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'In the case of the art I want to do, it is simply to reach an earthly paradise' - this is how Jerzy Nowosielski expressed himself about his work. Painter, draughtsman, stage designer, philosopher and Orthodox theologian. 7 January marked the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth. As a sign of respect for the artist's genius, Polish government decided to establish 2023 as the year of Jerzy Nowosielski.

Between sacrum and profanum

The artist was born on 7 January 1923 in Krakow. He came from a Polish-Ukrainian family, which, as Krystyna Czerni, an expert on the artist's work, emphasised, had a huge impact on shaping his sensitivity to the traditions and culture of the East and West. Already as a teenager, he made a pilgrimage to the Lavra in Pochaiv in Volhynia. As he himself points out, this mystical experience allowed him to be born again.

 "I, a Polish painter, was spiritually born in the Pochaiv Lavra," he says.

The fascination brought from home would run through virtually all of the artist's work.

He began to deepen his spiritual inspiration even before the war. While visiting the Ukrainian Museum in Lviv, he first encountered icons. The beauty, as well as the mysticism emanating from the icons depicted, was an experience so dominant that he felt overwhelmed by the visual power and spirituality of these objects.

"Everything that I later pursued in painting during my life was even seemingly a departure, defined by that first encounter with icons in the Lviv museum."


War experiences and new directions in art

In 1940, he began studying at the Faculty of Decorative Painting at the Kunstegewerbeschule in Krakow. Religion was all the time an important part of his life. In 1942, he even asked the ihumen of the St John the Baptist Lavra near Lviv to accept him into the community. After four months, however, he was sent home due to illness. The strength of these religious-artistic experiences did not protect him from a periodic loss of faith. The experiences of the war and the systemic changes, broadly defined, made him reject the belief in the existence of a 'metaphysical reality'. Throughout his later life he wavered in some way. He continually experienced the interface between what we can most simply describe as the sacred and the profane. Uncertainty and the desire for a deeper understanding of the world around us led the artist into areas previously unexplored by him.


'Woman in the Interior'

Jerzy Nowosielski was an artist who manoeuvred between extremes. On the one hand, he was a writer of icons, a philosopher and an Orthodox theologian. On the other hand, in his painting he took up themes that seemed to go far beyond religious issues.  After the end of the war, Nowosielski continued his education already at the Academy of Fine Arts, enrolling in the studio of Eugeniusz Ibisz, but most importantly he established contacts with Tadeusz Kantor at that time. In 1946, he took part in a group exhibition of the Group of Young Visual Artists at the Palace of Art in Kraków, preceded by the publication of the manifesto of "heightened realism" by Tadeusz Kantor and Mieczysław Porębski.  From the 1940s, Nowosielski explored different paths of his artistic development. He began to focus on depicting female figures. The "Portrait of the artist's wife", created in 1945, or "Woman on the beach", created a year younger, gave birth to and started a dominant tendency, which accompanied him in his later creative periods.

Jerzy Nowosielski, "Woman in the Interior," 1964, oil on canvas, 80 x 60 cm


Available at our auction house, the painting 'Woman in the Interior' was created in 1964. It depicts a woman, wrapped in a cloth resembling a bath towel. In the background we see a window and the daily lives of passers-by unfolding behind it.  The artist painted women with strongly outlined silhouettes, with characteristically elongated limbs. This motif in Nowosielski's paintings, finds its justification in iconography, while the sublime eroticism shrouding the female images in the artist's works, reveal his unusual fascination with the opposite sex. He himself spoke very often of male infatuations with the female body, dreams and erotic fantasies. He liked to use the term 'erotic figuration' to refer to his art.

Added 2023-05-18 in by Judyta Majkowska

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