In the old days the interior of peasant smoky huts, without chimneys, was decorated with colorful paintings on glass hanging in a row on the wall.
Even in the dim light they looked bright like a bunch of field flowers, like glossy wings of enormous butterflies. They were believed to protect the home from fire, to be of help in trouble and hard times; the Saints portrayed in these paintings were the family’s patrons.
Respected and collected for generations they finally had to give in to the invasion of cheap oil prints and devotional religious articles bought at Church Fairs.
Nowadays, gathered in the galleries and Ethnographic museums, they play a different role.
They tell us not only of the namelless gifted artists but also, are of great artistic value and surprisingly rich in forms of expression.
The painters were the heirs to the guild painting of old days; their approach to art was that of artisans; they often produced series of paintings for sale at fairs and church patron’s festivals.
The Centers of painting production of this kind were usually situated in famous church festival places such as Czestochowa, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and Lezajsk.
In some instances a painting Center was created where raw materials were easily available.
Such was the case with the painting on glass which was practised in the neigbourchood of glassworks of Silesia and Spisz.
Along with painting centers usually consisting of several workshops, there were also individual workshops mainly in small towns and even villages. They painted mostly for chapels and churches, but accepted also commisioned work for peasants who were principal buyers.
As early as eighteen century it was customary to have a number of Saints’ paintings in the main room of the house, at least, so it seems from peasants’ inventories which mention several oil paintings and several or more “paper” ones. The paintings were hung in a row opposite the entrance. The bottom edge of the paintings was supported with a batten nailed to the wall, and the top edge was secured to the ceiling in such a way as to incline the paintings towards the onlooker.
To possess Saints’ paintings hanging in a row on the wall was not only an evidence of the piety of the residents, it was also the result of public opinion influence in the neighborhood: it would not do to begrudge money for this purpose.
Peddlars and salesmen at church festivals knew how to make use of this attitude of peasants and supplied religious paintings to them in quantity. Their trade has rather a long tradition and dates back to the beginning of eighteen century according to historical sources.
The painters themselves did not generally take active part in selling paintings. They preferred to paint on commission and only the unsold, was disposed of through the intermediary of traders. Perhaps, it would not be considered proper for the painters to give time to the business of selling their works.
Painting was done by series. The Artist, having prepared several paintings, took a pot, say with red paint and covered with it those places on all the paintings which had to be red. In a similar manner he covered, in turn, other spaces. The ordinary covering with paint was, sometimes, done for the master by other persons, e.g. apprentices or members of the family. The painter’s wife or daughters often specialized in flower-piece decorations, but painting of human features, the most difficult task, was usually performed by the master himself.
Not every painter however, was able to do so.
In large centres of painting, such as e.g. Czestochowa, a less skilled painter might ask a more able colleague to paint a human face for him.
In spite of the technical limitations, paintings on glass display a great variety of artistic achievement and it is difficult, at first sight, to classify them appropriately. Careful scrutiny, however, permits of an attempt at grouping some paintings into sets on the basis of common assumptions.
What makes the paintings on glass continue to exert aesthetic influence?
It is certainly not the themes or cultural elements that played an important role when they were created. They owe their lasting significance to great artistic values and the affinity to contemporary art, like Na´ve painting, discovered in France at the beginning of nineteen century, in the works of primitive artists led by Henri Rousseau a customs official who became a kind of precursor of modern art. So the paintings on glass have values affined to the ideas underlying contemporary, plastic arts.
Painters on glass had no contact with the artistic and spiritual culture of their period, but they had their own vision of the world in which they maintained purity and exceptional earnestness, carried over instinctively in an independent and, at times, perfect artistic form.
Their great sense of color, the application of flat brush strokes of primary colors in a decorative outline, sincerity in making conscious deformation to emphasize expression or attain singleness of composition, these are the fundamental features of the contemporary art.
In 1888, Paul Gauguin, when formulating the principles of “synthesis” in painting, mentions these features as necessary to strive for in painting; they were aimed at in the so-called school “de Port-Aven” in Brittany.
Two characteristic methods of painting are developed there. The “Cloisonnisme” consisting in isolating the broad surfaces of uniform pure colors, set in decorative and forceful arabesques of the drawing; and the “Synthetisme” renouncing the details and the direct experience with the object in order to represent its essential form, i.e.”idea”.
As a consequence, and return to primitivism, the aesthetics of symbolism draws incitement from the above conceptions and thus renews the outlook on art. It is therefore, not surprising that painters became interested in primitive and neo-primitive art possessing the freshness of experience and the artistic ideas complying with the new aesthetics.
The greatest artists and men of letters; Appolinaire, Picasso, Delaunay,
Le Corbusier, discovered and defended this neo-primitive art great exhibitions which were held in Paris,New York,Bern,Zurich.
Deep relationship was discovered between the striving of the present-day artists and individual achievements of those primitive artists like Rousseau, Bauchant, Bombois, Seraphine, Vivin and others.
Sincerity was characteristic of all neo-primitive painters; their vision was often na´ve, their true feelings were carried over in, at times, very original artistic form. The perfect sense of color, devotion to detail and uniformity of composition, led them to instinctive rendering of their own, often childishly fairy-like, vision of the world.
Agnieszka T. Solawa
Rondebosh-Cape Town-South Africa - May/21/1985