The main subject of this article is the concept of national art that was formulated by Jerzy Warchałowski in his texts. In many earlier studies attempts to draw on folk art or to develop a national style or a national formula of modernism were discounted as inferior, provincial or distorted modernism. Meanwhile, the historical interpretation of Warchałowski’s ideas proposed in this paper aims to connect it with the wide stream of post-Enlightenment criticism of modern formation and the multiplicity of initiatives and regenerative programs as well as the multi-faceted and wide-ranging so-called ‘life reform’. Seen from this perspective, the apparent paradoxes of modernism become understandable – the simultaneous presence of elements that are both futuristic and nihilistic, revolutionary and conservative, romantic and classical, the coexistence of an admiration for the technique and also its condemnation, the criticism of historicism and the reaching for tradition, the vision of modern society and the appeal to the primitive way of life. From this point of view, drawing on the resources of the folk culture as the basis of national tradition is situated in the very centre of modernist debates and modern artistic movements. Warchałowski’s concept of decorative art is inscribed in the general modernist vision, defined as a wide-ranging artistic activity aimed at shaping man’s living space, particularly his house or flat. In addition to the aesthetic aspect, the practical (functional) and health-related (hygienic) dimensions of this activity were of key importance to Warchałowski. It was also to have an educational and economic meaning as an important segment of the national economy. The analysis of Warchałowski’s ideas in the text suggests necessary shifts in the genealogy of the Polish modernism. Very important in this regard was the milieu of Kraków’s reformers of art gathered around the Technical-Industrial Museum of Adrian Baraniecki, The Society for Polish Applied Art, and the magazine Architect, influenced by William Morris’s idea of the revival of traditional handicrafts as a tool of the social and national regeneration. The impact of this idea is linked with the direct reception of Hermann Muthesius’s program of renewal of handicrafts and architecture and, more broadly, with Werkbund influencing the artistic, organizational, and publishing practice of that milieu. The latter had its own tradition of reflection on the national culture and folk art and reciprocated the important architectural ideas of Gotfried Semper and the concept of the garden city of Ebenezer Howard, crucial for the members of the Werkbund. The whole of this process was part of the modernist regenerative ideas on the role of art, but also connected art wit various reforming contexts related in a more or less direct way to the ‘reform of life’, characteristic of the entire European modernism, especially in the German-speaking countries. Warchałowski’s regenerative idea of drawing on folk roots and basic principles of art to create modern art, which also meant national art, was in the first decades of the twentieth century not so much a unique or an individual concept, but rather a typical way of thinking about the role of art in the modernist movement in Western Europe, and in the countries of the Central and Eastern Europe created after the end of World War I.
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