The town Krynica Zdroj (Krynica-Zdrój) is the pearl of Polish health resorts. It's also the home of one of the greatest naive artists in the world, Nikifor. Wintertime in Krynica, you can hear snow squeaking under people’s shoes.
A man appears, wearing a hat, with a cane and a wooden box full of painting tools. This is a scene from Krzysztof Krauze's film entitled "My Nikifor", depicting the last years of the life of the "Matejko of Krynica".
Nikifor didn't want to live anywhere apart from Krynica. Twice resettled after World War II, he kept returning to his hometown, making little of the official decrees.
As portrayed in the movie, he walked through town daily, searching for themes. With a solicitation letter hanging around his neck, he accosted patients and tourists, trying to sell them his pictures.
Although most of them didn't see the artist in him, it never discouraged him from painting. It was a passion to which he dedicated his entire life.
Krynica Zdroj History
Krynica Zdroj is in the valley of the Kryniczanka stream, at the foot of the Parkowa mountain (741 meters), between the Sądecki Beskids and the Lower Beskids.
The area was the land of the Lemkos, an ethnic group created due to the mixing of the people of Polish, Ruthenian and Wallachian origin. Nikifor’s mother was a Lemko. His father was one of the artists visiting Krynica (rumor has it that it was Aleksander Gierymski).
Krynica has long been famous for its excellent medicinal waters. A variety of alkaline acidic waters with a high level of trace elements.
The man behind the spa in Krynica in the 2nd half of the 19th century was Józef Dietl, a professor at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
In this period the most interesting resort buildings in the center appeared. Examples are the Old Mineral Baths, the Neo-Renaissance Old Spa House with a ballroom, as well as many pump rooms where patients could drink mineral waters.
During the interwar period, Krynica became the largest Polish health resort and a favorite vacation spot for artists and politicians. Among them was the opera singer Jan Kiepura, who built the still existing Patria boarding house, a true gem of modernism.
Wooden Villas and Boarding Houses in Krynica Zdroj
Krynica is also famous for its 19th-century wooden villas and boarding houses in the so-called Swiss style. This was where Nikifor’s mother used to work as hired help.
Porches supported by pillars, verandas and arcades, balconies with ornamental railings, bay windows and turrets, decorative window and door frames, and form-work made of cut boards characterize this style.
The most stylish villas are in the town center. Examples are streets as Bulwary Dietla and Kościuszki, as well as at Piłsudskiego and Pułaskiego streets.
You can walk (or ride the funicular) to the top of the Parkowa mountain, in the center of Krynica. Along its wooded slopes, a network of bending alleys leads to the summit. As you walk to the top, you can see medicinal water boreholes and tanks, the forest shrine of Our Lady Queen of Krynica Springs, 19th century wooden gazebos, waterholes and ponds.
Particularly beautiful is Łabędzi Staw (Swan Pond), its shores surrounded by ancient trees rarely seen in Poland. On a clear day, from the top you see the beautiful panorama of the Sądecki and the Lower Beskids, the Great Fatra and the Tatra Mountains.
Krynica-Zdroj and Nikifor
It's impossible to discover Krynica without looking at it through the eyes of its most famous admirer. Nikifor immortalized his town in countless pictures. He took particular pleasure in painting villas and boarding houses, churches, health resorts and pump rooms.
Some buildings have only survived in his pictures. While following the traces of Nikifor, you'll find the home of Stefania Krynicka in Krynica Wieś. This is where the artist lived in the 1950's.
You can still visit the wooden house of the Ferk family at Zieleniewskiego street. This is where Nikifor had his painting table under the kitchen window, as well as the wooden hut at Puławskiego street, which was his summer studio.
Nikifor himself, cast in bronze, is sitting on a wall in the town center. He holds a brush in his hand, has his characteristic suitcase, and a dog.
In 1995, in the 19th-century Romanówka villa at Bulwary Dietla, Nikifor's Museum opened as a branch of the Regional Museum in Nowy Sącz. It boasts the world's largest collection of paintings and memorabilia of the artist. It has over 1,000 exhibits. The Ukrainian painter Roman Turyn discovered Nikifor’s talent, who often visited Krynica.
He discovered that Nikifor had artistic intuition and great sensitivity to coloration, and very skillful colors of his works impressed him. It's thanks to him that Nikifor’s works came to Paris in 1932 as part of a collective exhibition. Yet it didn't improve the artist's situation, who still lived in solitude and severe poverty.
His slurred, inarticulate speech, active tuberculosis, eccentricity and illiteracy prevented him from normal contacts with other people and consigned him to the margins of society.
First solo exhibition
It was only in the 1950's that Krakow art patrons Ella and Andrzej Banach took Nikifor under their wing. The first solo exhibition organised by them in Paris in 1959 marked the beginning of Nikifor’s international career. His works went, among others, to Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, the United States and Israel.
Art experts analysed his paintings, and poets wrote sonnets about him. His life became more tolerable due to the efforts of a Krynica based artist Marian Włosiński, who became his legal guardian, providing him with his own workshop, shelter and health care.
The peak of Nikifor’s career was a large exhibition in Zachęta gallery in Warsaw in 1967. Nikifor died a year later in a health resort in Folusz near Jasło. He worked until the end. He's buried at the Krynica cemetery.
Nikifor was an admirer not only of Krynica, but of the whole Lemkivshchyna region. The artist depicted the beauty of his small homeland in a very suggestive way. It was a hardworking man, and he treated his work as if it were a mission. He had no other occupation. He painted tens of thousands of paintings. Among them, experts have identified several thematic cycles.
The most valuable are the Beskid landscapes from the 1920's and the 1930's, with provincial railway stations, tracks and hills. They were the result of his countless train trips (usually without a ticket), which Nikifor loved.
His best works present buildings of monumental dimensions and extraordinary richness of forms.
As a lover of architecture, Nikifor painted offices, stations, factories, churches, synagogues, and Orthodox churches, where he had seen paintings for the first time as a child. Other central themes include the interior of a kitchen and the images of saints and bishops.
More about Nikifor
Nikifor felt that as an artist he was someone extraordinary, deserving a special place in society. He presented himself as an elegant man in a hat, suit and tie, in a uniform or wearing liturgical vestments. These self-portraits were a way for him to compensate for what he had never experienced.
The earliest photographs of Nikifor at the exhibition are from the 1920's and the 1930's. They depict a man of small stature, with a Chaplin-like mustache and round glasses, usually at work or with paintings in his hands.
One picture of Nikifor’s mother survived , a face without a smile, a scarf on the head. The artist’s memorabilia include caps and hats, a transistor radio, a watch, glasses, a walking stick, and a sketchbook. And something very special, his workshop.
Nikifor couldn't afford any decent materials. He painted with children’s watercolors and crayons, often using both sides of almost anything he could find.
Old school notebooks, official forms, cardboard, wrapping paper, old posters, and even cigarette packs.
"Dear guests. I, the undersigned naïve artist known as the Matejko of Krynica, in other words, Nikifor, ask you to buy my pictures or to offer me your help. I am a globally recognized artist. I had exhibitions in Paris and Amsterdam. One of my pictures would be the best possible souvenir from Krynica anyone can get", one reads in one of his solicitation letters, through which Nikifor communicated with people (his friends wrote them for him).
In his poem entitled "Nikifor", Zbigniew Herbert wrote that "crumbs of rainbow live" in this unusual house with squeaky floors. One can almost see the artist sitting at the window over a piece of paper with a brush in his hand, staring at the rooftops of Krynica.