Stanisław Witkiewicz vs. Imperial and Royal Professional School for Wood Industry in Zakopane

The first signs of interest in the culture of the highlanders emerged before Stanisław Witkiewicz’s arrival in Zakopane. The first Woodcarving School had functioned in this town since 1876. It was later renamed, the Imperial and Royal Professional School for Wood Industry (k.k. Fachschule für Holzbearbeitung in Zakopane), in which professional craftsmen were trained. The school operated under the rule of the Austrian occupier, and its curriculum propagated Tirol styles. Despite this, it was this school’s pupils who created the first works inspired by the art of Podhale. During the years 1885 and 1886, under the supervision of the then school principal, Franciszek Neužil, a bed and room screen in the Podhale style were made, according to meticulously designed projects by Magdalena Butowt-Andrzejkowiczówna, on the special order of Countess Róża Krasińska. From the second half of 1880s, this decorative style became widespread in the School. Numerous furniture sets designed by Neužil were produced. These were of simple design, and the only thing that connected them with the highlanders’ culture was the abundance of applied ornamentation, hardly reminiscent of folk art. However, the principal himself was the first to describe them as the Zakopane style [zakopaner Style].
After settling in Zakopane, Stanisław Witkiewicz began to notice great potential in the production of the wood industry and the tradition of local wooden products. There was, after all, a school training professionals, as well as a large group of folk carpenters and craftsmen. However, Witkiewicz’s first contact with the Professional School for the Wood Industry did not bring the expected results. The school authorities still opted for Tyrolean-Viennese inspirations for their products. Apart from executing individual orders for sets of furniture stylized to look like Podhale art, highlanders’ patterns were simply considered “peasant” designs. Witkiewicz expressed the increasing antagonism between him and Neužil in the work Na przełęczy (On the col) (1890), in which he called the School “a seedbed of Tyrolean-Viennese taste, a German poison, killing the artistry of the highlanders”.[1] Undoubtedly, this situation encouraged Stanisław Witkiewicz to take up designing furniture and various equipment himself. The first example of this was the realization of (Villa) Koliba for Zygmunt Gnatowski.
In 1895, Edgar Kováts — a Hungarian — came to Zakopane to work as a teacher. In 1899, he became the new principal of the School. The Austrian authorities, in line with local politics, had become inclined to recognize highland designs as “the appropriate national style in Galicia”,[2] which was manifested in Kováts’s activity, especially in his book of templates entitled: Sposób zakopiański [The Zakopane way] (1899).
Kováts introduced his concept into the field of art with solid impetus, and he successfully competed with the Zakopane Style of Stanisław Witkiewicz. The highlanders’ culture, introduced by Kováts, entered the school’s programme, and the designs he proposed were adopted for use by craftsmen. Kováts won numerous orders and support from many personalities in the world of art. However, despite his all-out attack, Witkiewicz neither competed nor argued with him. He only emphasized that the Zakopane Style had nothing to do with Kováts’s proposals, and the two should not be confused. 
The Zakopane Style by Kováts proposed an eclectic formula. Witkiewicz accused him of superficiality in referring to the art of the highlanders, the use of forms other than Podhale art, as well as exaggeration in furniture and equipment decor. Kováts’s decorative patterns combined geometric, floral elements with Tyrolean motifs. They were overused and applied without full understanding of their purpose. The furniture and equipment were of conventional form, with variation added only by inlaid or carved ornamentation and decorative top panels.
The discussion about the priority of the “style” or the “manner” gained publicity, shaping artistic factions. Initially — supported by several architects — the superiority of “manner” was opted for, thanks to which, it was Kováts who participated in the preparation of the Galician Pavilion for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900. And yet, the public debate between opponents and defenders of the Zakopane Style — who sometimes expressed their views via magazines and newspapers quite aggressively — restored favour to Witkiewicz’s style. Feliks Jasieński rightfully criticized the Paris Pavilion by describing it as “a synthetic-Slavonic-Byzantine-Kovátsov interior of a non-Polish home in a Polish manner”.[3] Over time, a broad group of Kraków artists and professors of the Academy of Fine Arts spoke in favour of the Zakopane Style, as subsequently did the Society for Polish Applied Arts, established in 1901.
Despite Witkiewicz’s ideological victory over Kováts, in practice, Zakopane carvers often used the Zakopane way in their designs, mixing its elements with Podhale art motifs proposed by the Zakopane style. An example of this is the library of the palace in Kluczkowice, which was constructed according to Witkiewicz’s design, although some of its decorative motifs were based on the Tyrolean patterns of the Manner. Such compilations resulted from Witkiewicz’s unclear method of drawing patterns from Podhale art, which was treated freely, as well as from the fact that his collaborators were very often professionally educated students and graduates of the School of Wood Industry.
Stanisław Barabasz, an artist and ethnographer, was the first Pole to be the principal of the School from 1901. From then on, relations between the School and Witkiewicz were normalized, because Barabasz “opened up this ‘chained-up’ institution to Witkiewicz’s concept” [4] by introducing the style of Zakopane to the School’s curriculum. The next principals were artists who had collaborated earlier with Witkiewicz, such as Karol Stryjeński and Wojciech Brzega.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska's Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Teresa Jabłońska, Muzeum Stylu Zakopiańskiego im. Stanisława Witkiewicza. Przewodnik, Zakopane 2002.
Jan Majda, Styl zakopiański, Kraków 1979.
Zbigniew Moździerz, Dom “Pod Jedlami” Pawlikowskich, Zakopane 2003.
Barbara Tondos, Styl zakopiański i zakopiańszczyzna, Wrocław–Warszawa–Kraków 2004.

[1] T. Jabłońska, Muzeum Stylu Zakopiańskiego im. Stanisława Witkiewicza. Przewodnik, Zakopane 2002,
 s. 19.
[2] B. Tondos, Styl zakopiański i zakopiańszczyzna, Wrocław–Warszawa–Kraków 2004, s. 85; za: M. Leśniakowska, Jan Koszyc-Witkiewicz (18811952) i budowanie w jego czasach, Warszawa 1998, s. 17.
[3] B. Tondos, dz. cyt., s. 92.
[4] J. Majda, Styl zakopiański, Kraków 1979, s. 8.