Warsaw: Anna Bilińska’s Retrospective


Anna Bilińska was the first Polish female artist to gain international recognition. Her first solo retrospective at the National Museum in Warsaw takes place just now, in 2021, but it’s better late than never. Bilińska used oil paints, pastels and watercolours to create portraits, still lifes, genre scenes and landscapes in the style of European realism. The artist brilliantly mastered the basics of the painting technique, evidenced by her academic studies of models, which strike the viewer with their synthetic approach to the form and with their casual technique of painting. Of course, the artist also simultaneously continued the clear contour style, exemplified by her Male Nude Study (1885), Study for a Male Nude (ca. 1884-85) and Boy Nude (ca. 1884-85). Sketches for the historical and biblical compositions which Bilińska created in her youth have similar qualities but also display a bold expression of colour juxtaposition, as exemplified by Joseph Interprets Dreams (1883) and Inquisition (1884). Bilińska’s mature works consist predominantly of portraits and portrait studies of various ethnic types which were fashionable at that time. These pieces merge the refined simplicity of realism with an academic discipline of the painting technique, such as Head of a Serb (ca. 1884) or Old Man with a Book (ca. 1890s).Bilińska’s self-awareness and thoughts on the artist’s position in the world, which manifested itself in, among others, the representation of her own image in self-portraits, make her works so powerful. And still, the artist’s entire oeuvre and life story have yet to be thoroughly analysed and rediscovered…

The exhibition is on view until 10th of October 2021.

The National Museum in Warsaw is worth a visit in general! Here are some of my favourite artworks, especially from the 19th and 20th century galleries, from Józef Mehoffer’s enchanting Stange Garden to Jacek Malczewski’s prophetic visions.

Photos by Edward Kanarecki.

Zakopane Style

The Jaszczórówka wooden church constructed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in Zakopane

The Tratra mountains in Poland aren’t just beautiful nature, but as well an important epicenter of Polish culture. The origins of the Zakopane Style go back to the late 19th century, when the Arts and Crafts Movement was in full bloom. It was created by Stanisław Witkiewicz, who settled in Zakopane in 1890. The Zakopane Style was the first Polish national style that went beyond the framework of theoretical postulates and could be carried out in practice, not only in Zakopane, but also in many other places in Poland, particularly in the Austrian and Russian partition zones. Stanisław Witkiewicz came across this idea in 1898. The inspiration for the Zakopane Style was therefore more the Ruthenian Style, which the artist could have encountered in 1868–1872 during his studies in St. Petersburg. In 1886, after his first trip to Giewont, he wrote: “…the highlander hut is a higher sort of construction in which the practical features are decorated in an expression of certain aesthetic needs. This is less raw material than a fairly developed style from which one might evolve a new and independent type of building.”

The first home in the Zakopane Style was Zygmunt Gnatowski’s Koliba Villa, which Witkiewicz built in 1892–1894. Witkiewicz considered the highlander carpenters and woodcarvers to be co-creators of the architecture he designed. The Koliba Villa was meant to settle all doubts as to the possibility of reconciling folk architecture with the requirements of the more complex and refined demands of comfort and beauty. According to Stanisław Witkiewicz’s precepts, the Podhale hut was to be the model for the Zakopane Style villa, which the Polish artist sought to make the Polish national style. Furnishing the hut with stylish furniture and other everyday items of his own design was his point of departure. His main task was to use the characteristic attributes of folk furnishings, “artistically employing” the constructions themselves. Ornament was shifted to background, though in many cases it was an important element. Podhale folk ornament, much like that of other regions, was mainly limited to geometrical and plant motifs. In the Zakopane Style this repertoire was expanded with motifs of the flora of the Tatra Mountains.

Willa Koliba

Willa Koliba

Willa Koliba & Willa Oksza

The first attempts to use Podhale ornament in artistic crafts involved carving ornament on wooden furniture – chairs, beds, and a screen. Based on designs by Magdalena Butowt-Andrzejkowiczówna and adapted by Franciszek Neužil, this furniture was produced by the Professional School for the Wood Industry in Zakopane for Countess Róża Krasińska in the 1885/1886 academic year. Beginning in 1887, this decorative movement was promoted by the school and was called the Zakopane Style. Stanisław Witkiewicz was critical of this furniture, mainly for its construction “without regard for the shapes of the original highlander pieces.” The failed attempts of the Wood Carving School inclined him to adopt the “highland style” himself. In the course of five years the first villa furnishings in the Zakopane Style, some to his designs, emerged in the Koliba, Oksza, Zofiówka, and Pod Jedlami villas. Attempts were made to harmonize the furnishings with the villa architecture, while “every detail” was to be “covered with highlander ornament or given highlander shape” to fill the interiors, while also creating designs “that had never been seen in highlander huts.”

