The painter Jan Stanisławski and his disciples
Jan Stanisławski (1860–1907) is one of the greatest painters of the Young Poland period, whose activity contributed to the revival of Polish landscape painting. Not only has Stanisławski left behind hundreds of miniature, boldly painted landscapes, but also a group of loyal students.
Their work derives from the landscape painting tradition taught in Kraków. A guild organization called the Kraków Congregation of Painters, operating under the authority of the Jagiellonian University, active since 1766, already dealt with, among others, copying landscapes from engravings. Landscape was also taught at the School of Drawing and Sculpture at the Jagiellonian University, which was established in 1818, at the University’s Faculty of Philosophy Further changes occurred in 1833, when the Academy was incorporated into the Technical Institute, where the painter Jan Nepomucen Głowacki (1842–1847) taught “landscape art classes” at the faculty of painting. The next generation of teachers of “landscape art” were Leon Dembowski (1840–1905) and Walery Eljasz-Radzikowski (1823–1904). A person who played an important role in the history of Kraków landscape painting was Władysław Łuszczkiewicz (1828–1900), who organized trips for students aimed at documenting monuments of Polish architecture. Some of the participants were, among others, Józef Mehoffer (1869–1946) and Stanisław Wyspiański (1869–1907). In 1887, on the pages of the liberal Nowa Reforma [New Reform], Łuszczykiewicz still wondered why landscape painting had so few representatives in a country which prided itself on its great love for the homeland.
After the School of Fine Arts had gained its independence and separated from the Technical Institute, the status of landscape painting decreased significantly and, under the direction of Jan Matejko (1838–1893), the faculty of landscape art was closed by the decision of the Austrian authorities.
The landscape painting boom, and — as it was described — “landscapization”, was the effect of restoring the landscape chair at the School of Fine Arts under Julian Fałat’s (1853–1929) direction. While reforming the School, Fałat established cooperation with new young artists, who, thanks to being savvy in European art, were able to introduce a breath of modernity into the staid university. Along with Teodor Axentowicz (1859–1938), Jacek Malczewski (1854–1929), Józef Mehoffer, Stanisław Wyspiański and Leon Wyczółkowski (1852–1936), Jan Stanisławski, who came to Kraków in 1897, was also a member of the group. He was already 37 years old and had considerable university and artistic experience: he graduated from mathematical studies at the University of Warsaw and learned in the Drawing Class under the excellent landscape artist Wojciech Gerson (1831–1901) and also at the Kraków School of Fine Arts in the studios of Izydor Jabłoński (1835–1905) and Władysław Łuszczkiewicz. During his studies in Kraków, he went on field trips to study the scenery around Kraków and the Tatra Mountains. Due to his disappointment with academic teaching methods, which did not allow him to develop his interest in landscapes, in 1885 Stanisławski left for Paris, happily avoiding — according to Zenon Przesmycki’s words — “the Munich homeland of pastel prescriptions and brown sauces”. In the French capital, he attended the Carolus-Duran studio (in fact: Charles Émile Auguste Durand, 1837–1917) portraitist and historical painter. Stanisławski also worked independently, painting a series of tiny landscapes, mainly memories of wandering around his beloved Ukraine. These sun-filled landscapes, which are “small in size but great in their radiating beauty”, were presented by him with great success in 1890 in Paris Salon du Champ-de-Mars. In addition, he met Józef Chełmoński (1849–1914) there. The lengthy discussions with the latter reaffirmed Stanisławski in the rightness of the painting path that he had chosen: landscape.
After taking up the position of professor at the Kraków School of Fine Arts, Jan Stanisławski joined the intense social, intellectual, and artistic life of Kraków’s Young Poland: he cooperated with the magazine Życie [Life], he was a regular guest of Ferdynand Turliński’s cafe and Jan Michalik’s confectionery, where he became a great admirer of the cabaret Zielony Balonik [Green Balloon]. He also appeared in Kraków salons and his house at 10 Pańska Street (now Maria Curie-Skłodowska) was a place visited by people of art, including Stanisław Wyspiański (1869–1907), Józef Mehoffer (1869–1946) and a great collector and expert on art, Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński (1861–1929). Stanisławski himself became an undisputed authorityof the then contemporarys creative environment of Kraków. He was not only an energetic animator of artistic life, co-founder, and president of the elite Society of Polish Artists Sztuka [Art], but also an indisputable oracle in the field of art: almost everybody valued his praise or criticism both from respect for him and for fear of his hot-tempered character.
