Unforgettable Town (by Julia Hartwig)
We love our hometown for the memories of our childhood and youth. Several decades have passed and I can still see with my childish eyes Litewski Square and Saski Park, huge and impenetrable for the child's feet. I am enraptured by the glittering letters on the Europejski Hotel; I am breathing the strong scent of ground coffee coming from the elegant grocers shops in the neighbourhood of the Church of the Capuchins; I savour the unforgettable taste of the chocolate biscuits from Semadeni's; I can hear the din of Świętoduska Street, full of people and very busy on market days; I am enchanted by the bustling neighbourhood of Lubartowska Street, where the black-hatted Jewish shop keepers in gaberines invite passers-by to their small shops full of commodities of all kinds.
My memories go back to Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street, the most elegant part of Lublin. I am walking from Krakowska Gate to the imposing edifice of the Chamber of the Lublin Industrialists and to Rutkowski Cafe. The people in the street represent all social classes; just one quick look and you know who comes from where and what they do, their dress and conduct being well-suited to their birth and social rank. A wealthy landowner who has left his estate to do business in Lublin or to enjoy himself at the Lublinianka, famous for its cuisine, is passing a poorly yet neatly dressed master brick-layer or a room painter; boisterous groups of students in their university or grammar school hats are passing energetically a stately pacing countryman dressed in a dun peasant overcoat and home-spun linen striped trousers; here and there a bearded passer-by in a foxfur cap and a long coat is seen dashing through. If you could overhear a snatch of conversation you would have found the language vibrant, rich and vivid, frequently mixed with Bielorussian, Ukrainian or Jewish elements, with no trace of vulgarisms, so commonly heard in today's speech.
And yet it was enough to go beyond Krakowska Gate to find oneself in a totally different, mysterious world of the Old Town, immersed in history, living a life set apart from the new quarters by the long gone defence walls. For the Old Town carefully cheishes the aura of its uniqueness and separateness, and oblivious of what is going on around, is a universe for itself, living a life of its own. Who can deny it that this is the most honourable part of Lublin, reminiscent of the city's one-time authority and wealth, of its burghers love of art, of the proud gates guarding access to the town, to the Town Hall and to the Castle? It is owing to them, those founders of the houses, monasteries and churches that we can now admire the beauty of the houses in the Market Square. Roofed with attics, typical of the Lublin Renaissance, they are adorned with sgraffiti and sculptures, the fragmentary example of which, still preserved, is the House under the Lions.
Those who still feel unsatisfied with the Gothic and Renaissance facades and portals and venture behind the gates of the houses often find elements of architecture equally worthy of admiration, such as the deep vestibules with Gothic vaults and two-storey galleries surrounding the courtyards. The cellars are worth exploring too; in some houses they go even three storeys down, as in the House of the Lubomelski Family, once housing a winery. One can still see there remnants of frescoes which, apart from floral motives, show secular, often frivolous scenes, with the goddess of Venus in the centre, inviting us to join in the joys of wine drinking and love making. Surely, wine was served there and cheap love could be bought nearby, behind Rybna Gate, in a brothel-house run by the city hangman, which was situated in Złota Street, in the close vicinity of the Monastery and the Dominican Church. Both the monastery and the church are the most beautiful monuments of sacred art in Lublin, in which Gothic and Renaissance architecture co-exist in marvellous harmony. Before World War II this neighbourhood, and especially Grodzka and Podzamcze streets, were inhabited by poor Polish and Jewish population, often engaged in street trade, which gave this part of the city its unique character.
Seen from a distance of so many years, this quarter revives memories stimulating one's imagination. Although supremely picturesque, it seems to be enveloped in the veil of mystery and nostalgy, similar to that found in many of Hartwig's pictures of Lublin. The memories of those days, the scenes and images – nowadays beyond recovery – are coming constantly back: early in the morning, a woman caretaker muffled up in a scarf is sweeping with a birch broom the street lit with the first sun-rays; a drowsy driver on a cart drawn by a lean horse is carrying lumps of coal to be soon unloaded on the pavement close to a cellar's window; the bells of Lublin Cathedral and the Dominican Church are just beginning to chime; on holidays a solemn procession will be moving along the streets of the Old Town and pious hymns will be heard.
When dusk falls the lamp-posts light up, the whiff of newly baked bread and onion pancakes comes from a bakery; on Sabbath days many windows will be candle-lit.
The coexistence of many different cultures, languages and denominations made Lublin the "Vestibule of the Eastern Borderland," which, owing to its linguistic and religious diversities, has enormously enriched Polish culture. Apart from numerous monasteries and Catholic churches, Lublin had many orthodox churches and synagogues; here existed, side by side, two major centres of higher education: the Catholic University of Lublin and the Rabinic School. It is this diversity that makes Lublin so dear to my heart.
Particularly responsive to the atmosphere of the Old Town were poets and painters. Józef Czechowicz and Franciszka Arnstein devoted their volume of poetry "The Old Stones" to this part of the city, the collection through which Czechowicz's name became closely linked with Lublin. On the whole, many great names are associated with the city of Lublin: Sebastian Klonowicz, a famous bard of the Polish country, was born in one of the houses in Grodzka Street. Elevated by the Lubliners to the rank of a town councillor, Klonowicz became later the mayor of Lublin. Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski and Lublin-born Andrzej Strug lived temporarily in this town, too. Bolesław Prus and Aleksander Świętochowski both graduated from the Lublin Gimnazjum (Grammar School), situated in the building which in inter-war Poland was housing two exclusive grammar schools: the Stanislaw Staszic School (for male students) and the Unia Lubelska School (for female students). The graduates of these schools – I myself being a graduate of the Unia Lubelska School – can surely be proud of having such renowned predecessors! Mention should also be made of Henryk Wieniawski, who frequently visited his family living in Lublin.
