Koliba Villa (Willa Koliba), designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in 1892–93, is now the Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane Photo: Tatra Museum Archive

Return to Nature

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

A key feature of the European revivalist art of the late 19th century were the artists’ communities that grew up in areas of natural beauty across Europe. Gill Crabbe meets two of the organisers of the 2015 European Revivals conference, which took place in Krakow and Zakopane in the Tatra mountains

When one thinks of the European revivalist culture that emerged in the later decades of the 19th century, one thinks of Paris as having been the central hub of the artistic ideas that spread across Europe and that included – especially in northern Europe – an urge to return to local territories and art practices. There were also the philosophical ideas generated by British artist thinkers such as John Ruskin, and the birth of the Arts and Crafts movement, epitomised in the decorative arts of William Morris. However, fewer scholars internationally today have been aware of its manifestations in central Europe, and one significant result of the Finnish National Gallery’s European Revivals Research Project has been a conference that took place in Krakow and Zakopane in Poland, which has now placed the country’s Tatra mountain region firmly on the European revivalist map.

The FNG’s European Revivals Project, which has been active since 2009, aims to bring together scholars, art histories and narratives from different countries and explore their common cultural heritage concerning this key period in Europe’s cultural history. The four international conferences that have so far taken place have provided fertile ground for sharing ideas, networking and exploring common experiences.

The Tatra Museum conference in Krakow in 2015, which included a day visiting the Tatra mountain village of Zakopane, took as its theme the return to nature that can be seen as a feature of European revivalist cultures, reflected in the development of artists’ colonies in rural areas that promoted a simple healthy lifestyle. Their art not only foregrounded en plein air landscape painting but also manifested in fresh creativity in the decorative arts and architecture and indeed across all artistic disciplines. At the conference, curators and scholars from as far afield as Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and of course Poland, explored themes ranging from nature and myth, and colour and national artistic identity, to wilderness and violence, and the significance of the rustic hut.

Edyta Barucka, an independent scholar based in Warsaw, explains how the Krakow conference came about. ‘It goes back to the first of these conferences, held at the Ateneum Art Museum in 2009, which was about the myths and visions of history and included study visits to the Finnish artists’ houses – Gallen-Kallela’s house in Tarvaspää and houses in the Tuusula district near Helsinki,’ she says. ‘It was a marvellous experience just to touch these houses, to see them as they were, to learn their respective histories. And it added an important dimension to our research – sharing direct experiences and insights with colleagues. I remember the lineoleum in one of the rooms and wondering if it was from Scotland. It was the first time I thought it would be good to share what we have in Poland.’

At subsequent conferences, delegates became aware of new threads and areas of interest developing. ‘Then, following the Oslo conference in 2014, I revisited the idea of bringing scholars to Poland, in collaboration with the Tatra Museum,’ says Barucka.

Featured image: Koliba Villa (Willa Koliba), designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in 1892–93, is now the Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane
Photo: Tatra Museum Archive

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