Stanisławski was also a characteristic figure due to his huge stature and corpulence, which — as maliciously commented on by Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński (1874–1941) — became the reason for the small size of his pictures. According to Boy, with the larger formats of works, he found the need to constantly approach and move away from the canvas tiring. In fact, Stanisławski jokingly compared himself to an elephant picking up oranges with his trunk.
His painting grew out of admiration for the beauty of nature, and his artistic achievements are comprised of hundreds of small, miniature landscapes, which were originally modelled on the meticulous realism borrowed from the school of Wojciech Gerson, eventually turned into impressionistic painting enchanted by the beauty of the world. Fascination with the beauty of nature was accompanied by bold formal search: the introduction of an innovative frame, a slice of the landscape, often trivial and seemingly not pictorial, as well as the use of a sophisticated palette of colours. He was, as Antoni Waśkowski noted in the book Znajomi z tamtych lat, “a great landscapist […] a most passionate ‘sun catcher’”.
During his stay in Paris during the years 1885–1897, Stanisławski became interested in moody and lyrical impressionism. In 1897, the most interesting stage of his creative work began. The artist still painted small compositions of an endless landscape, illuminated by the sunshine or the moon, with a distant skyline and a particularly expressive foreground. However, he introduced into them broad and ever more daring brush strokes, obtaining a textured painting surface thanks to saturated, oily paint. The panorama of the landscape was often enriched by a huge addition of the sky, covered with swirling clouds, whose drama contrasted with the statics of the section depicting the earth. These compositions have acquired distinct symbolic meanings over time. During numerous journeys around Europe, miniature landscapes, in which Stanisławski noted his impressions, as if in a travel diary, were created.
From his trip to Italy he brought, along with a dozen full sketchbooks, oil paintings, which are now in the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, among them a view from the island of La Certoza with a spectacular foreground, in which he placed cypresses in the manner so typical of him, ennobling them to the role of the main protagonists of the composition. It was much the same during his stay in Verona, in which he painted the gardens at Pallazo Giardino Giusti, focusing on capturing the beauty of nature and the mood of the sun-heated park.
An important chapter in the artistic career of Jan Stanisławski was his pedagogical activity. With great enthusiasm, he became involved in the work of the School of Fine Arts, and, from 1900, the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, where for ten years, from 1897 until his death in 1907, he taught the landscape class.
The classes of the “landscape university”, as he called it, took place both within the Academy walls and in the house of the Stanisłwski family. However, the most spectacular accomplishment of Jan Stanisławski, the professor, was to bring the students along with the easels outside the walls of the university, in the open air, and thus break with the then current academic methods of learning. The first initially very few short open-air sessions took place during school hours, most often in Planty Park, Jordan Park, or the Botanical Garden, and then also by the Vistula River in Dębniki near Kraków. He was also looking for motifs for his works in Dębniki, painting the local semi-wild gardens and ponds.
With the passage of time, thanks to special annual funding obtained by Stanisławski, several-week-long locations outside Kraków were visited: Tyniec, Porąbka Uszewska, Rudna and finally Zakopane. Those were "trips full of art fruition and shared amusement. Together, we spent time working, singing, laughing and hiking. We were radiating with happiness so much that various people like Władysław Ślewiński who had just arrived from Paris, Reymont, Witkiewicz, Żeromski and others flocked to join us".
He was a much-liked professor: not only his involvement was appreciated, but also his extraordinary kindness, which (despite the difficult character) he had for his students, was noticed. The cheerful mood that he introduced, singing marches in the open air and kindness for poorer pupils were appreciated. His students’ admiration was also caused by his “devout immersion in work”. As Adam Grzymała-Siedlecki recalled, even though he was sluggish, this “enemy of discomfort endured all the nuisance of journeying even along backwater dirt roads, only to conduct reviews in his class, “deported” by him to paint landscapes in some remote corner of the country; to conduct reviews, and, above all, to organize and cement into a cohesive artistic entity this bunch of young enthusiasts, who had joined in a kind of conspiracy of Stanisławski.” Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński wrote: “In relation to students, Stanislawski was the most understanding, kindest and most beloved older colleague that you can you dream of.”
