The portraits of the Asymmetrical Lady in the Museum of Katowice History were created in the years 1933–1939 by one of the most outstanding Polish artists - Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, pseudonym Witkacy (1885–1939). Handing them over to the city of Katowice by the model gave a strong impulse for the establishment of the Museum of Katowice History in 1981. The collection is continuously studied and supplemented with other works by Witkacy. They are a pride of the Museum and constitute some of its most valuable exhibits.
Asymmetrical Lady - Portrait of Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka (1937-07) by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)The Museum of Katowice History
Who was Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka (1903–1979), whom the artist called Hanka or Asymmetrical Lady?
Witkacy wrote to her on July 14, 1937: Lady, perhaps you would like to come to dinner to me tomorrow (Thursday) or on Friday, as I am burning with eagerness to draw your asymmetry and tell a few stories.
The first meeting
When they met for the first time in the street of Warsaw in the summer of 1933, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz - a painter, playwright, writer and philosopher - was 48 years old and his position in Polish culture and art was well-established, though highly controversial. His relationship with his wife was based on friendship and partnership, he was also involved in numerous affairs.
Asymmetrical Lady - Portrait of Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka (1934-05-01) by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)The Museum of Katowice History
Eugenia Wyszomirska, a 30-year-old woman of original beauty, whose marriage was going through a crisis, found the proposal to come to Zakopane to pose for a well-known painter and a handsome man attractive.
The woman was endowed with a certain inner power and mystery.
Despite the fact that she hailed from an artisan and working-class family from the suburbs of Częstochowa, she mesmerised men, frequently even those from the higher levels of the social ladder. At the age of 19, she got married for the first time, to a jeweller and became a wealthy bourgeois woman.
Asymmetrical Lady - Portrait of Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka (1934-06) by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)The Museum of Katowice History
Witkacy was attracted by her irregular facial features, and, above all, by her striking resemblance to his ex-fiancee, who had committed suicide in 1914.
That event continued to trouble the artist, as he felt complicit in the tragedy. Therefore, he transformed it into art, repeatedly returning to the traumatic incident.
Eugenia was asymmetrical because she had irregular facial features, but also because the artist perceived her a bit as the person she was and a bit as a memory – she was partly flesh, and partly an apparition. Fortunately, however, she had her own strong personality - admittedly not a sublime intellectual, but filled with the desire to live and have fun – a woman full of character.
Her spontaneous nature made her become a muse of one of the greatest Polish artists who continuously "craved the possibility of drawing her".
Asymmetrical Lady - Portrait of Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka (1936-09) by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)The Museum of Katowice History
Initially, it was difficult for Wyszomirska to settle into the role of a muse of an eccentric artist 18 years her senior. She told her family that she was going to Zakopane to soothe her shattered nerves.
However, in the spa, the famous 'zakopianina' – a mixture of crystalline fresh air, mountainous spaces and the 'cream of the cream' of the society – had a dramatic impact on her.
The Asymmetrical Lady became ever more beautiful with every picture and Witkacy painted her many times as she became –as he would say– his natural drug. She existed in his life outside his will and as part of his personality.
Asymmetrical Lady - Portrait of Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka - Return from ball (1936-09-03) by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)The Museum of Katowice History
Eugenia fell into the vortex of Zakopane 'demonism'. She lived in renowned guesthouses, with the famous Zofia Krzeptowska (nicknamed Kapucha). She wandered around the Tatra Mountains, she became friends with Waleria Głogowska, whose husband Józef Głogowski initiated her into photography, and she took part in high-profile social gatherings of the elite.
She believed in herself again and ended her unhappy marriage, leaving her husband and only son in Częstochowa. She fell in love and married Józef Stopka, a handsome mountain guide and rescuer in 1935.
Asymmetrical Lady - Portrait of Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka - With a seascape (1936-08-01) by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)The Museum of Katowice History
Witkacy still asked her for posing for him, insatiably hungry for her face and… his own legend. In April 1935, he wrote: Could you please free yourself for 2 hours on Tuesday and come to me at 1/2 past eleven for an important conversation and 1, or possibly 2, drawings before an orgy.
Addressing her in a letter in May 1935 - written, incidentally, in Katowice, he used the title A Son Excellence La Dame Asymétrique…
The artist and the muse
The artist fascinated her, of course, but they came from two completely different worlds and she did not understand him, therefore. Once she even told him she didn't like his plays. He was outraged and did not speak to her for a while. He then asked her what he should do, to which she answered: – Nothing, just don't invite me any more. This was a reaction by no means unique - neither was it then, nor is it nowadays. Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, the author of a few dozen of innovative dramas, four novels, many theoretical studies on art, journalistic texts, philosophical dissertations and an ontological theory, continuously struggled with misunderstanding and the resulting disregard. Awarded with the Golden Academic Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature in 1935 – which he mockingly called „the bay" – Witkacy did not live to see his Collected Works published, as this happened no sooner than in the 21st century. The publication included as many as 25 thick volumes, together with his exciting epistolography, a chronicle of his life and work, as well as bibliography. We still discover more of his compositions, numbered in thousands: portraits, photographs, drawings, and realise increasingly well what a consistent and inventive artist he was and how much all the fields of his creation complemented and permeated each other.
Asymmetrical Lady - Portrait of Eugenia Wyszomirska-Kuźnicka (1933/1939) by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)The Museum of Katowice History
In the 1930’s, Witkiewicz considered himself primarily a philosopher and gave this field primacy over the other ones, creating and developing an ontological system based on the idea of biological monadism. However, he always emphasised that neither philosophy nor any other science can unravel the Secret of Existence.
We must accept the fact of the existence of a matter which can sense and perceive itself, which is above all, materially and physically personal, as a fact absolutely primeval and still inexplicable – he wrote in the treaty Traktat o bycie samym w sobie i dla siebie. Implicitly, he suggested: where philosophy does not reach, where the language of science is insufficient, Art is necessary.
Witkacy only needed inspiration. Especially, he needed this woman to give him an extraordinary impulse to cross the borders of time, to return to the past.
Reportedly, between 1933 and 1939, when Witkiewicz and the Asymmetrical Lady met with varying intensity, about a hundred of her portraits were created, out of which only 26 found their way to the collection of the Museum of Katowice History. We know of 3 more from photos. In addition, 23 pages of correspondence and 11 documentary photographs were preserved.After World War II, Wyszomirska settled in Katowice, where she ran a photographic studio. She got married for the third time and got divorced. She lived surrounded by the 26 preserved portraits and the memories of her youth. Her last will was to hand over the collection created by Witkacy to the city of Katowice, which contributed to the establishment of the Museum of Katowice History in 1981.
Scenario and substantive study: Natalia Kruszyna
Preparation and implementation of presentations: Magdalena Niziołek, Jakub Mann
Edition of texts: Aleksandra Niesyto
Translation into English: Monika Hartman
more about the collection:
Maria Krysiak, St.I. Witkiewicz. Asymetryczna Dama. Kolekcja portretów ze zbiorów Muzeum Historii Katowic, Łódź 1991
Pałam chęcią rysowania jej Asymetrji. Witkacy, selection and preparation: Natalia Kruszyna, Katowice 2003;
Natalia Kruszyna, Witkacy i kobiety. Nienasycenie, Katowice 2015
Natalia Kruszyna, Asymetryczna Dama Witkacego. Piękniała z portretu na portret, [access 29.01.2020]
Museum of Katowice History
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