Konstanty Laszczka is one of the most outstanding Polish sculptors and ceramic masters. He was a self-made man. His inborn talent, hard work and stubborn pursuit of objectives paved the way for a career that inspired awe and amazement among his contemporaries, and evokes admiration and respect to this day. His attitude to life, readiness to share his knowledge, skills and experience with others as well as his pedagogical talent were inspirational for the future generations of excellent sculptors. We also need to keep in mind that his own artistic legacy is vast and diverse.
Konstanty Laszczka was born on 3 September 1865 to a large peasant family living in Makówiec Duży – a village in the Mazovia region. He was educated in the Tsarist-time primary school of Dobre. He was a diligent pupil with noticeable skills for drawing, whittling, modelling clay portraits and figurines of people and animals. These skills attracted the attention of the local aristocrat Jan Ostrowski, who helped young Konstanty leave for Warsaw.
At the beginning, Laszczka attended the private school of sculpture run by Jan Kryński. Later, he also practiced as a student of Ludwik Pyrowicz. He submitted his works to the exhibitions organized by Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych [Society for the Encouragement of Fine Art] (TZSP) in Warsaw. In 1891, he won the first prize for his sculpture, which earned him a scholarship in Paris to continue his artistic development.
During his five-year stay in the capital of world art, Laszczka attended world-renowned artistic academies, including Académie Julian and École Nationale et Spéciale des Beaux-Arts. He was educated by the most outstanding representatives of the French sculpture art of that time – Antonin Mercié, Alexandre Falguiére and Jean Léon Gérôme. Unfortunately, the scholarship was not enough to satisfy all the material needs of the young artist. Hence, Laszczka earned extra money as a builder, working the night shifts at Paris canals. Laszczka stayed in close relationship the Polish literary and artistic milieus.
When in Paris, Laszczka met Zenon Przesmycki-Miriam, Antoni Kamieński, Stanisław Wyspiański and Józef Mehoffer. These acquaintances and friendships stood the test of time and flourished after his return to Warsaw. During his stay in France, Konstanty Laszczka was under the supervision and correspondence custody of Juliusz Czechowicz – a regular member of TZSP. Czechowicz kept Laszczka informed of what was going on in the domestic artistic environment and how the Polish public and critics reacted to Laszczka’s sculptures that he had sent to the TZSP exhibitions. Czechowicz raised additional funds to support the young artist, cared about his health and encouraged his further growth.
In 1896, Konstanty Laszczka returned to Warsaw to marry Maria Strońska the following year. They had four children: two sons – Czesław and Bogdan and two daughters – Jadwiga and Janina. Until 1899, Laszczka taught drawing at the female boarding schools run by Aniela Hoene-Wrońska and Edward Alexander Ronthaler. He also carried out artistic commissions, for example for the Krasiński family in Opinogóra.
A new period in the artist’s life – the most productive one – began when he was invited to Cracow in 1899. The invitation was an initiative of Julian Fałat, who at that time was in charge of reforming the Cracow School of Fine Arts after the death of Jan Matejko. This is how Laszczka became member of the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts (a new name given to the school in 1900) for the next 35 years. He was elected Head of the Chair of Sculpture. In 1905, was awarded the full professorial title. In the years 1911-1912 and 1929-1930, he was in charge of the Academy as its Rector. He retired in 1935 but he kept lecturing at the Academy. In 1936, he was awarded the title of Honorary Professor of the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts.
The Cracow academic milieu offered the artist favourable conditions for his work. He was also revered by his colleague-artists and clients. The latter submitted numerous commissions for his works.
Professor Laszczka was also a great teacher admired by students. He was supervisor of student associations and president of the examination commission for the teachers of drawing in secondary schools. He was deeply involved in the political and social issues relating to Poland. He actively supported Piłsudski’s Legions and he greatly admired Piłsudski himself. He was member of international associations supporting fine arts. He was co-initiator of Towarzystwo Artystów Polskich „Sztuka” [Society of Polish Artists „Art”] and was its president for long time. He was also member of Towarzystwo Polska Sztuka Stosowana [Polish Society of Applied Art]. He opposed the divide between „pure” and „applied” art. It was his ambition to help all the people to be surrounded by beautiful objects. This is why he promoted ceramic art. In the years 1900-1910, he was artistic supervisor for Józef Niedźwiecki’s factory of tiles and pottery in Dębniki. Later, he cooperated with a similar factory in Skawina. Finally, in 1920, he invested his own funds to launch a ceramic workshop at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts, where he had classes in clay processing and firing. Students produced everyday utensils like candleholders, vases, pots and jugs as well as colourful figurines of animals and fairy creatures and ceramic tiles with portraits of Madonna.