The Zakopane style dominated architecture in the Podhale region for many years. Although the cutoff date for buildings designed in the Zakopane Style of Architecture is usually held to be 1914, many new pensions, villas and highlander homes are built according to the architectural model devised by Witkiewicz to the present day. The museum of the Zakopane Style of Architecture located in the Villa Koliba provides visitors with information on the Zakopane style.

Willa Oksza

Willa Oksza

Willa Oksza (Witkacy’s paintings), store with local craftsmanship & Bachleda Resort Hotel.

All photos by Edward Kanarecki.

Polish Jazz. MISBHV SS19

misbhvFor a moment, let’s switch from resort look-books and New York’s off-the-schedule runways to Warsaw’s socrealist icon – Palace of Culture. Few days ago, Natalia Maczek and Tomek Wirski did their spring-summer 2019 runway show for the first time in Warsaw. MISBHV stands for so many things: to some, it’s a go-to streetwear label favoured by the big names (Kylie and all). For others, it’s an internationally recognized label that sells in stores among Vetements and Raf Simons. And the other others (like my friends, for instance) know it for great hoodies with intriguing prints.

This season, however, Maczek and Wirski wanted to explore new fields and do something different than usual. Having deep interests in the Polish 50s and 60s, the designers immersed themselves in a theme that doesn’t come up to you instantly when thinking of the brand. Jazz, or rather “Polish Jazz” (as the collection’s name suggests), became the season’s key-point. Moreover, MISBHV invited Rosław Szaybo, the legendary Polish graphic designer (who did album covers for Miles Davis, Janis Joplin and, of course, the cult “Polish Jazz” series) to collaborate on the prints. Blurring the lines between womenswear and menswear, the label’s latest offering includes flowing dresses, over-sized blazers, bike shorts, PVC coats and headscarves (a beautiful nod to Slavic culture!). But there are MISBHV classics as well, like the WARSZAWA print or friendly-to-the-public t-shirts. Polish fashion keeps on evolving, slowly, but it does. And seeing brands like MISBHV having such progress, and executing their visions so well, makes me really proud.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki featuring Wojciech Plewiński’s photograph of Warsaw; Rosław Szaybo’s album covers.

SSENSE

Manic Soul Machine. Marine Serre AW18

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Even though Marine Serre is relatively fresh on the fashion scene, it seems she’s been her for ever. Manic Soul Machine is how the designer intriguingly titled her first runway collection – and noting the cross-cultural, cross-everything approach we’ve learned from her spring-summer 2018 presentation – it was certain Marine wouldn’t disappoint. While demanding fashion seems to be a deficit today, Serre wants you to reflect on everything, from politics and spirituality to sex and society. Her already-signature crescent moon print appeared on nearly everything (athletic bodysuits, shoes, headbands), but the designer’s ‘Futurewear’ as well involves plastic raincoats and motocross jackets. But what really surprises here is the ‘scarf’ theme (see the dresses and skirts) that contrasts with the quite heavy, utilitarian direction of the collection. Still, there are so many other garments to love and appreciate this season. And, the bags, that I firstly thought were lanterns, but then realised were haute gym bags covered in printed fabric.

There’s something elusive about Marine Serre’s fashion – it’s hard to explain in one word. It’s ‘love’, ’emotions’, ‘future’, ‘intelligence’ – words that rarely can be used to describe clothes. However, they fit Marinne’s work perfectly.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Overpowered. Love.

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There are many reasons to adore Róisín Murphy. From her days with Moloko to the Italian-disco inspired EP titled Mi senti, this idiosyncratic Irish singer is a true gem. Even if you’re not a total sucker for her electronic tunes, you’ve got to admit that her style is bomb. While today she rather wears Vetements tea-dresses and garments coming fresh from graduate designers’ studios, back in her Overpowered period Murphy wore the most extravagant garments coming from, for example, Viktor & Rolf (she had a life performance at the brand’s spring-summer 2010 fashion show as well). But also, she had the most memorable Gareth Pugh coat moment in the video-clip of the album’s namesake track. Later, in Let Me Know, Róisín graciously danced and messed around in a cheesy bistro, wearing a Maison Margiela cape and bold fuchsia gloves (that was the moment I fell in love with fashion, really, at age of eight). And today, when I listen to Dear Miami or You Know Me Better, it’s unbelievable that Murphy was more ‘2017’ than any other musician today. Back in 2007!