Lublin owes much of its charm to its picturesque location on the vast hills. The hilly terrain has forced on the city builders the general lay-out of the streets and had its imprint on the irregular shape of the Old Town Market. It is the narrow streets of the Old Town with views on historical architecture that appealed to the imagination of so many painters. Paint-brushes in hand, they could be seen to be standing behind easels set up on the pavement. Yet, inter-war Lublin attracted not only poets and painters; many people were just true lovers of the city. To them belonged Edward Hartwig, a photographer who has preserved to posterity the city's one-time appearance and spirit. Full of artistry as they are, Hartwig's pictures are documents in their own right; they are especially valuable today, when the Old Town has not recovered yet from the war-time disaster and the neglect of the post-war era and at a time when the wiping out of the Jewish population in the Holocaust has completely changed the Old Town's look and atmosphere.
Edward Hartwig did not merely confine himself to recording the beauty of the city itself; he also explored the outskirts of Lublin, the rural and pastoral areas of Wieniawa, Wrotkow and Rury, which are nowadays densely populated residential quarters of the city. For Hartwig, the best time to take pictures was early in the morning, soon after sunrise, when country women carrying milk cans, wrapped up in linen scarves swung over their shoulders were making for Lublin along the road through the local forest, or when a cat could be seen to be dashing through Szambelowska or Olejna streets, and when the still of the morning was interrupted by the doves cooing over the puddles left by a night shower or a street sprinkler. The sun was just beginning its journey up the sky, casting long shadows on the streets, and the morning mist could be seen hanging over the Bystrzyca valley.
Hartwig's pictures of the "Lublin Period" – because this term, I think, could be applied to cover the artist's several-year-long creative period before his moving to Warsaw – are soft and romantic; they transform reality into a serene vision, somewhat melancholic, but full of freshness. The range of themes undertaken by Hartwig expanded with time: during his visits with his camera to small factories and artisans workshops, he created many portraits, being fascinated by new people and engine rooms. He is no doubt one of the first discoverers of the "man at work" theme in photography.
Pictures of young Hartwig soon became famous in Lublin and outside it. In his studio one could see now artists and true lovers of photography: the poets Jozef Czechowicz, invariably with his pipe, and Jozef Lobodowski. ("It is them who acquainted me with the avant-garde," says Hartwig). In his artistic explorations Hartwig was assisted by Wiktor Ziółkowski, Wyczółkowski's disciple, an art lover, well known in Lublin. In Hartwig's studio one could sometimes meet Wacław Gralewski, the editor-in-chief of the "Reflektor" .
Surely, Hartwig's studio at that time was not a banal place: it was a kind of shed made of wood with a glass roof, where the amount of daylight was controlled by the artist, who, with a stick, moved the sackcloth curtains hanging on a cord spanned under the roof. The unusual atmosphere of the studio's interior was further strengthened by the trunk of an old acacia which pierced the roof and whose head, blossoming in the spring, strewed the courtyard with fragrant flowers. The studio was heated with an iron stove, similar to the one seen in Hartwig's picture of Zenon Kononowicz's painter's studio.
Right from the beginning of his artistic career, Hartwig's wide recognition and good luck went hand in hand with his creative aspirations and diligence. Very well known in Lublin, he started to publish his pictures in journals or he sent them for presentation to various exhibitions. Although he became truly famous after World War II, already in inter-war Poland he occupied a high place among the best aspiring photographers of the period. His pictures of Lublin and other regions of Poland were shown at the great Photography Exhibition "Motherland" just before the outbreak of the war in 1939. This was a survey of his best landscape pictures taken in the 1930's, that is, during a period which is characterised by a uniform style and which can be said to constitute a "closed chapter" in Hartwig's artistic creation. This pictures were nearly lost in the war-time turmoil. They were not returned to the artist and the chance of finding them during the Nazi occupation appeared to be practically none. And yet, Hartwig got his pictures back, miraculously as it were. One day, long before the end of the war a woman, whose name remains unknown, brought a parcel to the Association of Photographers asking that it be delivered to Hartwig. One can imagine the artist's surprise and happiness to find in it the pictures from the Exhibition "Motherland", all carefully preserved and in excellent condition!
However, this was not the end of the misfortunes which befell those pictures with scenes of the city and serene landscapes, frozen in their soothing beauty. Several days before the exhibition at the Zachęta Gallery the pictures were lost for the second time, being left in a taxi by an absent-minded courier. The announcements on the radio and in the press met with no response. And then, suddenly, on the eve of the opening of the exhibition, a young person called at Hartwig's home in Warsaw bringing him the lost pictures, found by some passengers riding in the taxi.
From that time on, there were no further complications: the pictures were shown at many exhibitions in Poland and abroad, always meeting with the warm welcome of Hartwig'sadmirers.
They were presented for the second time at the Zachęta Gallery in 1975, together with Hartwig's later pictures, and then at Kazimierz Dolny in 1984. They were also shown in Hamburg and in Houston USA, both at a private gallery and at a local museum, on the occasion of the World Photo Day (1990). On their return from the USA they could be seen at the Exhibition of Hartwig's Collected Photographg (1990); from there they travelled to Lausanne and Amsterdam.
One might wonder about the mystery of the long-lived topicality of Hartwig's pictures, which, because of their age, deserve, one might think, "a peaceful retirement". This is not likely to happen, however. On the contrary, the pictures still attract our attention and are widely sought by exhibitioners and collectors.
Tekst from: "Lublin i okolice. Wspomnienie"