Konstanty Laszczka made his name as a versatile artist. He was a painter, a graphic artist and he drew caricatures for the satirical magazine „Liberum Veto”. He also wrote poetry. His views on art are gathered in his book entitled Gawędy z uczniami [Talks with students]. He also published two handbooks for ceramic arts: in 1927, Ceramika artystyczna [Artistic ceramics], and in 1928:– Keramos. Yet, sculpture remains the most significant part of his artistic legacy.
It was already in Paris that he won considerable fame as an outstanding portraitist. He created over a hundred portrait sculptures in the form of busts, heads, masks, plates and medallions. He portrayed his wife and children, friends and acquaintances and many other of his contemporaries as well as historical figures.
He employed diverse techniques: modelling in clay, stone and wood sculpture, plaster moulding and metal casting. He always strove to exhibit the distinctive features of his models. He created compositions that symbolized various emotional states. He often portrayed his models embedded in their social context. Laszczka remained open to folklore inspirations. He was well accustomed with village life and he appreciated folk culture, which manifested itself in his works. He also created sculptures representing real animals and imaginary hybrids. He designed medals and plaquettes. Some of these were made on commission and more often than not, they were created for special occasions. Yet, some originated out of the artist’s own imagination. His artwork highlighted religious ideas as well, as was the case with the scenes presented on the northern gate to St. Mary’s Basilica in Cracow.
Laszczka’s legacy also includes monumental projects. Unfortunately, many of them remained only on paper. The executed projects include the monument of Henryk Sienkiewicz in Bydgoszcz, two monuments commemorating Józef Piłsudski – in Kolomyia and in Dobre, one monument to commemorate the deceased Piłsudski’s Legionaries, erected near Czarkowy and the fountain-monument in Wisła. All these projects suffered damage in the wake of World War II. Two sepulchral projects – crucial in terms of his artistic legacy – survived until today. One of these is “The Angel of Revenge”, erected in 1910 in Cmentarz Rakowicki [Rakowicki Cemetery] in Cracow, and the other is „Wyzwolenie” [Liberation], situated on the tomb of the Lasocki family in the Warsaw Powązki cemetery, created in 1913.
Laszczka enjoyed a long life. He died on 23 March 1956. He was buried in the family tomb in Cmentarz Rakowicki [Rakowicki Cemetery] in Cracow.
An interesting story relates to Konstanty Laszczka’s planned visit to his family place. In 1935, Laszczka was invited by Jan Zych to visit Dobre.
At that time, Dobre was opening a newly constructed school building, which took a long time and a lot of trouble to complete. Jan Zych – who was the headmaster then – decided that the local community had to invite the renowned native artist to the opening ceremony. On 7 November 1935, an invitation letter was sent to Cracow. The response came the same month. Laszczka wrote that he was amazed and extremely moved by the invitation. Nevertheless, he was unable to accept it. Yet, he managed to visit Dobre the following year. The artist presented the school with a number of his sculptures. They initiated the collection that later grew to become the Community Museum of Konstanty Laszczka in Dobre. The works exhibited there included a bust of the school patron Józef Piłsudski, which was made of bronze and positioned at the front of the school edifice. After World War II, under the Communist regime in Poland, the patron had to change. When Laszczka died, Jan Zych suggested that the school acquire the patronage of the famous expressionist artist. The celebration of granting the primary school in Dobre the patronage of Konstanty Laszczka took place in 1962, accompanied by the ceremony of opening his bust for public exhibition. The patronage was just the first step in fostering close relations between the school and the artist’s family. Thanks to the contact that the school management kept with Laszczka’s family, the artist’s children presented the school with a number of their father’s personal documents, photographs, tools and yet another collection of his sculptures. A special, largest available school lounge was dedicated to store the artefacts, after being duly arranged and secured. The official festive opening of the museum took place in 1971. Due to the demographic boom of the years 1987-1988, the school had to make its whole space available for didactic purposes. Hence, in this period, the collection was on display in the Commune Cultural Centre.
Jan Zych took great care to commemorate the place where Konstanty Laszczka was born. A commemoration stone with information plate was erected in Makówiec Duży in 1977.
Danuta Michalec. Art Historian, The Regional Museum in Siedlce