A century ago today, 24 March, Władysław Ślewiński died in Paris. This article commemorates his death with a brief outline of his artistic career, and a small sample of his work.
Ślewiński was born on 1 June 1856 in the central east of Poland, not too far from the capital city of Warsaw. His family were landowners, and a relative who was a painter spotted his talent when he was still a boy, enabling him to study drawing. When his father died and he inherited the family estate, he fell foul of Russian tax collectors, lost all his money, and fled to Paris in 1888.
Once in Paris, he studied at the Académies Colarossi and Julian, in a bid to make a career of his art. He first visited the artists’ colony at Pont-Aven, in Brittany, in the summer of 1889, where he met and made friends with Paul Gauguin. Although he continued his studies in Paris until 1890, he was already effectively a pupil of Gauguin, and lived mainly at Pont-Aven until about 1894.
Cottage at Le Pouldu from about 1892 is one of his earlier surviving works, and shows a typical Breton cottage on the coast near Le Pouldu.
Low Tide at Pont-Aven (c 1894) remains one of the leading landscape views to have been painted in the colony at that time.
In about 1894, Ślewiński moved to the Breton coast at Le Pouldu, where he remained until 1905, exhibiting at the Salon des Indépendants in 1895 and 1896.
Ślewiński’s work contains quite a few still lifes, of which this undated Still Life with a Flower Pot appears to be one of the earlier paintings. He continued to paint a steady stream of still lifes through the rest of his career.
Ślewiński doesn’t appear to have tackled figurative painting until later in his career. Once he did, he produced some of his finest works. Old Breton Woman from about 1896 is rich in character.
Woman Combing (1897) is another superb portrait, this time of a younger woman combing her long hair in front of a mirror, in which her face appears as a vignette.
Of his works that I have located, I think that Two Breton Women with a Basket of Apples from 1897 is the most outstanding, and would compare with any of Gauguin’s paintings from Pont-Aven.
Still Life (1900) is reminiscent of the still lifes of Paul Cézanne.
Breton Sailor (c 1902) is perhaps his best adult portrait.
The Sea in Brittany (c 1905) is a simple view of the rugged coast nearby.
In 1905, Ślewiński moved back to Poland, where he was appointed professor at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts. He became one of the leading visual artists of the Young Poland movement there, alongside the likes of Jacek Malczewski.
Ślewiński paid particular attention to the land and people of the Tatra Mountains, at the southern edge of Poland, during this period. Orphan from Poronin (c 1906) is a moving portrait of a young boy apparently ill-at-ease on a chair. His jacket might have fitted him a couple of years ago, but is now bursting at the buttons. His trouser leg is ripped by the left knee.
Still Life with Silver Plate and Fruits was painted in about 1907.
Black Pond in the Tatra Mountains is one of his late landscape paintings of the mountains, from about 1909.
Ślewiński moved back to France in 1910, and died in Paris on 24 March 1918.
Website (in Polish).