Prof. portraits. Mehoffer by Stanisław WyspiańskiPhoto: Wiki Commons / Stanisław Wyspiański
Both were born in 1869, both were high-level humanists, both studied philosophy and law, and were students of Jan Matejko. Under the supervision of the master, they both redesigned the Church of St. Mary in Krakow and built a stained glass window for the church, reflecting the life of the Mother of God.
35:02 Mehoffer (copy 4) .mp3 “Józef Meoffer”. Broadcast from Andrzej Erchard’s “Sound Biography” series. (PR, May 8, 1996)
“It’s hard to tell which neighborhoods are the work of Vyspianski and which are Mehoffer’s,” Jerzy Madejski, an art historian and critic, told Polish Radio about his work on polychromes in St. Mary’s Church. – The competition between this European from a family with traditions like Mehoffer and Vyspianski from Krakow began. Wyspiański was the greatest creator of our Art Nouveau, but he hated Viennese Art Nouveau. Mehoffer was a descendant of Austrian officials, so it caused controversy, Madejski added.
Both artists lived together while studying in Paris. Even then, there were serious differences between them. While Mehoffer eagerly visited the churches of Paris, Vyspianski, as Madejsky said, contracted a bachelor’s disease. They had completely different characters and completely different principles of operation.
“They are like the left and right hemispheres of the brain,” said Professor Madejski. – Mehoffer Apollonia is a bright left hemisphere. Wyspiański, by contrast, is a Dionysian, emotional, right hemisphere. But both brutally created Polish art. Vyspiański from the heart, Mehoffer from the hypothesis, but it is really difficult to say which half of the brain is bigger, because it is not known which half is better – Madejski added.
Mehoffer, a descendant of Austrian officials, was a rationalist in Poland. However, he considered himself a full-fledged Polish, and despite his mild temperament, he could fight the real Polish fantasy in matters he believed in if he wanted to.
Ryszard Mehoffer, the artist’s grandson, said on a Polish radio program: – My grandfather was a charming, peaceful and gentle man. – He was an excellent gentleman, calm in his own way. A warm man full of reflective, subtle humor – added his offspring.
In addition to numerous artistic activities, Mehoffer was also active as an organizer of artistic life. Stuka was a member and co-founder of the Polish Artists’ Society. Thus, a scandal broke out in 1907 when an article was published in Czas criticizing the Society’s exhibition.
The criticism stemmed from paintings by Emilia Maura-Cybulska, the wife of Adam Gada-Cybulsky, a professor at the Krakow Academy of Arts. Angry Cybulsky, an art connoisseur with an article, ran to Leon “Mangha” Wyczółkowski, then famous in Krakow. They both decided that the nickname Masque, signed by the author of the article … is Józef Mehoffer.
Wyczółkowski called the artist to a duel and Mehoffer took off his gloves. The conditions of this event were extremely funny. The duel took place in Vyczółkowski’s studio at 10 Starowiślna Street in Krakow, where sand was poured on the ground and the rivals stood face to face, stripped to their waists and holding swords. Mehoffer was a very light man, and both could not handle the sword. So it would be a cabaret.
However, when Wyczółkowski said, “Now I’m going to fight this German,” Mehoffer touched the creatures and attacked. He managed to hurt his opponent and killed him with a sword. After the duel, the men did not shake hands. Disagreements on artistic issues remained unresolved. It was only later that it became clear that the author of the article in “Czas” was not Mehoffer, but the creative artist Carol Frycz. Mehoffer, on the other hand, took the opportunity to prove that, despite his quiet demeanor on a daily basis, he could fight to the end with dignity and violence.
An outstanding decorator
In art, however, Mehoffer remained true to his innate restraint, and while Vyspianski paved the way for the development of Polish expressionism, Mehoffer developed an original decorative formula derived from Art Nouveau stylistics.
He has created paintings, stained glass, polychrome, graphics, theater decoration and applied art projects. His life’s work is stained glass windows for St. Peter’s Gothic Collegiate Church. Nikolai in Friborg. Mehoffer won a prestigious competition in 1895, and work on stained glass lasted four decades until 1936.
In painting, he applied his discoveries to the creation of stained glass, which completely lost its life when deprived of light. This is probably why Mehoffer’s painting focuses so much on light. Mehoffer is the author of numerous decorative, symbolic and romantic canvases. One of the most famous is the “Strange Garden” painting, painted in 1903, depicting his wife and son in the bosom of nature. Bright colors are used in such a way that they are almost associated with the happiness of Eden.
The Way of the Cross
Joseph Mehoffer is also the author of the series The Crossroads for the Franciscan Church in Krakow. The series is quite diverse, but according to the famous Polish artist of the second half of the 20th century – Jerzy Novosielsky, it is a masterpiece.
“Some higher celestial forces there allowed him to overcome himself,” Jerzy Novosielski said on Polish radio. – He was somehow so vertical, so insanely human, so insanely dramatic. He was the last artist to reliably present the tragedy of the execution and did so with the painting itself, not with a painting anecdote, Novosielsky said.