A few weeks ago, when I showed paintings of the Hutsul peoples of the Carpathian Mountains, I came across the work of Kazimierz Sichulski (1879–1942), who’s generally recognised as one of the major Polish artists of the early twentieth century, but was both born and died in Lviv in western Ukraine. In this article and its sequel next week, I look more generally at Sichulski’s remarkable paintings.
Sichulski was born in the city of Lviv in what is now Ukraine. From 1349 to 1772, that city, then known as Lwów, was the capital of the Ruthenian domain of the Kingdom of Poland. At the time of Sichulski’s birth it was the capital of the Galician province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, although it still had strong ties to Poland, for example in being the home of the Polish Academy of Arts. During Sichulski’s lifetime, Lviv was a multilingual and multicultural centre for Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish groups.
His father was a railway engineer, but died when Kazimierz was young. He started studying law at the University of Lviv, but that was interrupted by compulsory military service, at the end of which he moved to Kraków in Poland to continue his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts there.
Many of Sichulski’s early paintings are oil sketches, such as this of Musk Thistles from 1904. This is one of the most common species of thistle seen across Europe and Asia, growing as a weed on most types of land. This sketch shows plants in the late summer, probably just before the grain harvest, when they have run to seed.
A Cottage, probably painted around this time, shows a country cottage with a rough thatched roof, at around the same time of year.
During these years, Sichulski was awarded funds enabling him to study in Rome, Munich and Paris, where he studied at the Académie Colarossi.
The title of this painting, Polesia from 1904, refers to a huge swathe of eastern Europe, extending from eastern Poland, through southern Belarus and much of northern Ukraine, across the border into Russia. This is mostly forest and marshland formed by the drainage basins of the Western Bug and Prypyat Rivers and their tributaries, and is reputedly Europe’s largest remaining wilderness.
This farmer in traditional dress poses beside his pair of horses and cart.
From 1905, Sichulski returned to what’s now western Ukraine, to visit parts of the Carpathian Mountains where the Hutsul peoples live.
His painting of a Black Lamb from 1905 was probably made when he was staying among the Hutsul.
This quick Landscape Study from 1905 also looks to have been painted in the Carpathians. These animals, presumably sheep, are feeding from bales of hay when the ground is still covered by snow.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Sichulski’s career is the number of triptychs he painted. He appears to have started making these in 1906.
Among the first is this Autumn Triptych from 1906, which could well be based on motifs from Hutsul country. Sichulski retains a structure derived from religious triptychs in placing a woman in the centre panel, a design which he was to develop in subsequent triptychs.
His Palm Sunday Triptych from the same year features six children in traditional costume, five of whom are staring up at an unseen vision. The centre panel replaces palm fronds with a branch in bud.
At this time, Sichulski was providing caricatures and other drawings for publications. He had also been developing his technical skills with pastels.
Fish (1908) is a startling pastel painting which appears completely out of character in its realism, and its virtuoso combination of reflections from and views through the water surface.
Three years after his first triptychs, he used mixed media of tempera and pastel to create some which look as if they’re stained glass. His Spring Triptych from 1909 bridges the religious and secular, with the centre panel showing a woman and child.
From the same year, his Hutsul Wedding shows a wedding party making their way through the Carpathian snow in traditional dress.
I’m very grateful to winmaciek for providing additional information for captions.