Boy about Wyspiański’s furniture
Recognising Wyspiański’s genius, Boy-Żeleński joked that if he were asked to design a locomotive, as a complete artist, he would have scrupulously brought the completed design on the next day. It is no wonder then that furniture became one of the fields of his activity. Wyspiański took every opportunity to do so. “He once designed a universal piece of furniture that was to serve as a bed, a chest of drawers, a wardrobe and a table (...) for one of his friends who was decorating his bachelor flat”. Then the time came to decorate the House of Kraków Doctors’ Society. When he was accused of the fact that the chairs in the conference room were not very comfortable, he retorted: “That’s because they should not be comfortable. If the chairs were comfortable, the people would sleep through the sessions.” (quote after: Boy o Krakowie [Boy about Kraków], Kraków, 1968, p. 417).
Boy owed his flat’s interior decoration with Wyspiański’s furniture to his mother-in-law, wife of Professor Pareński, who was a fanatical enthusiast of the genius of the Kraków artist. As usual, Wyspiański created a complete work. “One by one, he designed the entire furnishing of the living room, the bedroom with a closet and the dining room, adapting it to the dimensions and layout” of the flat rented by Boy on 6 Karmelicka Street.
He treated every design as a part of a bigger whole: the beauty of furniture could be fully appreciated when looking at it through the prism of harmony and proportions of the entire room.
As Boy recollected, “Wyspiański had a total disregard for only one thing, namely... the anatomy of the human body and human needs. (...) Austerity was the most distinguished feature of these pieces of furniture: large, heavy, with a vast predominance of wooden blocks, scarcely lined seating areas made exclusively with straight lines (...) When someone brought up the issue that such heavy furniture without any handles would be difficult to move, he answered that furniture should not be moved at all” (p. 418).
The furniture made the impression that it was designed for the stage and not intended for household members, but for actors.
How did Boy feel in these decorations?
“The furniture dimensions arising (...) from geometric principles offered various surprises. Bedside tables were, for example, so huge that their tabletops reached up to a man’s chest, but they absolutely contradicted their utility: there was no way to look at a watch or drink tea in bed, absolutely no way! The seating area of the huge armchairs in the bedroom was 10 cm higher than regular ones, while the table, according to the principle that it should be of equal height to the arm rests, was so low that one would hit the edge with one’s knees (...) the chairs were downright torture instruments”. (pp. 418—419).
As Boy wrote, the austerity to which Wyspiański was accustomed to was reflected in all his works “whose goal was to wake, to not let one rest or dream,” and in the furniture it was literally visible. The short, barely upholstered hard beds, thanks to which the guests did not have any chance to overstay their welcome, took up the household members’ valuable time, which could be spent on work...
Boy called Wyspiański’s furniture despotic not only due to their lack of comfort but also due to the fact that, being designed for a specific interior, they tied the owner to a single flat (it was hard to imagine individual elements in another space). Comprehensively designed, the room could not bear any foreign elements (decorations, carpets, paintings other than those made by Wyspiański).
Despite these comments, Boy still admitted that on the whole it looked beautiful with its ravishing charm and originality, which was some consolation to the aching owners.
The furniture soon became the destination of pilgrimages, and the flat itself looked like a branch of the National Museum rather than a safe haven and warm hearth for the Żeleński family. The only rescue and respite was offered to them by the office fitted with English furniture. Although they were often tempted to donate the fruit of Wyspiański’s design to the museum collection, they sold the furniture set when they were forced to move out. Boy wrote: “When the furniture was carried out with the beautiful harmony of lines being destroyed, we had tears in our eyes seeing the destruction of thought of the great artist”. (p. 421)
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