2005 | 6 | 61-102
Article title

Polish Symbolism - on Two Issues Concerning the Reception of This Movement in Poland

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The paper presents two questions connected with the way of understanding Symbolism in the writings of Polish art critics at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, one being the indication of the sources of inspiration for the artists called Symbolists and for the critics who discussed their works, and the other pertaining to the style of reception and to contemporary changes in the model of reception of a work of art. The authoress limited her selection of texts to be analysed to articles from contemporary press. The first articles that appeared in 1892 in three main Polish weeklies ('Przeglad Tygodniowy', 'Biesiada Literacka' and 'Wedrowiec') aimed at acquainting the Polish reader with the French Symbolism as a new trend in the art of the 1890s. They revealed the following characteristics of the Polish reception of Symbolism: a faithful translation of Aurier's text was mingled with the translator's disguised commentary, emphasis was placed on the role of Impressionism as a movement formulating postulates relating to form and at the same time Symbolist painters were expected to put forward postulates concerning ideas.The Polish art critics were more inclined to accept fantastic subject matter which had little in common with Symbolism sensu stricto than the formal experiments carried out by Gauguin and his followers. While the French Symbolism was denied any formal achievements, emphasis was placed on formal experiments in Impressionism. Symbolism was to become a spiritual revival, was to open new spheres of ideas to artists.The metaphysical theories promoted by Aurier and Gourmont did not differ much from the assumptions of Symbolist poetics, so this sphere of their considerations was accepted in Poland almost unconditionally. However, it was quite different with purely pictorial conceptions. It should be remembered that in those days Polish painting was only partially freed from academicism and historicism.Therefore, while in the sphere of general conceptions it was possible to accept the assumptions made by French artists and theorists, direct inspirations were rather sought in Pre-Raphaelitism and German Symbolism. This is confirmed both by a marked predominance of articles on Puvis de Chavannes, Gustave Moreau, Burne-Jones, Böcklin, and Klinger, and by opinions expressed in the contemporary texts. The authoress concluded that what distinguished the literary style of reception in the period 1860-1880 from that in Podkowinski's time was less emphasis on 'the continuation of a story' and more on the characters' inner experiences, irrespective of whether these were people, animals or monsters. It was exactly this interpretation of the feelings and desires of the characters depicted on canvas that directly linked together descriptions of the experiences of Moreau's 'Salome', Burne-Jones's 'Arthurian ghosts' and Podkowinski's 'lustful woman'. A critique resembling a poem (the chief principle of Aurier's critical method) may have held a particular attraction for Polish art critics: on describing the 'Polish Symbolism' they drew their theories from French theorists' publications. However, discerning that Polish art differed from French models, they rather compared it with Pre-Raphaelitism, especially in Burne-Jones's version, and with German Symbolist paintings, by Klinger and Böcklin in particular.
  • M. Raczek, Bunkier Sztuki, pl. Szczepanski 3a, 30-011 Kraków, Poland
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