Sleńdzińscy – An artistic dynasty indigenous to Vilnius, deep-rooted in the history of Polish art and which expired after the death of Julitta Sleńdzińska, the Gallery’s donor, who died childless.

 

 

Marcin (1754-1830), an affluent silk merchant, member of the local government, a mayor and father of 9 children. One of his sons, Aleksander Józef (1803-1878) displayed artistic talents for visual arts and music and, consequently, studied at the Vilnius University in the painting studio of Jan Rustem and the sculpture studio of Kazimierz Jelski. He was a friend of Józef Ignacy Kraszewski and Stanisław Moniuszko (he gave drawing lessons to Moniuszko’s daughter, Elżbieta, who later became a woodcutter and a graphic artist).What is more, Aleksander played “czekan” – a type of Hungarian flute. He specialised in portraits which not only captured the resemblance of figures but also were simply composed with austere props and a neutral background. His favourite themes were naturalistic genre scenes and portraits of peasants.

 

Aleksander created religious paintings for Vilnius churches: “Mother Mary with a Baby Jesus” (St. Therese’s church), “St. Cecilia” (Dominican church). Frequently, he painted ordered portraits based on photographs and on detailed facial description. There’s a close correspondence between Aleksander’s works and the works of his great tutor Rustem. Aleksander painted and drew genre scenes, often allegorical, referring to the Polish January Uprising, in a manner similar to D. Tenniers’s. In his folk scenes and works concerning the poor, he used a forceful, naturalistic form, underlining the ugliness of figures.

 

 

Wincenty Leopold (1837-1909) was one of the three sons of Aleksander and he inherited his father’s artistic talent for visual arts and music. Michal Elwiro Andriolli (a painter and an architect) was his friend. After Wincenty’s studies in Moscow Art School in a studio of Sergiusz Zaranka, he took part in the Polish January Uprising after which he was sent into exile to Russia for 20 years. His life and output can be divided into 3 periods: youth and studies (up to 1863 Vilnius, Moscow), exile (1864-1883 Kniahinin, Kharkiv, Cracow, Dresden Kharkiv again, and Ukrainian Summy) and Vilnius (1883-1909). After the tsar’s amnesty in 1883 he came back from exile and married Anna nêe Bolcewicz (1845-1923) - the widow of famous Vilnius photographer Józef Czechowicz.

 

Apart from specializing in portraits, sacred images, genre and mythological scenes, Wincenty renovated Renaissance masterpieces from the Kórnik and Vilnius collections. Among his works we may also find portraits and genre scene drawings (both realistic): “A Beggar under Ostra Brama Threading a Needle”1860, landscapes: “Bernardinian Garden in Vilnius”1886, “Popławy”1884, peasant life scenes and Jewish portraits: “Orphan”, “Lithuanian Children Feeding a Snake” 1873, popularised because of  their woodcut reproductions in magazines. His historic paintings from the times of pagan Lithuania, which seem to be slightly theatrical and sentimental, are enlarged, dynamic and multi-figured: “Kiejstut’s Kidnapping of Biruta” 1887, “Gedymin’s Dream” 1894, “Ragutis’s Holiday” 1895. Wincenty commemorated contemporary events (“Tsar Alexander’s Visit to Vilnius”) and created religious paintings for churches in: Moscow, Druskininkai, Janów, Pinsk, Vilnius as well as for others.

 

Next to the visual arts, other passions of Wincenty were music - Stanisław Moniuszko himself was his piano tutor- and literature - he wrote diaries, plays, short philosophical meditations and words of advice, as well as specific aphorisms titled “Maxymy”.

 

In Gallery’s collection of Wincenty’s works we may find oil paintings, drawings, and oil sketches which represent the full range of his artistic output, excluding his religious works. In the Gallery’s permanent exhibition we may see a biblical scene “Daniel in the Lions’Den”, portraits: “Orłowski”, “Autoportret”, “Róża z Wereszczyńskich Misiewiczowa”, “A Portrait of a Young Man” 1892, landscapes “View from Kniahinin” and landscape oil sketches.

