Kazimierz Stabrowski

Kazimierz Stabrowski was born on November 21, 1869 into a family of wealthy landlords in Kruplany, Grodno Region. Stabrowski’s father was Antoni Stabrowski, a soldier in the Russian military, and his mother was Sofia, who came from the Pileckis family, who were landlords.

Stabrowski spent his childhood in the his parents’ manor in Kruplany. In 1880, he began his studies in the Białystok School of Natural Sciences. Seven years later, in 1887, he continued his studies in the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, where he was taught by Pavel Chistyakov.

Stabrowski was especially successful in his studies. The young painter was noticed very early on in his career and in 1890, he received his first silver medal for his work of art entitled “Man Pulling a Rope”. In 1892, he received two more silver medals for his artistic endeavours, continuing to receive yet another one in 1893. In 1894, Stabrowski received his first gold medal for his thesis entitled “Muhammad in the Desert”, also known as the “Escape from Mecca”. Along with the medal, he was also awarded the title of “First Degree Painter of Works of Classicism”.

Stabrowski became a certified painter, but despite his new status, he continued his studies in the reformed Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. However, this time he was taught by Ilya Repin. In 1896, Stabrowski painted one of his most famous masterpieces – “Portrait of a Dark-Hair Lady”. It was the depiction of his future wife, who he had met in the academy. The painting was immediately brought into the exposition that was hosted in the Academy of Arts and received great public acclaim. Almost 100 years later, in 1989, the work of art was again exhibited in that same location among masterpieces of other famous Polish painters who have graduated from the Academy of Arts.

In summer of 1897, unease was forming in the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, so Stabrowski left for Paris to continue his studies. His teachers were Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens.

While in Paris, Stabrowski developed a great interest in the philosophy of intuitionism and in the ideas of Henri Bergson. He continued to develop his anti-rationalist ideas and notions, which he had picked up during his journeys in the Middle East in 1893. The purpose of this journey was to gather material for his upcoming final project at the academy. After Paris, Stabrowski’s works began emphasising the origins of the deep and intuitive meaning behind the visible reality. Stabrowski’s works of art underlined the inseparable nature of art and philosophy, which is an artistic framework based on Henri Bergson’s idea that art is the ideal of authentic philosophy.

After a year, Stabrowski returned to St. Petersburg and became an annual participant of the spring art expositions at the Academy of Arts. In 1900, he also took part in the Global Art Exposition in Paris, where he was awarded a silver medal for his artistic composition entitled “Silence of a Village”.

The painter lived a rather active life, travelling from one exposition to the other, showing off his masterpieces in St. Petersburg and the rest of Europe, including Lithuania. The 20th century was a significant time for Stabrowski because high-level art galleries in Europe began purchasing his artwork. For example, in 1901, following an international art exposition, the Munich Neue Pinakothek acquired Stabrowski’s “White Night in Petersburg”, while the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Venice purchased “Twilight in Lazenki” in 1903, also after an international art exposition.

Stabrowski was not only a painter, but also an art critic. He primarily reviewed expositions hosted in St. Petersburg and wrote articles on art and philosophy for publications that discussed culture.

In 1902, Stabrowski moved to Warsaw and married his fiancée Julia Janiszewska. Even though the painter lived in Warsaw, he typically spent his summers painting in Lūznava, Latvia. During that same year, Stabrowski became a member of the Sztuka Polish Fellowship of Art.

It is believed that the time he spent in Warsaw was the most active and the most mature stage in his career as an artist and pedagogue. In 1903, Stabrowski established a School of Arts and became its first headmaster and teacher. Throughout his career as a pedagogue, he had passed on his expertise to many famous artists, one of whom was Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis.

His interactions with the student from Lithuania drew him and his wife closer to the cultural life of Lithuania and its preservation. Stabrowski frequently visited Lithuania between 1907 and 1912, taking part in the organisation of the first art expositions in Lithuania. During this time, Stabrowski often stated that he considered himself a Lithuanian, responsible for the cultural life of the nation and the promotion of national art.

In 1909, Stabrowski resigned from the position of Headmaster in the Warsaw School of Art and spent most of his time travelling until World War I. He travelled to France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, the Canary Islands, Italy and its islands. 

When travelling to the Italian Islands, especially in Capri, he was actively involved as a member of the esoterist community. The painter was interested in the direct experiences that enabled people to comprehend the deepest of truths and was attempting to express them in his works.

During World War I, Stabrowski returned to St. Petersburg, where he hosted two personal expositions in 1915 and 1916, both of which received a lot of praise from the Russian media. The painter was actively involved in the cultural life of the Poles who were living in Russia at that moment and he also maintained close relations with his Russian colleagues. He also became a member of the art fellowship that Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi established.

After the war, Stabrowski returned to Warsaw and started travelling again. This time he travelled to Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Bosnia, Sweden, Norway, and Carpi. The travels and all that the painter had experienced during them were the inspiration to establish “Sursum Corda” (Lat. lift up your hearts), a fellowship of visual artists and mystics, in 1922. Mysticism was by far one of the most important elements in his artistic career and it continued to be so until his death in 1929.

Artistic Characteristics

During the early stages of his career (1887–1895), Stabrowski primarily painted portraits and landscapes that were strongly influenced by the so-called emotional Russian landscape.

In the last years of his studies at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg and later in France and Warsaw, the painter was greatly influenced by occult-mystical phenomena and his works became fantastic, mystic, and symbolic. However, these themes developed only at the end of Stabrowski’s life. Stabrowski maintained close personal relations with Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian esotericist and pioneer of anthroposophy. He was also friends with several Russian theosophers.

Stabrowski really liked to travel and to record his impressions and feelings in his works. The painter was especially fascinated by Italian landscapes and architecture, the exotic look of the Canary Islands, the nature of Sweden and Norway, and the mystery of the majestic Tatra Mountains. His travels inspired many paintings, but they vary in style. Some depict realistic emotions, bright colours, and specific elements of the Secession style, while others are express the emotions of esoteric landscapes, instilled with symbolism and fantasy. However, regardless of style, Stabrowski’s works maintain a unified character.

The emotional and perhaps most mesmerising nine-piece collection of paintings entitled „Storm“ (1907–1910) is considered a prophecy of the fate that had befallen Poland. Some time after creating the collection of paintings, Stabrowski renamed it into „A Feeling of Things to Come“. The collection of paintings was exhibited in its entirety in the Fourth Lithuanian Art Exhibit in 1910 and after this in Alupka, where it was lost during the revolution. 

Before his career was abruptly ended, Stabrowski returned to travelling to locations with mysticism-laden landscapes. For several years before his death, one of the most frequent motifs in his works was the prophet of death – the blackbird. Stabrowski seemed to have felt his nearing end, but that may have been because the painter was very much interested in experiencing existence.

Reference: Art album 'Kazimierz Stabrowski, the Teacher of M. K. Čiurlionis’. Kaunas: M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum, 2016, P. 19-21, 24.