Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz with Nena Stachurska - fot. Wladyslaw Jan Grabski, 1931
gelatin-silver print, vintage print/baryta paper, 18.6 x 12.8 cm (image)
described with a pencil on the reverse: ‘Witkacy z Nena Stachurska | 1931’
Hammer price: 32 000 PLN 7 456 EUR
Estimate: 40 000 - 70 000 PLN 9 319 - 16 309 EUR
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NoteIn Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s view, it was not his photography or portrait painting – that is, the forms of art emphasized by art history – but primarily theater and the creations which evoked metaphysical feelings that deserved the name of true Art. Nevertheless, in hindsight, the areas of his artistic life which were less appreciated by him – which does not mean he paid less attention to them – also turn out to be significant. In practice, Witkiewicz often blurred the boundaries between the arts, and he was interested in the media which he supposedly saw as inferior. He started photographing as a teenager: he was curious about and documented the steam locomotives which appeared in Zakopane as the railway was built; that shows he was interested in photography since the beginnings of his artistic activity. In the 1980s, Piotr Piotrowski noted: ‘Historians of philosophy can no longer omit Witkiewicz in their works, just like he has not been ignored for many years now by historians of literature and theatre, or of painting and theory of art. Historians of photography have also been claiming a place for him for many years’ (as cited in: Piotr Piotrowski, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Warsaw 1989, p. 105). From today’s perspective, Witkiewicz has definitely achieved what a historian of art mentioned in Witkacy’s time: a place in the history of Polish photography.
For Witkacy – a painter, playwright, writer, and philosopher – photography was a part of a kind of a social ritual. Witkiewicz loved meetings during which, together with the invited guests, he played various characters, which can, off course, be linked with his passion for theater. The shows were frequently accessorized with appropriate costumes, and the masquerades were captured in photographs. One important phenomenon for those events were Witkacy’s ‘faces’. He had a predilection for capers, antis, jokes – often upsetting for the other participants – and for all the things which in the literature about him are called the ‘theater of life’, created by the artist. Witkiewicz played ever new characters in order to draw attention to himself, convey a special message to his companions, or simply kill boredom. He assumed various poses, changed characters swiftly, transformed before the viewers’ eyes. It is worth noting that such transformations of personality were a part of the mythology about himself he was creating. They were also captured in the photographs which show him in an array of roles, in different costumes, wearing, so to speak, a series of masks. For decades, he was willing to present himself in new versions, which was, in a sense, a part of his artistic output. In one photograph, taken about 1901, teenage Witkiewicz presented himself – as is written on the back of the photo – as Prince Devonshire. In 1938, he took two self-portraits, one of which he signed Dr Jekyll, and the other one – Mr Hyde, in reference to Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella and its main motif of a split personality and transitions between the two personas. (Cf. Ewa Franczak, Stefan Okolowicz, Przeciw Nicosci. Fotografie Stanislawa Ignacego Witkiewicza – English: Against the Nothingness. Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s Photographs – Krakow 1986, pp. 25–27). Metamorphoses and masquerades were not, then, just ‘antics’, but they were also a visualization of Witkacy’s beliefs about his own nature and personality.
One of the photographs presented in this catalog was made in Zakopane in 1931. In it, Witkacy is wearing Mongolian clothes, and he is accompanied by Nena (Jadwiga) Stachurska. She was one of Witkacy’s partners and the model for tens of pastel portraits. In the photograph, Witkacy stretches his eyelids, probably in order to look more Asian.
The next photograph was also made in Zakopane, in 1932. It shows Witkiewicz with Inka (Janina) Turowska, another partner. In the photograph, Witkacy is wearing patterned clothes and suggests that he is strangling the woman next to him. Their smiles suggest a mystification which does not even have to look authentic.