Wyspiański masterpiece one of 150 artworks to go on show at London gallery to promote artist to ‘wider audience’
A huge art nouveau stained glass window by Stanisław Wyspiański depicting the sun god Apollo is one of over 150 Polish artworks being transported to London for the UK’s first major exhibition showcasing work by the Young Poland art movement.
The exhibition at the William Morris Gallery will be the first to position the early 20th century movement as an Arts and Crafts movement and has been described by the gallery as looking to explore the “striking parallels” with the work of British artists William Morris and John Ruskin.
One of the most eye-catching centrepieces will be the monumental, over 3-metre-high stained glass window ‘Apollo: Copernicus’s Solar System’ an allegorical representation of the solar system with the Greek god of the sun tied to a lyre, which seems to be crushing him with its weight, surrounded by personifications of the planets.
The original window was designed for the building of the Medical Society in Kraków in 1904, but was destroyed in 1945.
However the building still houses a reconstruction of the work from 1972, which was reconstructed from an original pastel drawing by Wyspiański which is located in the National Museum in Kraków.
Wyspiański’s work, which was part of the wider interior he was commissioned to design for the Medical Society building, including balustrades, stairs and floors, was commissioned by Dr Julian Nowak to coincide with the planned joining together of the Medical Society with the Astronomical Society at the time.
It is believed that Dr Nowak had been fascinated by Jan Matejko’s painting ‘Astronomer Copernicus’ and asked Wyspiański to use Copernicus as his subject.
Wyspiański’s design is widely believed to be a direct reference to Copernicus’s astronomical discovery through an allegorical depiction of the genius of his ideas which have subjugated and stopped the sun, symbolised by Apollo.
In 2016, specialists from the Stained Glass Museum decided to recreate Wyspiański’s work, and to make it as close as possible to the original, they sourced glass from a stained glass workshop in Bavaria, which produces glass for stained glass windows based on a 19th century recipe.
The reconstructed window was exhibited at an exhibition at the National Museum in Kraków between 2017 and 2019.
The work is one of the most iconic and most frequently reproduced designs by Wyspiański, and the only stained glass window by him to have been designed for a secular building.
He is also famed for his 36 stained glass windows for Kraków’s Mariacki Church and the also monumental stained glass window ‘God the Father- Arise’ or ‘Our Father’ in the city’s Franciscan Church.
The window, which is currently being dismantled in Kraków in preparation for its transportation, is too large to fit in the London exhibition room in its entirety, and will therefore be transported without three of its smallest and lowest parts, so as to have a minimal visual impact on the overall piece.
Piotr Ostrowski, director of the Workshop of Museum of Stained Glass said: “This stained glass is Wyspiański’s crowning achievement. Stylistically it is close to ‘Our Father’. After over 100 years since its creation it is considered the most original work of the 20th century. By showing ‘Apollo’ to a wider public, we can add ourselves to the promotion of our great master.”
He added: “It will be the first meeting of Wyspiański with an international audience. In his wildest dreams, the artist hoped to show himself to a wider public, but starting out from Kraków, he didn’t have a chance, he was limited by the provincialism of the town and lack of support from Poland, which didn’t exist on the map. For us, this showing is an incredibly exciting moment.”
Among the over 150 pieces going on display as part of the exhibition, there will also be paintings, drawings, photographs, furniture, embroidery and artistic ceramics. Amongst them Józef Mehoffer’s watercolour ‘Nature and Art’ (1901), Wyspiański’s floral mural patterns for the Franciscan Church in Kraków, Jan Matejko’s ‘Birds and Acanthus’ wall design for St Mary’s Basilica (1889), Maria Pawlikowska Jasnorzewska’s ‘Self Portriat with Elf’ (1920) and a model for a Zakopianski style villa designed by pioneer of the architectural style, Stainsław Witkiewicz.
Andrzej Szczerski, director of the National Museum of Kraków and co-curator of the exhibition told the Polish Press Agency: “We want to show Young Poland as an artistic phenomenon, which is not widely known in Great Britain, highlight how current importance of what was happening in Poland and its analogies to what was happening in Great Britain where the forerunner of the revival of the arts and crafts movement was William Morris. We also want to draw attention to simultaneous searches by Polish and British artists as well as the British inspirations in the work of Polish artists, amongst them Stanisław Wyspiański and Józef Mehoffer.”
The exhibition ‘Young Poland: An Arts and Crafts Movement (1890-1918)’ will be on display at the William Morris Gallery in London from the 9th of October.