Gerard Wagner Exhibition 2006

On the 3rd August 2006 at the Palac Sztuki (Palace for Art) in Cracow, Poland, an exhibition of Gerard Wagner’s paintings was opened in a friendly mood with great style and ceremony! 100+ people attended, including members of the Anthroposophical Society in Poland, friends from Europe and others visitors. Elisabeth Wagner was kept busy all evening signing catalogues which are given away at the vernissage according to polish tradition!

Diane Roman from Texas, USA, who has just completed her painting training here in Dornach, was instrumental in initiating and organizing this special event. When in Cracow last year, she went to the Art Palace armed with a catalogue of Gerard Wagner’s 1997 show at the Hermitage, St Petersburg and asked to speak to the director. He happened to be there and in a short time had agreed to put on the exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of Gerard Wagner’s birth. It just shows what turning up in person can do!

The Palak Sztuki is owned by the Society of the Friends of Fine Arts in Cracow.

As readers may like to know something about this interesting building and what it represents, I enclose an excerpt from the introduction printed in the catalogue, by the President of the Society, Mr Zbigniew Kazimierz Witek:

“The Palace, intended to be the seat of the Society of the Friends of Fine Arts, was designed as a place of the cult of art – a temple of art. Its façade is decorated with a monumental portal. A wide ornamental border designed by Jacek Malczewski runs along its walls. The border presents a procession of figures led by a victorious and a defeated Pegasus, which stands for lucky or unsuccessful artists respectively.

The Palace was constructed within a few months at the turn of the 19th century. Its style is a combination of Classicism and Art Nouveau. It is an example of a successful alliance of architecture and sculpture, a harmonious result of cooperation between artists representing different artistic disciplines.

The most outstanding Polish artists including Janek Malczewski, the Czaijowski brothers and Wlodzimierz Tetmajer decorated the Palace. The Society of Polish Artists “ Sztuka”, which was defined as “ the aristocracy of Polish art”, used to hold its exhibitions on the premises of the Palace. Their high artistic level and value strengthened the prestige of the Society and added grandeur to its overall objective, namely “ to support and encourage artists to make even greater progress and to educate audience how to appreciate true art”.

In the Palace many works of famous and acclaimed foreign artists have been exhibited. In August and September 2006 we will present an exhibition of more than 130 paintings of the excellent artist Gerard Wagner from Switzerland.

I thank Mrs Elisabeth Wagner for lending her husband’s paintings and biographical documents as well as for her help in organizing this exciting and innovative artist’s exhibition for the first time in Poland.”

The Palace of Art holds a central position in Cracow’s old town and stands on the edge of the narrow park created on the site of the old town wall. The path through the park under the refreshing shade of trees encircles the old town and leads the visitor effortlessly to the right places! Passing the ancient university with its impressive courtyard – Copernicus was a student there – reminds one of the fact that Cracow was a centre of learning. Many important early developments within the fields of medicine and other natural sciences had their birth here. Churches too of course, and many other historical places of interest stand near the edge of the park.

It seems significant that Gerard Wagner’s work, developed out of Rudolf Steiner’s ‘seeds’ for a new art of painting, should be shown in a country whose destiny is deeply bound up with the development of the consciousness soul.

The Paintings

The visitor enters the large gallery and is met by 50 magnificent examples of the painter’s early period, ca.1950-1956! The long wall radiates deep vibrant colours and glowing darknesses. The combination of paintings are united in an overall mood of dramatic cosmic battle, of trials and glories of initiation, of fights with the dragon, all dominated by the great Baptism paintings of those early years. In flaming reds and glorious yellows, the Baptist stands like a victor of light over the dark tones of earth. In other examples, the Baptism itself is almost hidden within deep dark chasms of brown and black which receive a river of red flowing from the crosses of the Crucifixion. Angels towering above in all colours appear as great guardians of mystery happenings. Large altar paintings – triptychs -on the 2 neighbouring walls add to the grandeur and glory of the mood.

On the opposite walls are 2 groups of paintings. Softer, subtle tones of colour draw you in to these more intimate, smaller pictures from the painter’s earliest period. Mother and Child and the Mother and Child with John speak through their tender and loving gestures. Perhaps more than any other theme, the Madonna and Child motif runs through the whole of Gerard Wagner’s work like a kind of leitmotiv.

These paintings are complimented by the mood of mystery in other small works which include the Raising of Lazurus and the Crucifixion.

The other group of pictures is essentially made up of nature moods which are relaxing and refreshing. The cool shining blues of Trees by Waterfalls, and deer dancing in blue-green moonlight are accompanied by delicate Madonna motifs; she appears “above the lake” or “about the trees” in the heavens as Persephone the mother of nature, interwoven with the creative power of the elements and the plants and animals. Wandering and Resting Herds are united in an animal group-soul of warm red angel clouds, and a charming early picture of St George who rides triumphantly through the air with his lance, on a violet blue horse!

Entering the next gallery a feeling of lightness and joy greets the visitor.

One meets the Madonna motif again, but from later periods, and she is joined by the Plant motif. What unites the two is a lovely series of “plant metamorphosis” in which the rose transforms, in small steps, into the image of the Mother and Child. The Secret of the Rose is the title of the series and one feels enlivened and thrilled watching the delicate steps of transformation. A doorway seems to open leading the viewer into the realm of elemental chemistry and magic. The effect of plant colours, used by the painter since the 70’s, adds to the sunny experience.

On another wall are 5 paintings grouped together under the title “Birth of the Light”.

Through Madonnas, the Christ child’s birth, and a beautiful tree motif, one flows with ease from one colour event to the next. Both the Madonna motifs were painted in the 90’s and are good examples of the developmental changes in the artist’s work right up to the 90’s. The motif is now almost only colour. The form and motif have for the most part vanished and changed into an astounding richness of pure and mixed tones of colour held together in perfect balance on the two dimensional plane.

On the facing wall three “Seed” paintings also from the 90’s, almost sing out with purity and radiance. The theme of the remaining wall is the Secret of the Cross with some wonderful examples of the late work.

The “Metamorphosis” gallery has work from different periods. Early examples of metamorphosis arising from research into two of Rudolf Steiner’s watercolours, – Archetypal Plant and Archetypal Animal, combine with beautiful paintings of individual plants from the 80’s and 90’s. ‘Sketches’, showing stages in the build-up of plant sequences from the painter’s middle period, give a taste of the methodical way in which he worked and through which he was able to gain knowledge of the relationship of colour and form.

The last two smaller galleries show work exclusively from the 90’s. To find a theme or to give these paintings names seems impossible. Colour has became the theme and one can sense the awe inspiring capacities achieved through 70+ years of dedication to the colour and to Rudolf Steiner’s indications for the development of a new style in art.

To do this last period justice another show would need to happen in a large space where only work from the 90’s could be shown.

Caroline Chanter

(The exhibition may be extended until the end of October.)