1905 the artist’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. The venereal disease progressed and treatment did not help. In early 1906 Wyspiański’s friend Jan Bartosiński started to make efforts to get money for the artist’s treatment abroad. In May 1906, out of concern for his wife and children’sfuture, the artist, aware of his incurable illness, decidedto buy an estate in a village near Krakow.

Farmhouse in Konary village (1900) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

It seemed country air, which brought relief to the suffering artist, would improve his health. Even the doctors taking care of him did not lose hope that it was possible to manage the disease. However, with the passing of time, despite the efforts made by the people around him, Wyspiański’s health worsened rapidly.

Self-portrait (1907) by Stanislaw WyspianskiThe National Museum in Krakow

It is possible that during this period of temporary improvement, when it was better “with his hand,” Wyspiański made his last self-portrait. In this powerful, heartbreaking drawing the artist once again took up the “subject of his countenance.”

Around 10 November 1907 the artist was transported from Węgrzce to Krakow, to the clinic run by Doctor Jan Gwiazdomorski situated in Siemiradzkiego Street.

Stanisław Wyspiański died on 28 November 1907, at ten past five in the evening.

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.
Explore more
Related theme
A century of Polish Art
The inspirations and impact of Poland's greatest twentieth century artists.
View theme
Google apps