Marcin Samlicki (1878–1945) noted in his diaries that Jan Stanisławski instilled love and understanding for nature into his students: “he sowed his glowing enthusiasm in souls, he eagerly kindled made all sorts of sensitivity [...] demanded unwavering honesty, energy and emotions in artistic realizations, he relentlessly curbed all posturing, showing off and phraseology; he shared with the students his knowledge, all of his enormous artistic culture with total selflessness, demanding in return only enthusiasm, love for work, perseverance and creative joy.” In addition, the master taught his students “that you need to train your eye. A painter should see objects in a colourful way. Shadow is not a lack of colour, but the colour is not as strong as it is in the light, like the light matter ... look at the sky, my dear friends, at those impetuous dazzling clouds, at the blue colour shimmering with purple or emerald — it’s a symphony — the sky is giving a ‘concert’”.
Over sixty students graduated from the studio of landscape painting, which, over time, came to be called "Stanisławski’s school". Among them were: Bolesław Buyko, Jan Bukowski, Jan Bulas, Stefan Filipkiewicz, Stanisław Gałek, Vlastimil Hofman, Stanisław Kamocki, Alfons Karpiński, Jerzy Karszniewicz, Piotr Hipolit Krasnodębski, Jan Krzyża, Stanisław Kuczborski, Roman Laskowski, Tadeusz Józef Makowski, Aleksander Mann, Ludwik Kazimierz Markus (Marcoussis), Wiktor Masannikow, Witold Miączyński, Henryk Mikotasz, Ludwik Misky, Wilhelm Mitarski, Kazimierz Młodzianowski, Abraham Neuman, Tadeusz Noskowski, Józef Pienkowski, Józef Piotrowski, Stanisław Podgórski, Antoni Procajłowicz, Ludwik Puget, Leon Rosenbaum, Tadeusz Rychter, Marcin Samlicki, Henryk Szczyglinski, Stanisław Szygell, Jan Talaga, Iwan Trusz, Kazimierz Wiłkomirski, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Romuald Witkowski, Jan Wodyński, Jan Józef Wojnarski, Teodor Ziomek. Some of them remained faithful to the master and to the concept of love for nature, which he had instilled in them, and later they played an important role in shaping Polish landscape painting. Some chose their own artistic path after the episode in Stanisławski’s class. Still others abandoned painting, and devoted themselves to graphics, architecture, and artistic craft.
After Jan Stanisławski died, the landscape class was taken over by his worthy successor, Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870–1936), who resigned after a year, which was considered an irretrievable loss for both the Academy of Kraków and the whole Polish painting: the moment that Ruszczyc left the Academy, the course on landscape painting would cease to exist.
Jan Stanisławski and his works were dominated by landscapes, and his and his students’ artistic activity formed the landscape painting of the late 19th and early 20th century. The mood and the symbol became distinguishing features of Young Poland landscape painting. Painting in those times — as noted by Stefan Popowski — did not reproduce, but, first of all, expressed nature; it conveyed not only its external shapes, but also its soul, i.e. mood: “That mood prevails in today’s landscape paintings as an artistic content of the composition, suppressing the descriptiveness itself, which, while striving to achieve constantly greater simplification of the motifs, often amounts to several perspective-bound lines and a few colours of a harmonised tone. Especially the nature of our country, with its linearly simplistic and yet boundless variety of light motifs, is an inexhaustible treasure for a painter who deserves to sense its subtle poetry. Therefore, since the development of real painting in our country, Polish landscape painting has taken a prominent position in European art.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License..
 W. Łuszczkiewicz, After closing the exhibition. Uwagi i spostrzeżenia, “Nowa Reforma”, 1888, p. 34.
 J…..z, Jan Stanisławski, “Przegląd Tygodniowy”, 1895, 12 (27) VII, nr 30, p. 352.
 Boy o Krakowie, study by H. Markiewicz, Kraków 1973, p. 63.
 A. Waśkowski, Znajomi z tamtych lat (literaci, malarze, aktorzy) (1892–1939), Kraków 1956, p. 100.
 M. Samlicki, Pamiętnik, manuscript in the collection of the Stanisław Fischer Museum in Bochniasi.
 A. Grzymała-Siedlecki, Ataman, [in:] Niepospolici ludzie w dniu swoim powszednim, Kraków 1965, p. 190.
 F. Jasieński, Manggha. Urywek z rękopisu, “Miesięcznik Literacki i Artystyczny”, 1911, as cited in: E. Miodońska Brooks, M. Cieśla-Korytowska, Feliks Jasieński i jego Manggha, Kraków 1992, p. 335.
 M. Samlicki, Op. cit.
 S. Popowski, Krajobrazy Ruszczyca na wystawie Tow. Sztuk Pięknych, „Strumień”, 1900, nr 1, as cited in: W. Juszczak, Teksty o malarzach. Antologia polskiej krytyki artystycznej 1890–1918, Gdańsk 2004, p. 415.