One of the most revered Polish artists of his time, Mehoffer’s works continue to amaze
Painter and decorative artist Józef Mehoffer, who was born 150 years ago today, left a lasting imprint across Poland and Europe in the form of his stained-glass windows and oil on canvas paintings.
Born in 1869 in what is now south-eastern Poland, but was then part of the Habsburg Empire, Mehoffer grew up in a polonised Austrian family.
While studying law at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, he attended the city’s Academy of Fine Art, where he was taught painting by Polish artist Jan Matejko. This led on to further arts studies in Vienna and then Parus, at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs and the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
In Paris, he initially shared a workshop with another star of the Polish 19th Century arts scene: playwright and painter Stanisław Wyspiański, with whom he toured the city’s galleries and exhibitions.
After exploring Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy, he returned to Kraków, where he was made an assistant professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1901. Later, he went on to serve as its rector, from 1914 until 1933.
During the Second World War, he and his family escaped to Lwów. Deported to one of the Nazi’s camps, he was freed following a successful intervention by the Vatican and the Italian government, which enabled him to return to Kraków in 1940. He died in 1946 in the nearby town of Wadowice.
As an artist, he was one of the main representatives of the Young Poland (Młoda Polska) modernist period around the start of the 20th Century, leading up to the restoration of Polish independence in 1918. His work spanned painting, book illustration, furniture design and stained-glass windows.
The most famous of these were his stained-glass windows for Fribourg Cathedral in Switzerland. Made by local craftsmen between 1896 and 1936, these were inserted into the Gothic-style building, where they remain key examples of religious Art Nouveau stained-glass windows.
In addition to Fribourg, he created numerous other stained-glass windows for chapels, churches and cathedrals. These can be viewed in Vienna, Opava in the Czech Republic and across southern Poland, including in the Holy Cross Chapel in Wawel Cathedral, Kraków.