Opening of the exhibition: 15 September, 6.00 pm
Curator: Katarzyna Moskała
Coordinator: Renata Sargalska
Exhibition production: Wojciech Ruminski
Painter, art critic, and writer – a picturesque figure in the London émigré artistic community and, alongside Józef Herman, Stanisław Frenkel, and Feliks Topolski, the most well-known Polish painter in Great Britain. He died in 1985 in London, where he had resided since 1937, after a life full of exhibitions, discoveries, and successes hardly ever available to émigrés. At the time of his arrival on the Thames, England was an artistic province, and foreign artists were regarded as ill-mannered meddlers. During the war Żuławski became known as a speaker and author of broadcasts about art in the Polish section of the BBC; it was at this time that he designed the most famous war poster, “Poland First to Fight.” Marek found his way in painting at a time when England was emerging from ruins and people were full of optimism about the challenges that awaited post-war man. His artistic position in London was established when he executed a fresco for the Festival of Britain exhibition pavilion (1951). Other public commissions and several hundred exhibitions in renowned London galleries, and major museums and galleries in Poland all but confirmed this acclaim.
He was an appreciated and selling artist – he never suffered from a lack of work. His paintings can be found in all the major contemporary art collections in Poland as well as in numerous European collections. He was an unusual and controversial figure: in appearance, he resembled Sienkiewicz characters: tall, stocky, with fine features, marked by seriousness and character. He treated life with nonchalance, and art and writing with deadly seriousness. Born into a family of writers, directors, travellers, mountaineers, politicians, and painters, he was in a sense doomed to greatness.
He was born in Rome – the son of a well-known writer and playwright. After graduating from high school in Toruń, where his mother ran the boarding house „Zofijówka” in the Bydgoskie Przedmieście district, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and became a student of Felicjan Kowarski. Having completed his studies, he stayed abroad, travelling through Italy and France, where he came into contact with the works of the early phase of Post-Impressionism. From academic dramatic realism, he moved towards colour expression and expressive forms with strong contours. He was fascinated by religious painting with its monumental and hieratic forms, and captivated by the walls of churches and spacious buildings, but in painting Christ he not only retained the statuesque and quiescence of the figures, so typical of Byzantine church mosaics, but was also able to bring out the silence and prayer in the austere play of colours.
In painting, he remained faithful to figurative, ethically committed art, with man as its central theme. Żuławski’s humanism proclaimed the dignity of man as a social being, one who fights and loves, one who is oppressed and persecuted. He often drew inspiration from biblical sources and myths; his graphic series on Gilgamesh proclaimed the dignity of the human condition in the struggle against the adversities of fate. In terms of style, he was independent and self-contained; he painted with flair but also restraint – devoting more attention to the general outline of the composition than to the arrangement of colour.
Man, as seen by Żuławski, evolved from the pre-war post-impressionist delicate point of light, towards homo vitruviano, geometric forms, up to a fleshy anthropoid with impressive equipment. He was eventually replaced by a mature man, endowed not only with bones and muscles, but richly filled with viscera, pierced by the light emanating from within. The formerly restrained, rather dry-tasting colouring, which emphasised the social and emotional nature of the canvases, took on succulence and verve, and sensual power, and simplicity to the point of excess.
In the last years of his life, as his religious faith intensified, his thoughts began to transcend the boundaries of worldly existence. This was also reflected in his painting, which became fulfilled and reconciled with the Creator. Contributing to this was a happy marriage and the birth of his son, orphaned at the age of three.
His exhibitions in Toruń, from which he emerged into the art world, were not frequent enough. After his father’s death, on the wave of the patriotic upsurge towards the restored northern borderlands of the country, Kazimiera Żuławska, Marek’s mother, decided to relocate from Zakopane, where the family had lived for a long time, and moved to Toruń. In the summer of 1921, she bought a property at 26 Bydgoska Street and set up a guesthouse modelled on the Zakopane countryside style, creating an atmosphere that fostered an entertaining atmosphere and intellectual discussions. In honour of her grandmother, the villa in Bydgoskie Przedmieście was named “Zofijówka.”
A large part of the group from the theatre in Toruń settled permanently in “Zofijówka.” Artists and writers longing for the good old Zakopane atmosphere and social contacts sought accommodation and refreshments here – to name a few: Józef Wittlin, Tymon Niesiołowski, Karol Zawodziński. The director Juliusz Osterwa appeared in passing on occasion. It was here that the teenage Marek came into contact with Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz – not for the first time, since back in Zakopane Witkiewicz’s father sent Stasiuk to study philosophy with Marek’s father Jerzy Żuławski. Witkacy took strong offence at the young Żuławski for his vehement arguments about painting, but this did not happen until several years later, then in Warsaw. After he completed his secondary education in 1926, Żuławski’s mother closed the guesthouse and arranged to move to Warsaw.
Marek Żuławski became permanently associated with Toruń after his death, thanks to a generous gift from his wife, Maryla. Over the course of several years, she donated a substantial collection of her husband’s works to the University Museum in Toruń, as well as the entire archive and numerous mementos of the artist. Through her generosity, Maryla Żuławska made it possible for Marek to become settled in Toruń forever.
The exhibition organised at the Centre for Contemporary Art, featuring more than 250 works: paintings, drawings, and prints, is the most extensive exhibition of Marek Żuławski’s works to date. All the works on show are the property of Nicolaus Copernicus University in the collection of the University Museum.