When visiting the Gallery of 20th-Century Polish Art in the NMK, we come across enormous drawings, measuring almost 4.5 and 7 meters, created in watercolour, gouache and pastel techniques. These monumental designs were authored by Stanisław Wyspiański and Józef Mehoffer.
Such an impressive scale is related to the function of the works – they are the cardboard designs for stained glass windows. The works on our display are the designs for the cathedral windows in Fribourg and in the Wawel Castle.
How were they created? Stained glass windows are created in several stages. First, sketches are created to find the right composition and colours. Then, the finished design – previously approved by the customer – is transferred onto cardboard. The cardboard must reflect the future stained glass proportions 1:1. Artists are only partially involved in the subsequent stage of creating the artwork by selecting the glass. The remaining work, namely cutting and binding the glass, is carried out in a stained glass atelier. The stained glass window is divided into quarters – smaller parts placed between the window partitions. We can notice it while looking at the cardboard design for the Casimir the Great stained glass window prepared by Stanisław Wyspiański for the Wawel Cathedral. Note the king’s head – it is placed precisely in one rectangular quarter.
Some of us will never be given the chance to visit the Swiss Fribourg and admire the stained glass windows designed by Józef Mehoffer for the local cathedral. However, we have the opportunity to see how the pastel design begins to glow in its glass life – after many years, it was decided to implement some of Stanisław Wyspiański’s designs for the chancel of the Wawel Cathedral. Three stained glass windows adorn the Wyspiański 2000 Pavilion, depicting Casimir the Great, Henry the Pious and St Stanislaus, while the cardboard designs for these works are displayed in the Gallery of 20th-Century Polish Art.
I recommend a combined visit to the Main Building of the NMK and to the Pavilion to see the design, the artist’s idea and its implementation.
Joanna Zaguła – art historian, Krakow city guide, employee of the Promotion Department of the MNK