Foreword. ‘Kazimierz Stabrowski, the Teacher of M. K. Čiurlionis’

Foreword. ‘Kazimierz Stabrowski, the Teacher of M. K. Čiurlionis’


We hope that this catalogue shall, to its fullest extent, reveal the spiritual and philosophical journeys and the many years of creativity and vision of Kazimierz Stabrowski (1869–1929). Stabrowski was many things: a visual artist of Lithuanian descent, a symbolist and Secessionist, the founder of the Warsaw School of Visual Arts and the Sursum corda Fellowship of Visual Artists-Mystics, the teacher and friend of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, and one of the first organisers, supporters, and participants of Lithuanian visual art exhibits. When compiling the present catalogue, our aim was to emphasise Stabrowski’s contribution to the popularity of Lithuanian visual arts and its presence in the first Lithuanian visual art exhibits, as well as links to Čiurlionis’ works and his artistic originality. We seek to reveal the style, creative value and incomprehensibly deep and complex world of the visual artist through his very valuable works of art.

The idea to compose this publication was inspired by the comprehensive and large collections of Dr. Jaunius Gumbis and Rolandas Valiūnas, who explain all of the curves in the artistic journey of Stabrowski. Based on these collections, on September 24, 2015, the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art unveiled the exhibit of Stabrowski’s paintings right next to the permanent exhibit of his student, Čiurlionis. The exhibit showcases paintings that have inspired much of Čiurlionis’ artwork and vice versa – the artistic visions of Čiurlionis were often the creative impulse of his teacher.

As soon as the works of the two artists were placed next to each other, it was as if a musical harmony was established among them, revealing their exceptional consonance, artistic intertwinement, and the threads that link them together. The two voices are strong as it is, but as a duet, it only emphasised the harmony, making it more mesmerising, more spiritual, and more profound. This is the story of how the works of Stabrowski and Čiurlionis were brought together and have thus disclosed the depths of each other’s creativity. The harmony reveals the primordial mysteries and the essence that is encoded in them.

Exhibition organised and publication composed by

M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, 2016

The Creative Search

In the beginning, most symbolists looked to the East for inspiration and Stabrowski was no exception. In 1893, the painter was looking for material for his thesis entitled „Muhammad in the Desert“, or „Escape from Mecca“ and was thus travelling through Palestine and the historical regions of the Middle East, which, some may say, include the Greater Maghreb countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Many of Stabrowski’s paintings depicting marketplaces are chock-full of the spirit of the Middle East.

A pastel of vivid and rather positive colours were used to create abstract and faceless figures of merchants and customers among middle-eastern architecture. Some of these figures are vague, as if they are somewhat transparent. This accentuates the transience of the material and bodily state of being. The faded curves outlining the colourful visible reality encourage the viewer to glance at the eternal spiritual state of being that is present behind it.

The line between fantasy and reality in Stabrowski’s work is very vague, and we can see that in the works of Čiurlionis as well. On the one hand, the viewer can see realistic landscapes of nature, but on the other hand, there is a certain mystical mood enveloping the painting. Stabrowski was especially interested in mystical phenomena and the realm of the subconsciousness. In Warsaw, 1922, Stabrowski established the „Sursum corda“ (translated as „Raise Your Hearts“) Fellowship of Visual Artists-Mystics. He also participated in the activities of other, not so well known mystics fellowships. Such activities had obvious
influence on his works.

For example, the painting entitled „Castle“ reveals a mystical world surrounded by ephemeral fog in the middle of the vast waters, in which stands a symbolic castle of good and beauty. It is a mystical place that can only be found beyond the boundaries of matter. It is the peak of the mountain of inner freedom, which depicts the aim of spiritual development idolised by many symbolists. The idea of material transience in Stabrowski’s works is often conveyed through images of ruins of great structures.

One of Stabrowski’s favourite motifs, the winding serpentine road through the mountains, can also be found in the paintings of Čiurlionis (e.g. „The Funeral Symphony“, „The Serpent’s Sonata“) and reveal the mutual impact that the student and the teacher had on each other. The allusion to a serpent in this painting is not accidental. The Lithuanian word for serpent, „žaltys“, comes from the words „želti“ and „žaliuoti“, meaning to sprout and to grow green. Stabrowski never tried to hide his Lithuanian origins. In fact, more often than not, he was very expressive about it, so the interpretation of the Lithuanian serpent, a symbol of the never-ending revival of nature, could not be unfamiliar to him. Stabrowski has composed a painting based on the motifs of the story „Eglė the Queen of Serpents“.