 

 

Ludomir (1889-1980), painter and sculptor; professor of fine arts at Vilnius University and Krakow Polytechnic; a member of Vilnius artistic organizations.

He was a true Vilnius citizen and was proud of it as he always signed his works “Made by Ludomir from Vilnius Slendziński A.D…”.He was born on the 29th October 1889 in the Vilnius district Zarzecze. He came from an artistic family which were now realizing their artistic painting talent for the third generation. Already in early childhood he encountered the magical world of creating paintings. When as a young man he started his studies in St. Petersburg he must have been fascinated by the monumental buildings, the crowds, and uncommon beauty of the northern capital. At first he studied law but only a year later became the student of an art school. Ludomir learned in the studio of a professor’s Dymitr Kardowski – a man of a minor painting talent but a great pedagogue. The professor appreciated classical values and he demanded his students to be conscientious, unpretentious, and dedicated to work. Although he was strict but good psychologist, and treated his students individually. Sleńdziński graduated in 1916 with his impressive diploma work on decorative studies, painted in a studio especially created for this purpose. It was a huge oil composition (2m/3m) titled “Idylla”, presenting over 10 figures on the fore - and background. “Idylla” was special not because of the painter’s skills but rather because of the subject itself. Art critics, apart from pointing out a few demerits like lack of experience, still noticed and appreciated Sleńdziński’s sense of rhythm.

A canvas composition “The Allegory of Poland” from 1923 is the most famous creation of Ludomir. At first, plafond (French for ceiling) was predestined to be the in the prime minister’s private office. Sleńdziński prepared thoroughly for this work, also because it was his first major order after the completion of his studies. Allegorical sketches presented before the finalization of the composition displayed figures linked by multicoloured wind-blown garments and stormy sky in the background. The gratification Ludomir received for the plafond was rationally used as he went on his first artistic grand tour to Italy. After returning at his first exhibition in Warsaw, in 1924, where he presented his first works with sculpted elements and a golden background, he met Irena Dobrowolska whom he married next year in Rome. The best Ludomir’s works come from this period: “Wife’s Portrait in Forum Romanum” and “Wife with a Wedding Ring”. After he came back to Poland, he started working at Vilnius’s Stefan Batory University of Fine Arts. From then on, he was a teacher until his retirement in 1960.

 

The 1920s and 1930s were for Ludomir times of artistic development and appreciation at the same time: over 100 collective and individual exhibitions in Europe and USA.

He took part in regular exhibitions of Polish artistic associations: WTAP and “Rytm”, which aspired to both classicism and monumentalism. Ludomir was fascinated with the Italian renaissance and he translated its patterns into the language of contemporary visual art: replacing canvas with a wooden board, introducing plaster of Paris reliefs, using gold and silver plating.

 

In Vilnius, Sleńdziński was a professor in the studio of monumental paintings at Stefan Batory University, as well as a decorative art professor. Additionally, he was a dean at Vilnius University. Between 1920 and 1939, Sleńdziński was the head of WTAP (Vilnius Society of Painters) which expressed its ideas through the magazine “Południe” edited by Stanisław Woźnicki. WTAP’s main goals were the communion and cooperation of painters, as well as popularization of art in Poland. “The Vilnius School” initiated by Sleńdziński, derived from WTAP and claimed that the artist must be fully aware of the legacy of previous generations and be able to use the experiences of his predecessors in his works. Naturally, WTAP’s ideas leaked into the university environment. In professor Sleńdziński’s studio, experiments - even impressionistic ones - were banned, as students had to, above all, learn how to draw properly.

