Witkacy's Adventures in St. Petersburg
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Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) spent the First World War in Russia, mostly in St. Petersburg, where he arrived in the autumn of 1914. Shortly afterwards he entered an exclusive officers' school then the Pavlovskiy Leib Guards' Regiment. He also continued to paint his portraits and fantastical compositions. It was in Russia that Witkacy discovered a technique of using pastels which was to liberate from within him an entirely new form of expression. Initially, in 1915, the artist added a few isolated pastel smudges/smears to some portraits made in charcoal, but it was not long before these tentative gestures were being freely applied and within two years extraordinary colourful works were taking shape. Apart from his portraits, Witkacy created some fantastical compositions, influenced to a considerable degree by literary works as well as astronomical phenomena e.g.: Nova Aurigae, Kometa Encke, Antares w Skorpionie, Algorab w Kruku (Algorab in Corvus), Liszka (Caterpillar) and Kameleon in all likelihood inspired by the proximity of the astronomical observatory (employing large numbers of Poles) and the research carried out there. In July 1916 the artist actively participated in wartime operations, including one of the bloodiest battles on the Eastern Front along the River Stochod in the Western Ukraine. For that he had shown on the battlefront, the artist was promoted to the rank of a lieutenant and received the order of St. Ann 4th class. He was also wounded, receiving serious injury to his head, as a result of which he had to be hospitalised and evacuated to the imperial capital. He was never to return to the front. He lived with his aunt, Vladislava of the Jagimins, and her husband, Leon Reynel, on Ofitserskaya Street. Socially and financially connected with the Polski Theatre in St. Petersburg, the couple introduced Witkacy to their milieu. In Spring the artist took part in an exhibition organised by the Polish minority in the Anichkovskiy Palace, at which, among other works, he presented a picture in gouache titled 'Pocalunek mongolskiego ksiecia w lodowej pustyni' (The Mongol Prince's Kiss in a Frozen Desert) which currently belongs to the National Museum in Warsaw. In the middle of 1918 and with the help of the Reynels, Witkacy returned to Poland, carrying with him fruits of an almost four years sojourn in Russia: portraits and compositions done in oil or pastel portraits, a theoretical study titled 'Nowe formy w malarstwie i wynikajace stad nieporozumienia' (New Forms in Painting and the misunderstandings arising out of them), as well as the sketches (or barely thoughts) on a series of dramas in which the echoes of real life in Russia during the war and revolution are clearly audible. 23 Illustrations.
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