Stabrowski’s ties with Lithuania and M. K. Čiurlionis

Stabrowski, a visual artist of Lithuanian descent, was born on November 21, 1869, in Kruplany, which is located near Navahrudak. His association with Lithuania is due to his wife Julia Janiszewska, a sculptor from Kaunas, Lithuania. Visual Artist Adomas Varnas also remembers Stabrowski considering himself a Lithuanian during the period when the first visual art exhibits were held. Therefore, even though the artist has spent a lot of time and passed away in Poland, his Lithuanian side should not be forgotten.

Stabrowski began his journey into the world of art in 1887 by enrolling into the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. He was taught by Pavel Chistyakov and Ilya Repin. In 1897, he continued his studies in the Académie Julian in Paris, where he was taught by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. He went with a style that sought to join classic forms with the specifics of Secession, thus ever gradually forming the tendency towards symbolism and mysticism. Several years later, Stabrowski went back to St. Petersburg and in 1903, he moved to Warsaw, where his cohorts and he established the Warsaw School of Arts. He was the first director and teacher in the school. Čiurlionis enrolled into Stabrowski’s established school of arts in 1904.

Stabrowski was not just Čiurlionis’ teacher, but also a friend, advisor, colleague, supporter, cohort, and, sometimes, even a follower. The teacher and the student learnt a lot from each other. The fruitful discussions and reflections between the two inevitably lead to the creative visions that we see today. Both were often inspired by the same ideas of symbolism and the strong mutual influence is apparent in the works of the two visual artists. They depicted compositions of figures that aimed to retell stories, legends, and myths, symbolical fantasies and landscapes. Masterful pastel techniques, similar motif plots, and the search for an ideal world is what brought them together.

The first Lithuanian visual art exhibits

Stabrowski contributed greatly to Lithuanian art by being one of the most active supporters of the first Lithuanian visual art exhibits. From 1907 until 1912, Stabrowski and his wife Julija have taken part in six exhibits. Being the only internationally acknowledged participant, Stabrowski contributed greatly to the formation of a positive public attitude and interest. It had great influence on opening the doors for Čiurlionis as well as for Lithuanian visual arts in general, enabling them to be seen by the global community. From an artistic perspective, Stabrowski’s participation in the exhibits was a significant contribution.

After the Second Lithuanian Art Exhibit in 1908, Stanislovas Jarockis and Liudas Gira referred to Stabrowski’s works of art as “the most serious pieces of art in the exhibit” and “a true decorative element of the exhibition” in their reviews. Gira was most impressed by the portrait of Wanda Siemaszkowska entitled „Saddened Country“. However, Jarockis’ attention was directed at „Saddened Country“, „Rhapsody“, and the series of portraits. He wrote: “Painter Kazimierz Stabrowski had the most masterfully executed paintings. „Saddened Country“ looks like it exerts pressure with its aloe skies. Empty and uncultivated fields as well as a couple of crooked crosses can be found in this country. Some sort of sadness emanates from the canvas. It is a fairy-tale kind of mood. The other painting, i.e. „Rhapsody“, forms an even lovelier impression. Dark violet tones dominate in the composition. A somewhat theatrical white and yellow bolt of lightning slices through the skies above the forest of crosses. The plot itself does not raise any fear. The picture is simply painted, but not felt. Stabrowski’s portraits in Vilnius are a first time occurrence. They are painted in a mesmerising and rich manner. In some cases, it feels overcrowded. The painting technique here is different than that of Stabrowski’s landscapes, where it becomes dry and monotonous because of the chasing of the moods. However, in the portraits, the colours are simply gushing out.”

Both of the critics also had something to say about the statue of Julia, Stabrowski’s wife, entitled W. S. Portrait. Jarockis writes that the portrait is simply marvellous, it expresses sadness, and that “just by one piece of art, we have to evaluate and decide a talent that has, until now, been unknown to us in Vilnius”.

