Moved by Gauguin: In Memoriam Władysław Ślewiński

Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Two Breton Women with a Basket of Apples (1897), oil on canvas, 82 × 116 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Cottage at Le Pouldu (c 1892), further details not known. Image by Ablakok, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856-1918), Low Tide at Pont-Aven (1894), media and dimensions not known, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Still Life with a Flower Pot (date not known), oil on canvas, 50 x 61 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France. Image by Pymouss, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856-1918), Old Breton Woman (c 1896), pastel on cardboard, Muzeum Narodowe w Poznaniu, Poznan, Poland. Image by Ablakok, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Woman Combing (1897), oil on canvas, 64 × 91 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, Kraków, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Two Breton Women with a Basket of Apples (1897), oil on canvas, 82 × 116 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Still Life (1900), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Still Life (1900) is reminiscent of the still lifes of Paul Cézanne.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Breton Sailor (c 1902), oil on canvas, 45.5 × 38 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.

Breton Sailor (c 1902) is perhaps his best adult portrait.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), The Sea in Brittany (c 1905), further details not known. Image by Ablakok, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Orphan from Poronin (c 1906), oil on canvas, 77 × 50 cm, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw, Poland. Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Still Life with Silver Plate and Fruits (c 1907), oil on canvas, 46 × 56.6 cm, Lviv National Art Gallery Львівська національна галерея мистецтв, Lviv, Ukraine. Wikimedia Commons.

Still Life with Silver Plate and Fruits was painted in about 1907.

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Władysław Ślewiński (1856–1918), Black Pond in the Tatra Mountains (c 1909), further details not known. Image by Ablakok, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Reference

Website (in Polish).