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Lost Paradise in old lithographs

 

 

In 1798 Alois Senefelder of Munich discovered a process of printing images which he called lithography (he used a porous Bavarian limestone for his plate; hence lithography from Greek lithos, stone). Thanks to lithography, we can have an idea what things, long gone, looked like, and sigh in regret that so much beauty has been lost.

 

The secret of lithographic printing (in the lithographic process, ink is applied to a grease-treated image on the flat printing surface; nonimage, blank areas, which hold moisture, repel the lithographic ink; this inked surface is then printed  either directly on paper, by means of a special press, as in most fine-art printmaking, or onto a rubber cylinder, as in commercial printing  tr.) was closely held until 1818, when Senefelder published A Complete Course of Lithography. Lithography became a popular medium among the artists who worked in France during the mid-1800s; Francisco de Goya, Theodore Gericault, and Eugene Delacroix were among the first lithographers. Honore Daumier was far more prolific, however, making about 4,000 designs, ranging from newspaper caricatures to major prints.

But it was not only artists who became fascinated with lithography  in many aristocratic and upper and middle-middle class homes across Europe it developed into a fashionable pastime at parties or in the secluded studies or in the comfortable sitting-rooms to look at lithographs of romantically depicted nature with violent storms, mysterious caves and grottoes, fantastically shaped rocks, exotic animals and other wonders of the world. Even with the advent of photography, lithography remained a major source of visual information until the end of the nineteenth century and even later.

Lithography proved to have a great potential not only as an artistic means of expression but also as a relatively cheap visual aid in the sphere of education  education understood in very broad terms. Historically minded people could look at the imaginary portraits of the gods and heroes of antiquity; geographically minded people could enjoy landscapes of distant lands; patriotically minded people acquired lithographic portraits of their national heroes and pictures of the native land. In this sense, lithographs contributed to the growth of national awareness in many countries of Europe.

In the nineteenth-century Poland, patriotic feelings ran high. The country was divided among Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany, and hardly there was a Pole who did not strive for independence. Outside Poland, saying a Pole was equal to saying a Polish patriot. In major Polish cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, and Lviv (at that time Lviv was a Polish city but the part of Poland where Lviv was situated was, in its turn, under the dominion of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire), many series of lithographs devoted to Polish architectural, cultural and historical landmarks, historic events and Polish landscapes were published. They were called upon to present a heroic image of the legendary Rzecz Pospolita, Polish Commonwealth. In the 1830s, one of the biggest printing houses in Lviv, Pillers, invited a promising Czech lithographer, Karol Auer, to come over and make the most of his artistic talent and lithographic skills.

 

The first known lithographs produced by Auer date to the year 1837. Soon after that date, he found himself in much demand, and in the early 1840s, the local newspaper Lvivyanyn began regularly publishing Auers lithographs, among them portraits of Polish historical personages. The printing house Auer worked for published portraits of prominent figures of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, mostly of Polish descent. Also, Auer created, and the Pillers printing house printed, lithographs with the views of the city of Lviv and of its historic and architectural landmarks  the City Hall; monasteries and churches; romantic ruins; parks and estates; fairs held in the square in front of the monumental Church of St Yura (St George).

Auer was by far not the only artist in Lviv who produced cityscapes. There were quite a few professional artists and amateurs who drew and painted views of Lviv. Among the amateurs were even members of the nobility, Duchesses Sabina Darnicka and Gortensia Malachowska among them. Anthony Lange, a writer and artist, was particularly popular for his architectural views and landscapes of Lviv and Halychyna. His Collection of Most Beautiful Places in Galicia, published in 1823, and his Collection of the Best Known Parks published in 18251827, were lithographic landmarks.

In 18371838, the Pillers printing house released an album of lithographs, Galicia in Pictures, with Auer being one of the contributing artists. Piller himself supplied a promotional introduction to the album which said in part: Hardly there is a place in Europe of some historic and natural significance which has not been portrayed in paintings or drawings. Many such places in other parts of the world have been similarly portrayed, so that now looking at these pictures we can easily visualize the beauty or exotic attractiveness of palaces, waterfalls, architectural landmarks, mountains and other places of interest, sometimes even in minute details. Our Galicia which is no less rich in romantic and picturesque places and in historic and architectural landmarks, has not been sufficiently portrayed yet in the works of art. Even a province which cannot boast as many natural and man-made marvels would have attracted much more artistic attention than Galicia has done so far. That is why we are publishing an album of lithographs for the enjoyment of those who are not indifferent to the attractiveness of their native land, the achievements of the past, or the scenic beauty of nature.

The album contained seventy three pages of the text and forty eight lithographs, but it presented only a tiny portion of what could be  and should be  captured in pictures for the edification and enjoyment of the contemporaries and descendants. Lviv was particularly rich in architectural and historical landmarks but practically every town in the Land of Halychyna  Galicia  boasted several landmarks worthy to be captured in art, be it the building of the city hall, or an old church, or a castle. In every village there were picturesque peasant houses, or an old church of most unusual architecture; there were beautiful estates with old palaces surrounded by huge parks with age-old trees. Most of the architectural landmarks in Halychyna had one common feature  they blended harmoniously into the nature around them. The same can be said of peasant houses and other buildings with no architectural pretensions. The local people had inherited from their ancestors the ability to harmoniously co-exist with nature, and in the absence of the particularly disruptive or ruinous outside influences they had happily retained this ability for many centuries. The local settlements grew naturally, like trees grow. Even more ambitious architectural projects followed the general pattern. Owners of the bigger estates usually had their palaces built and parks laid out in accordance with the principles of the heavenly garden. The owner of an estate regarded himself as a creator, a god, who shapes the environment so that it would correspond to his idea of beauty. He hired architects and gardeners and carefully explained what he wanted his estate be turned into, and in most cases, the results were impressive, worthy to be portrayed in art. Even those estates which came into being fairly recently, soon developed a romantic and bucolic air.