Fantasy Portraits

Stabrowski’s series of portraits depicting people with ballroom costumes exhibited in the Third Lithuanian art gallery inspired the Warsaw School of Art to organise a banquet for „Young Art“ in 1908. For this reason, Stabrowski’s portraits of people wearing ballroom attire, painted between 1908 and 1910, can be considered a plastic reminiscence of the „Youth Art“ banquet. Stabrowski as the head and teacher of the Warsaw School of Arts was undoubtedly one of the organisers and participants of this banquet. It is not known whether he himself was a part of the creation of the decorations and of the costumes, but the portraits of the school’s students wearing fantasy-themed attire proves the impact that it had on the painter. It is important to mention that Stabrowski was not the only one inspired by the decorative and beautiful attire during that period. Many wellknown Polish modernists, such as Jacek Malczewski, Edward Okun, and others were also inspired by the costumes. This interest in attire most probably developed from the natural decorative nature of fashion: the lightness and plasticity of suit lines, made possible for the thin materials, the use of integral colour planes, and the distinction of bright ornaments, similar to the Secession style of painting. Fantasy costumes emphasise the relationship between Secession art and the decorativeness of the fashion. Fantasy ballroom attire from 1908, i.e. costumes with flowers, insects, birds, and personalised natural weather elements, correspond to the aspect of worshipping nature and the organic world within the Secession art style. The characters from fairy-tales and legends that were attending the banquet were defined by mystery, an aura of surprise. With their symbolic language, they correlated with the spirit of modern neoromanticism and the decorativeness of the Secession art style. It is no wonder that they drew Stabrowski’s attention and encouraged him to create a series of portraits of the participants, which made the Lithuanian art exhibit much more beautiful. The portraits that were on display in the exhibit received a lot of attention and positive reviews. There was also a series of postcard released upon visitor demand.

The Mystical Capri Grotto and Creativity Touched by Death

Stabrowski was criticised for his “chasing of the moods” in the review of the Second Lithuanian Art Gallery by S. Jarockis, but the artist sought to utilise artistic feeling and expression to accentuate experience, feelings, the meaning of emotions, and their superiority over rational understanding.

When Stabrowski was visiting Capri, he was involved in the activities of the local esoteric community. The artist was very passionate about their ideas and view of the world, so he decided to express them in his masterpiece called „the Capri Grotto“, which depicted an underwater cave. The enclosed and stifling space symbolises man’s separation from the unity of being, their imprisonment by their own mind, being shackled by the chains of spiritual darkness.

In one of Stabrowski’s grottos, once can see an opening in the distance with a narrow beam of light entering through it. The composition is reminiscent of Čiurlionis’ „The Night at Sea“ because of its colour scheme and symbolism. Here, there are no beams of light beyond the grotto, but one can see mysterious lights in the distance that symbolise mystical enlightenment.

For Stabrowski and Čiurlionis, light and the sun are important categories of symbolism. Stabrowski has incorporated a lot of sunsets and sunrises into his works. Some of them also include a mysterious woman in the background, serving as an inspiration and a muse. The model in these compositions as well as in Stabrowski’s portraits was his wife Julia, even though he never credited her in the paintings.

The feminine lyric in the artist’s works is especially reinforced by the emotion-laden 9-piece collection entitled „Storm“, which is a symbolic form of a barrow enclosing the remains of the ancestors, symbolising the difficult fate of the homeland. The painting entitled „Kurgan“, a part of the Storm collection, is exhibited in the present catalogue and in the exhibit hosted by the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art. It was also exhibited in the Second Lithuanian Art Exhibit of 1908.

Many of Stabrowski’s works, for example, „In the Grave among Trees“, the viewer will sūrely note the theme that seems to be significant to the artist – death. It seems to be intertwined with the idea of nature’s sacredness. 

Stabrowski had great interest in ideas proposed by esotericism and was even a part of many mystics fellowships, so it was not only his works that were characterised by mystical subtleties and accents. At the end of his life, roughly in 1928–1929, the prophets of death, namely crows and ravens, have become a dominant motif in his paintings, probably because of his expectation of the ever-nearing death. On June 8, 1929, the artist passed away in Garwolin, Sedlce province, Poland, leaving a priceless artistic legacy for generations to come.

The Painter’s Legacy

In 1934, Stabrowski’s wife Julia gifted several dozen paintings to the National Museum in Warsaw. A significant part of Stabrowski’s artistic legacy and other family belongings can be found in the collection of Wanda Teresa Janiszewska, the niece of Julia’s brother. In 1999, historian Marek Kwiatkowski organised a retrospective of Stabrowski’s artwork in the Royal Łazienki Museum based on this collection.

The only painting by Stabrowski in the mutual national collection of artworks of Lithuanian museums is the „Golden Autumn Fairy Tale“ (1910), which is stored in the Lithuanian Art Museum. However, there are private collections of Stabrowski’s masterpieces in Lithuania. The first exposition of works, spanning throughout the entire life of Stabrowski, held in Lithuania was organised in the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art with the help of Jaunius Gumbis and Rolandas Valiūnas, who lent their collections for the exposition. The exhibits were on display from September 24, 2015 until January 3, 2016.