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The Państwowiec exhibition by Jan Szczepkowski opening this Thursday at 6:00 PM in the Kordegarda, unveils the remarkable work of Jan Szczepkowski, an artist who played a pivotal role in shaping Poland’s cultural identity in the aftermath of World War I.
The Transformative Era
Following World War I, Warsaw was transitioning from a provincial city under Russian rule to the capital of newly independent Poland. It was a time of ambition, as the nation sought to modernize itself along European lines. Szczepkowski, a mature artist at 42, recognized the need for a new artistic language to reflect these changing times.
Blending Modernism with Folklore
Born in 1878, Szczepkowski received a comprehensive artistic education and was exposed to the aesthetics of the Polish highlanders during his early years in Zakopane. His subsequent studies in Krakow and encounters with modernist influences, such as Rodin and Bourdelle, influenced his work. However, his fascination with folk culture resurfaced in the interwar period.
A Fusion of Styles
Szczepkowski incorporated elements of Cubism and Futurism into his work, focusing on geometric forms, distinct compositional lines, and dynamic plays of light and shadow. His 1924 victory in a competition to design the interior of the Polish Pavilion at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in Paris marked his greatest achievement.
Symbol of Polish Art Deco
His chapel within the pavilion, blending highlander art with Cubist elements, became a symbol of the exhibition and Polish Art Deco. He designed not only the altar but the entire interior, incorporating intricately carved pine ornaments.
Art in Public Service
In the 1920s and 30s, Szczepkowski received numerous commissions from the state, including the frieze adorning the external rotunda of the Polish Sejm. His work survived wartime destruction, a testament to his enduring legacy.
Szczepkowski remained an active artist until his death in 1964, never abandoning his commitment to the nation. He sought to adapt to the socialist reality, though not without disillusionment. His art was a powerful voice for his time, serving both state and society.