Unfortunately, there has been little preserved of this bucolic world of Halychyna  wars and revolutions have taken their heavy tall, and in more recent times neglect and negligence have almost completely done away with what has been spared by the wars.

Even most of the illustrations of what Halychyna used to look like, were inadvertently destroyed. In 1873, when preparations for the celebrations of one hundredth anniversary of the Pillers printing house were under way, the local authorities ordered the house to be thoroughly cleaned up, and together with scrap paper untold number of lithographs were packed into sacks and taken to the paper mill. A mass of lithographs, printed in more than fifty years, was destroyed, leaving the lithographs printed before 1873 a great rarity. Those few lithographs that can still be found in private collections, in museums and archives are too disparate to be helpful in reconstructing what Halychyna looked like in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Fortunately, a number of Karol Auers lithographs from the album, Collection of the Most Beautiful Places in Halychyna, have survived. In the twenty-first century the photographer Oleh Vvedensky decided to visit the places represented in Auers lithographs, to photograph them and let others see what has become of them since Auers time. The result, as could be predicted, was shocking.

The impact of two world wars, urban development, soviet mistreatment of natural environment and lack of any efforts to help maintain the folk culture and traditions, has been devastating. Only several places in Halychyna, such as rock cliffs in Urych and waterfalls in Yaremche and Manyava, have remained more or less pristine, but not thanks to the conservationist policy. Such places as Brody, Zhovkva, Zolochiv, Olesko and Pidhirtsi have preserved some of their most important architectural landmarks. Some of the old monasteries and churches have survived the soviet atheistic zeal and later neglect (Dobromylsky Monastery; Manyavsky Skyt and some others). Other ancient towns, such as Burshtyn, Vynnykiv, Mostysk have completely lost their past to the uniformity of soviet nondescript housing projects and thoughtless urban development. It is only thanks to Auers lithographs that we know that the building of secondary school #1 in Mostysk used to be a palace in a sprawling estate. Estates of large landowners and aristocrats in the villages of Halychyna have been hit the hardest  their mansions and palaces were either pulled down or crumbled to dust because of total neglect. What the rain and snow spared was destroyed by vandalism. The places where once musicians and literati used to spend their childhood or to which they came for inspiration, now reveal nothing that could be inspiring. In the village of Koltiv where the violinist Karol Lipinsky, famous in his time, spent his childhood, nothing, except for the ruins of a church, suggests that it used to be a place of some culture. In some cases, even with the help of Auers lithographs it is impossible to locate the places where grand mansions once used to stand  not even the ruins indicate possible sites. In some villages, ruins can be found, but they are mostly those of cow sheds and barns of the soviet times  no traces of parks or mansions in them. In the village of Stronibaby, only the lake remains a link to the scenic beauty of the past.

In Auers lithographs we see not only historic places, narrow streets, beautiful vistas and bucolic parks  we see people from all walks of life. Noblemen and noble ladies, bourgeois, and peasants, vendors and customers give life to Auers pictures of the times when after the turbulent years of the French Revolution, Napoleonic wars and other social cataclysms, life began to return to its normal course, with the family traditions and values, well-being and honest work again being highly appreciated. It was the time during which the Biedermeierstil was predominant in Austria and Germany (Biedermeier was the name given to a bourgeois style, clear and simple, in furniture and decorative art, but often extended to cover painting and sculpture, and the general lifestyle; it is often used as a derogatory term; the name is believed to have been derived from two fictitious characters, Biedermann and Bummelmeier, who were supposed to represent genuine German Philistines  tr.). Auers lithographs stylistically fit this style  they are sentimental, na?ve, tidy, very carefully executed; one feels they should be looked at to the accompaniment of Schuberts songs. Alas, this dreamy, pastoral, orderly mood is almost totally absent from todays life in Ukraine. During the grim decades of the soviet life we forgot what it means to live well and enjoy little comfy things, to find joy in looking at well-made things, in touching them, in searching for uplifting impressions. But at least some of the Ukrainians have begun to learn it all anew.

 

Halychyna-Galicia has become our lost paradise. Though out of five thousand historical and architectural landmarks officially registered in Ukraine, three thousand are to be found in Halychyna, it is hard to find any such landmark there which would put you in a dreamy romantic mood, excite imagination, or inspire a fairy tale story. It seems all we have of the former paradisal country are the lithographs created by a sentimental artist two hundred years ago whose name was Karol Auer.

 

By Nataliya Kosmolinska

Photos by Oleh Vvedensky

 

The WU editors express their gratitude
to Oleh Vvedensky for providing some of Auers lithographs
so that they could be published to illustrate this essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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