Rafal Malczewski, Auto na tle pejzażu zimowego, 1930
Rafal Malczewski (1892-1965) was born in Kraków, Poland, as son of the famous painter Jacek Malczewski and his wife Mary Gralewski. After graduating from high school in Kraków, Malczewski studied philosophy, architecture, and agronomy in Vienna between 1910 and 1915. His father, then a professor at Kraków's Academy of Fine Arts, introduced him to painting. Between 1917 and 1939 Malczewski lived in Zakopane, where he was a member of the artistic and intellectual elite concentrated around the painter Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz and composer Karol Szymanowski. He was a keen mountaineer and a great skier. In 1917, while climbing in the Tatra mountains, his companion was killed, and Malczewski spent all night tied to the hook waiting for rescue assistance.
Malczewski joined the Podhale Arts Society, which promoted the idea of seeking out foundations for Polish art in the local folk culture. He designed productions for the Formist Theatre which began operating in Zakopane in 1925, creating scenery for the plays of Witkiewicz and Strindberg. Malczewski first exhibited his works in public in 1924 in Warsaw. Other exhibitions followed in many Polish cities. During the interwar period Malczewski gained considerable fame as a painter, presenting his work at the Biennale in Venice in 1932, in Berlin, Helsinki, Los Angeles, Moscow, and New York. He won a gold medal for his painting Spring in the Mountains (below) at the World Exhibition of Art and Technology in Paris in 1937.
Rafal Malczewski, Spring in the Mountains, 1937
Landscapes dominate Malczewski's oeuvre. His early works were influenced by the Symbolist art of his father. In the second half of the 1920s he was inspired by Cubism and Futurism. His landscapes primarily depicted the Tatra Mountains and the surrounding hills of the Podhale region. Frequent subjects included sleepy towns and empty landscapes, which often were supplemented with the technical achievements of contemporary civilization. Malczewski painted sparsely populated train stations, telegraph lines, and railroad tracks in numerous variations. Clouds, snow-covered peaks, fields, streams, and the crystal clarity of the atmosphere give his paintings a metaphysical dimension.
Between 1927 and 1929 Malczewski created a series of paintings depicting the landscapes of Yugoslavia and the French Riviera. In 1934 and 1935 he resided in Upper Silesia and recorded his impressions of this area in a series of dark, gloomy landscapes that reflect the industrial character of Black Silesia. These contrast starkly with his sun-saturated, green-glowing hilly landscapes of the Beskid Mountains. In his images of Silesia Malczewski depicted steel mills, mines and coal hills - nature being destroyed by industry. The realistic observation and emotional charge inherent in these works brings them very close to the German "New Objectivity" movement.
In 1939, after the outbreak of World War II and the German occupation of Poland, Malczewski fled to Paris. One year later, he went to Brazil, where he spent almost two years creating watercolor views of Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, and landscape paintings of Parana. Malczewski then moved on to the United States, where he lived in New York among other places. Finally, in 1942, he settled in Montreal, traveling extensively in Canada and the United States in search of subjects to paint.
The Canadian National Railways and the Pacific National Railways commissioned Malczewski to create a series of watercolors advertising the companies. In December 1942, he had his first Canadian exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Art. In 1944, he exhibited in Washington's prestigious Corcoran Gallery. Only in 1959 Malczewski visited Poland again. A stroke suffered in 1957 resulted in partial paralysis, forcing him to give up painting. Rafal Malczewski died at a hospital in Montreal in 1965.
Rafal Malczewski, Pejzaż przedwiosenny (Snop światla), 1926