 

During the Second World War Sleńdziński was forced to leave his Vilnius apartment and move to the mansion of the painter Władysław Oskierko. Despite the difficult time of war, Ludomir did not give up his artistic work and apart from oil paintings created wooden sculptors and reliefs. In 1943, along with Vilnius intellectuals, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Prawianiszki camp near Kaunas. In March 1945 the Sleńdziński family was repatriated to Poland and stayed in Cracow. Soon, Ludomir became an academic teacher of drawing and sculpture in Architecture School in Cracow. In 1954 he became the first dean of independent Cracow Polytechnic. He was still painting and turning from strong shading into a softer one. Portrait was a dominant theme of Ludomir’s works for his whole life. He painted until his death at the age of 91, and till the end he was looking for new means of expression, as shown by his polygonal shaped paintings. He also drew perfectly (apart from pencil drawings, he also left works drawn with his favourite technique – sanguine and sepia – rusty and brownish coloured pencils). Sleńdziński was interested in the Italian renaissance, classicism, as well as the workshop secrets of medieval masters. Sleńdziński was a perfectionist which is proved by his drawings reflecting work and effort he put into his works before they reached their final shape. Portraiture was at the centre of his interests throughout his artistic life. Most often, he painted the closest members of his family: mother, daughter, wife, friends and acquaintances. His models were people with symmetric facial features, with a serene glance and of strong and harmonious constitution. He modelled his figures strongly, sharply and very textured. A sculpture-like shape was given a shiny surface through smooth texture – the result of invisible paintbrush technique. These features of shape were reinforced by clear, local colours, the contrast between foreground and landscape background, and colour - dependent drawing. Sleńdziński’s models were usually presented in the foreground from head to waist or from head to knees, strongly contrasted with the background. This all made his compositions clear and static. The earliest portraits had neutral background: “Lady with Beads” 1923, “Barbara Pilecka’s Portrait” 1924 and landscape or architecture background: wife portraits from 1925.

The remaining famous portraits are: “Portrait of Edward Karniej’s” 1921 (Museum in Łódź), “Lady with a Racquet” 1923 (private collection), “Portrait of Paweł Wędziagolski” 1923 (private collection), “Wife with a Ring” 1925 (Sleńdziński Gallery), “Portrait of Priest Marchewka” 1925 (Museum in Bydgoszcz).

Among the multi-figured compositions of flawless drawing and well-thought shading we may find: “Fishermen” 1922, “Gardeners” 1925, “Daphne and Chloe” 1926 and an unfinished triptych “Government’s Constitutional Vow” inspired by Rafael’s “The School of Athens”.

 

Sleńdziński was decorated with many distinctions, not only in Poland but also abroad. The most numerous collection of Sleńdziński’s works is displayed in Białystok in Sleńdziński Gallery. His other works can be seen in: Lithuania, Sweden, France, USA and many private collections.

 

“The Vilnius School” an approach towards painting in creation of which Ludomir Sleńdziński played a leading role. Its main characteristic seems to be the painter’s awareness of his past and his right to use freely different artistic legacy. “The Vilnius School” also aspired to synthetic form, good composition, local colours, and the invisible paintbrush technique. Following “Ludomir’s ways” led to a certain “á la Sleńdziński manner”, especially visible in painted figures: their hairstyle, facial elements, arms musculature, neck, closed posture, a contrast between calm foreground figure and oblique lines of simplified, uniform interior. In terms of colours “The Vilnius School” used malachite, ultramarine, vermilion, gold and silver details. Even the way of signing works was significant: horizontal or vertical lines in all caps.

 

 

Julitta Anna (1927-1992) the only daughter of Irena and Ludomir. She fully realised the musical talent that had appeared for generations in Sleńdziński family. She was a perfect pianist as well as harpsichordist as she learned under the guidance of excellent keyboard music tutors: professor Stanisław Szpinalski (Vilnius), professor Henryk Sztompka (Cracow), Jerzy Żurawlew (Warsaw), Harry Neuhaus (Moscow), professor Zbigniew Drzewiecki (Warsaw, Cracow), and the most distinguished harpsichordist of the 20th century – Ruggero Gerlin (Italy). Julitta gained distinction at the first post-war Chopin Contest in 1949. Apart from giving concerts in Poland and abroad, she was a pedagogue in the Warsaw Academy of Music. At leisure, Julitta painted fairy-tale visions and landscapes as well as subtle, metaphoric-decorative painting impressions. Before her death, in 1992, she forwarded to Białystok her family collection: paintings, sculptors, drawings and rich family archives. On the basis of Julitta’s donation a monographic museum was established – the Sleńdziński Gallery.