Long-awaited Wyspiański exhibition opens in Kraków

Double portrait: Wyspiański with his wife Stanisław Rozpędzik

Playwright, painter and poet, Stanisław Wyspiański (1869-1907) was a 19th Century Polish cultural giant.

The National Museum in Kraków, the city where he was born and died, of syphilis, at the age of just 38, has the world’s largest collection of his works; some 1,000 objects. Now a long-awaited exhibition at the museum, the largest dedicated to Wyspiański in the history of Polish museology, showcases his broad artistic output.

The exhibition spans portraits, self-portraits, sketches, landscapes and stained glass window designs. Soft and luminous, his pastels look as though they were drawn yesterday. These include the tender portraits Helenka with a vase (1902) and Sleeping Staś (1904), which depict two of his children. Self-portrait with wife at the window (1904) shows him beside his wife, Teodora Teofila Pytko, a peasant woman from a village near Tarnów, whom he married in 1900. Dressed in bright red folk clothes, heavy coral necklaces are strung round her neck.

Folk motifs run through many of his works. Some, like his famous pastel drawing Motherhood, evoke Polish rural life. This echoes the setting of his play The Wedding, on the marriage between a member of the Kraków intelligentsia and a peasant bride, which was made into a film by Andrzej Wajda in 1972.

Reflecting Wyspiański’s relationship with the theatre, the exhibition also features sketches of costumes he designed for his historical plays. Other works depict the artist’s native Kraków, like Planty Park at Dawn (1894), an atmospheric picture of a ring of trees that encircles the city’s medieval core.

Overall, the exhibition offers a panorama of Wyspiański’s creative output, and further context for understanding his plays – quotes from which adorn the walls, scattered between the artworks (unlike the biographical notes, these were not been translated into English). The exhibition runs until January 2019, the 150th anniversary of Wyspiański’s birth.