Women Artists

Success of a Polish Art Deco Artist – The Story of Zofia Stryjeńska

Katarzyna Waszak 30 May 2024 min Read

Zofia Stryjeńska was a prominent Polish artist active during the interwar period. Known as the “Lady of Polish Art,” she gained recognition for her distinctive Art Deco style infused with Slavic folklore. As a female artist, she stood out in the predominantly male-dominated art world. But how did this Polish artist achieve such widespread artistic success and recognition abroad? Find out more about Zofia Stryjeńska’s life to uncover the secrets behind her artistic success.

Zofia Stryjeńska: Photograph of Zofia Stryjeńska, 1920–1939. Szukajwarchiwach.

Photograph of Zofia Stryjeńska, 1920–1939. Szukajwarchiwach.

Beginnings

Zofia Stryjeńska was born Zofia Anna Lubańska in 1891 in Krakow (then part of Austria-Hungary). Despite the challenges she faced throughout her long life (she died at the age of 84), her passion for art endowed her with strength, confidence, and eventually, fame. From a young age, Stryjeńska was interested in illustrations in fashion journals and children’s books, which inspired her to create her own drawings. Some of her first commissions were illustrations for tales and magazines. One of her favorite techniques became watercolor painting.

Ambitious as she was, Stryjeńska sought to further develop her artistic skills, leading her to pursue a formal art education. She joined the School of Fine Arts for Women established by fellow painter Maria Niedzielska. Below, you can see illustrations created there for one of the fairy tales.

Zofia Stryjeńska: Zofia Stryjeńska (née Lubańska), Fairy Tale about Princess, 1911, Mazowiecka Biblioteka Cyfrowa, Warsaw, Poland. Historia Poszukaj.

Zofia Stryjeńska (née Lubańska), Fairy Tale about Princess, 1911, Mazowiecka Biblioteka Cyfrowa, Warsaw, Poland. Historia Poszukaj.

The German Adventure

In the era when Stryjeńska entered the artistic scene, it was challenging for women to pursue studies at fine arts academies. To ensure she could pursue her dream of becoming a painter, the resourceful artist disguised herself as a man. With a cleverly cropped haircut and her brother’s documents in hand, she ventured to Munich, Germany, to enroll at the Academy of Fine Arts. However, after a year, her ruse was discovered, and Stryjeńska was compelled to return to her hometown of Krakow.

During her time in Germany, she drew inspiration from ballet dancers, a theme that would later influence her artistic endeavors. Upon her return to Poland in 1912, she held her first exhibition, showcasing a series of paintings depicting Polish fables and a book of poetry. Her artworks were deeply rooted in Slavic culture and folklore, with some pieces portraying representations of Slavic gods, as depicted below.

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Breakthrough

Zofia Stryjeńska: Zofia Stryjeńska, Seasons at the Polish Pavilion for the International Exhibition of Decorative Art, 1925, Paris, France. Historia Poszukaj.

Zofia Stryjeńska, Seasons at the Polish Pavilion for the International Exhibition of Decorative Art, 1925, Paris, France. Historia Poszukaj.

Displaying her artwork to others held great significance for Stryjeńska. She fervently prayed for the opportunity to share her artistic expression with the world and for the recognition and fame that art could bestow upon her.

 

 

 

Thanks to her tenacity and determination, Stryjeńska made her dreams come true. After success in Krakow, she reached another milestone in her artistic career – she took part in designing the Polish pavilion at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925. At this prestigious event, she garnered four Grand Prix awards for architectural decoration, fabric design, book illustration, and poster design.

The recognition she received at one of the most significant art events of the time ensured her inevitable ascent to fame. Now, let’s explore some of her most renowned artworks from the exhibition.

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Slavic Folklore

As previously mentioned, Zofia Stryjeńska’s art was deeply influenced by Slavic folklore, traditions, and rituals. Her distinctive style and choice of subjects played a pivotal role in elevating Poland’s cultural reputation on the international stage. By incorporating folk motifs into her work, she ensured that the Polish pavilion stood out among its counterparts.

The artworks showcased at exhibitions provided viewers with insights into Polish culture and heritage. Stryjeńska’s oeuvre predominantly features depictions of Polish dances, Polish monarchs, and Slavic deities, offering a captivating glimpse into the richness of Polish cultural heritage. Let’s delve deeper into the vibrant tapestry of Polish culture.

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Love Struggle

Stryjeńska acquired her now well-known surname through marriage to Karol Stryjeński, a celebrated Polish architect. He also founded a publishing company called Fala, providing her with the opportunity to publish four books featuring her illustrations. His support allowed her to flourish as an illustrator and gain further renown. Despite their shared passion for art, differences emerged over time, leading to frequent arguments between them.

While Stryjeńska’s aspirations for fame and artistic freedom blossomed, her family life suffered. Her primary desire was for love and care, which she felt lacking. Unlike her husband, who enjoyed socializing and often engaged in revelry, Stryjeńska withdrew into her art. Their differing lifestyles strained their relationship, exacerbated by Karol’s infidelity. Stryjeńska found herself shouldering much of the responsibility for their three children, as Karol’s frequent absences left her absorbed in her artistic pursuits, sometimes to the neglect of her own well-being.

Both Stryjeńska and her husband had quick tempers, fueling their frequent disagreements and leading to public scandals. On one occasion, Stryjeńska resorted to physical violence against her husband’s paramour. In a desperate move, Karol orchestrated Stryjeńska’s involuntary admission to a mental institution. This marked a turning point, culminating in their divorce. Finally liberated, Stryjeńska later remarried an actor named Artur Socha, finding a new chapter of freedom and happiness in her life.

Work as a Designer

The challenges in her life also led to financial struggles. Stryjeńska could not manage her money properly. To sustain herself, she ventured into creating advertising graphics, including for one of the most famous Polish chocolate companies — Lotte Wedel. She was the author of illustrations for literary works, as well as a designer of graphics for porcelain plates. Thanks to her, art was accessible to all people, even those not interested in art.

Zofia Stryjeńska: Box of chocolates with illustration: Zofia Stryjeńska, Krakowiak from the Polish Dances series, 1963, Museum of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.

Box of chocolates with illustration: Zofia Stryjeńska, Krakowiak from the Polish Dances series, 1963, Museum of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.

Polish Queen of Art Deco

Zofia Stryjeńska was a multitalented artist and one of the key representatives of the Art Deco style in Poland. Her art combined beauty and functionality. In her artworks, she often depicted figures in traditional folk costumes, enchanted with ornaments and expressive colors. Through her unique style and folk themes, Stryjeńska emphasized the essence of Polish and Slavic culture and traditions.

Bibliography

1.

Światosław Lenartowicz, Zofia Stryjeńska, Wydawnictwo Bosz, 2018

2.

Piotr Łopuszański, “Blask i nędza życia Zofii Stryjeńskiej,” Podkowianski Magazyn Kulturalny, No. 44, 2004. Accessed 22 Mar 2024.

3.

Angelika Kuźniak, “Porwano ją nocą i zamknięto w domu dla obłąkanych. Nazwisko sprawcy: Karol Stryjeński, mąż artystki,” Wysokie Obcasy, 2021. Accessed 22 Mar 2024.

5.

Irena Kossowska, Zofia Stryjeńska, Culture.pl. Accessed 13 Feb 2024.

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