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The art colony

Artists would come to Kazimierz Dolny starting from the end of the 18th century. Many prolific painters would create their paintings here, including Zygmunt Vogel, J. Richter, J.F. Piwarski, M.E. Andriolli, Wojciech Gerson, Józef Pankiewicz (who painted the very first series of Impressionist pictures in Poland in Kazimierz Dolny), Aleksander Gierymski and many others. However, the true “age of art” of Kazimierz Dolny started in the 20th century, when the Warsaw School of Fine Arts was established, and the eyes of its professors turned to the small town upon the Vistula River. The year 1909 was a landmark in the artistic history of the town, as Władysław Ślewiński, an experienced artist working in Pont-Aven and a friend of Paul Gauguin’s, came here with his students that year. Since then, groups of painters and artists were becoming an increasingly common sight in Kazimierz Dolny, and the foundations for the art colony were laid.

How can an art or artists’ colony be defined? To quote Rainer Maria Rilke: “Only here life can take on the shape of art.” Art colony is not only the creative work – it is a lifestyle. At the beginning of the 20th century, this kind of artistic activity was a novelty in Poland, and art school professors would only begin to take their apprentices for plein air workshops to the “wild nature.” Kazimierz Dolny was a perfect destination for the painters seeking “honesty,” “primitive” and “exoticism.” As early as in the early 20th century, Kazimierz Dolny became the “town of painters” and was gradually turning into an artists’ colony. More and more painters would come here to admire the “picturesque landscape,” “warm, rustic atmosphere,” “typical Polish beauty” and “wistful poetics, touching one’s heartstrings.” Kazimierz would repay them by turning on its charm and showing off its superb landscapes.

The art colony was in full bloom in 1923 when prof. Tadeusz Pruszkowski, the president of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, came here with his apprentices for the first time. Since then, outdoor painting sessions in Kazimierz Dolny have been an indispensable phenomenon in the town. Artists would come here not only to create, but also to make friends and to join or to create art groups after graduation. The first, the most famous and the most significant art group was the Fellowship of St. Luke the Evangelist (Polish: Bractwo Świętego Łukasza) established in 1925. It had Jan Cybis, Jan Zamoyski, Antoni Michalak and Jan Wydra among its members.

Many other artists from other Polish cities representing different artistic styles and forms would follow “pruszkowiacy” (as people would refer to the group set up by Pruszkowski) and come to Kazimierz Dolny. Therefore, it is clear that the Kazimierz Dolny art colony did not have a defined ideological underpinnings or an art manifesto. The fundamental concept of the art colony revolved around Kazimierz Dolny itself.

Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Antoni Michalak build their houses in the town. Painters, including Jewish artists, would become more and more popular guests in the town and soon they became an inherent element of the urban landscape, which today is the symbol of the town.

World War II did not put an end to the artists’ colony: the painters came back to Kazimierz Dolny soon after the war ended. They not only created their works, but also started to exhibit them here. Stanisław Jan Łazorek organized the first outdoor “art gallery” at the market square, and soon other artists followed in his footsteps.

In 2000, the Kazimierz Confraternity of Art (Polish: Kazimierska Konfraternia Sztuki) was established. Its members (approx. 70) carry on the artistic interwar tradition of the art colony.

Art and artists have shaped the identity of Kazimierz Dolny. Both are still present here, and new generations come here to appreciate the value of the town and to become enamoured of Kazimierz Dolny. It can be certainly stated that the art colony in Kazimierz Dolny lives on and thrives, and art was and still is one of the most essential elements of the town’s identity.

The memory of art colonies comes flooding back in the entire Europe, which can be confirmed by the fact of creating the European Federation of Artists' Colonies – EURO-ART – in Brussels in 1996, which operates under the auspices of the European Union. The Vistula Museum in Kazimierz Dolny has been a member of this organization since the year 2000.

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