Stanislaw Wyspianski, Poland's Artistic Genius (1869-1907)In the year, 1869, two great events took place in Krakow, Poland. The grave of Casimir the Great, Poland's law-making king, was opened, bringing to the mind of the people Poland's illustrious past. The other event was the birth of Stanislaw Wyspianski, who, like his master and teacher, Jan Matejko, was to become the bard of that tragic yet noble past of the Polish nation, but not only on canvas but in verse, drama and in sculpture. Matejko, as the elder Wyspianski's close friend, had a dynamic influence on the young Stanislaw from early childhood. And like Matejko, the city of Krakow was also Wyspianski's birthright, Here he knew every inscription on the crypts of bygone Polish Kings and Queens at the Wawel Castle, where they lay in state.
He knew the Gothics of the churches, the beautiful architecture of Wit Stwosz's altar in St. Mary's Cathedral, to which travellers came from all over the world to view the creation of that famed sculptor, unequalled in the history of Polish art. And he, too was to leave his mark here. For the stained glass windows in St. Mary's Cathedral and at the Wawel Castle wrought by Wyspianski have brought art connoisseurs and lovers from all Europe and America to Krakow. These windows were filled with ideas, expressed that ever present revolt against death and the paine of reality in Wyspianski's own personality. The stained windows, "Casimir the Great", and that of "St. Stanislaw", are good examples of this.
Wyspianski did not paint huge historical works with the perfect execution of detail as his teacher, Matejko, did. He painted as he wrote, with a grand sweep of the brush and pen, with a largeness of ideas concentrated into canvas and verse. Of Polish geniuses, he ranked among the most original. Like Matejko he too was a Titan of energy and left prolific works to posterity, though he died at the early age of thirty-eight. And like Matejko he loved his native city, Krakow. Many of his canvasses depict scenes from the historical city.
Wyspianski, the dramatist, turned to early Greek mythological dramas. Instinctively, he sought the grand gesture, regal verbal expression, was exceedingly stylistic. The composition of Greek drama, based on dialogue and singing choruses, was used by him, because it suited his technique. He writes of the early Greek heroes of mythology, sings praises to their valiant deeds, sets them as examples to the Polish people and passionately calls to them for like heroism. Later he turns to Polish national mythology for his subject. His drama is powerful, tragic, filled with sin, judgment and punishment, rises in mighty crescendos and emotion, and strikes at the guilty. "The Curse", is an excellent example of this. Many of Wyspianski's works were beyond the comprehension of the ordinary reader, but those that did reach the public heart made him a very popular writer. No Polish writer's works have been more quoted than his. Best known and most popular among the Polish populace were "The Wedding", "The Liberation" and "The Legion". His works are all national in character and scope, "The Legion", based on Polish history, is deeply religious in tone, extols heroic deeds so passionately that they reach, a degree of saintliness. Indeed, this drama contains the religious fervor of a Polish Passion Play. "The Wedding", "The Forefathers", like many others reach back to bygone Polish national figures.
From out of the past marches the grand procession in all its reawakened glory; the dust and ashes of death are rekindled, throw off the musty aroma of crumbling life, and arise in bright, full splendor. Like Matejko the artist, he remolds and revivifies these people, who have long passed into archives, breathes the beating pulsation of life into their stiffened forms. With trumpet and vibrant voice they return to the living with words of warning to avert errors that only those of the past can foresee in the light of their experience. Wyspianski's works cry out against monotony and a set pattern, against bitterness, laments and lethargy of soul.
From this medley of forms, emotions and ideas, we feel the fluttering wings of the Polish eagle, Wyspianski was to Poland like that eagle, like a meteor opened new lines of flight and was at the same time the genius, who drew others into new worlds of flight and ideals. He caressed Poland like a young eaglet, and inspired her to new flights. As master of the written word of marvelously beautiful form, a pure, robust, melodious Polish; as thinker, philosopher, national politician, bold and certain of the triumph of the most noble ideal;as master of the brush, colors and lines conceived by a harmony of indescribable simplicity; as creator of stained glass church windows of imposing composition and ideas - everywhere and always he was an apostle of ideas. For the man, Wyspianski, was himself an idea, an act, impersonal, unseen, unknown and untouched as far as his inner self was concerned.
Like Matejko (1869-1907), Wyspianski was a man of slight build a fact which contradicted his expansive, overpowering energy. He wore flowing Sarmatian whiskers, which made his delicate, facial features appear even slighter. He spoke quietly, but there was an ironic sharp ring to his tone. He was caustic and categorical in speech. He had a penetrating gaze, somewhat imperative, and a scornful smile. Psychically this gave him greater stature. He demanded obedience and could not stand opposition. People became silent in his company. Yet, in deep contrast to this outward semblance he was by nature impulsive, sensitive and emotional. He belonged to those people, who are lonely among others. He hid within himself, observed, considered and judged others but was not one of them.
Stanislaw Wyspianski ranks next to Mickiewicz, Poland's greatest poet. His phantasy had a burning quality, almost scorching, and spouted like a volcano, In this lava of visions, his work and technique take on all the characteristics of such fire, of intuition rather than forethought, bursting action rather than cool meditation, inspiration rather than calculation. In this flaming hypnosis were melted other characteristics of Wyspianski's mind, his ambitious logic, his erudition, lively observation, excellent criticism and estheticism. He was without doubt a genius, but so numerous were his ideas, so all-embracing his talents that he could not concentrate on perfect form. However, his remarkable talent touched his creations with such a power and charm, that they will live on among the works of the immortals.
by Irene Chrzanowski
From: "Zgoda," November 1, 2007