Polychromes of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay in churches of Gdańsk and Sopot

Hubert Bilewicz

University of Gdańsk


The artistic output of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay (1889–1967), despite several attempts at fragmentary studies, still remains largely unknown. The article presents post-war works of the artist executed in the churches of Gdańsk (St Elisabeth’s, St Jacob’s) and Sopot (St George’s) in the context of the attempts at reviving sacral monumental art. These works are neo-Byzantine in character and were produced outside the official state patronage and outside the official range of art critics. By using the modernized formula for presenting sacral art, they display the dialogue between modernity and tradition.


The artistic output of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay (1887–1967), despite several attempts at fragmentary assessment studies,[1] still remains largely unknown. Paradoxically, she is often mentioned in the historiography of Ukrainian art in the context of the Russian pre-Revolution avant garde,[2] due to her contacts with Mykhailo Boichuk and the so-called Boichuk group. Boichuk was Zofia’s artistic mentor and teacher when she stayed in Paris. Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay is featured, for instance, in the recently published comprehensive monograph of Ukrainian artists in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century written by Vita Susak.[3] Studies conducted by the Lviv historian Jaroslav Kravtschenko (who was the son of one of the Boichuk group members) are especially worth noting. In his comprehensive study on the Boichuk school published several years ago, he included Zofia Baudouin in the group of 37 most prominent artists from the Boichuk school.[4] The main focus of interest and study of Polish researchers,[5] notably of Iwona Luba,[6] was Zofia’s artistic painting activities from the pre-war period, and presented in the context of “Byzantine art”.[7] Luba pointed out that the impact of the religious paintings of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay, and through her the influence of Mykhailo Boichuk and his group’s theories, on sacral fresco mural painting after World War II could be described as “some kind of artistic phenomenon”.[8] The post-war activities of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay, apart from a number of fragmentary studies required for several MA dissertations,[9] were largely the interest of art historians. In fact, quite recently, with permission from the conservator of local monuments, her polychromes in St Jacob’s Church in Gdańsk were painted over, which in a way could be explained as the consequence of her absence in Polish historiography. So it appears that Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay still remains an artist outside the so-called canon of Polish artists. It is quite symptomatic that she is not featured in Joanna Sosnowska’s authoritative work on Polish female artists in the period between 1890–1939.[10] The artist is also not mentioned in the recently published review of Polish female artists edited by Agata Jakubowska.[11] Hence the great value of the texts written by Władysław Smoleń and Anna Baranowa,[12] which have a memoirs-like character, and a biographical note of the artist which was written for a Warsaw exhibition catalogue published over 20 years ago called Polish Women Artists.[13]

My interest in Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay, stemming from my long-standing research on post-war artists from the so-called Sopot school, focuses on her works executed after 1945 in the churches located in Gdańsk Oliwa and Sopot. Her Gdańsk period, which appears to be limited to the years 1947–1949, is an area of my interest mainly in the context of the developing monumental art, for which especially the Main City, and to a lesser extent the Old Town (her works can be found in 2 churches there), became a kind of testing ground. It seems that within this period Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay may have spent, at most, a few months in the city, which was undergoing reconstruction. The presence of such an experienced monumentalist artist and her works in Gdańsk can be perceived as an alternative to the aggressive activities of artists from the Sopot school (officially supported by the state) who tried to monopolize the visual shape of the city during the rebuilding stage. It is worth clarifying here that the term “the Sopot school” is usually applied to the activities of painters centred around PWSSP (Higher School of Arts) in Sopot, which in the late 1940s and 1950s, functioning within the framework of the official socialist-realism doctrine, managed to find its own unique language of artistic expression, notably different from the ones found in other parts of Poland.

[1] Cf. Słownik artystów plastyków ZPAP. Okręg Warszawski, Warszawa 1972, pp. 29–30; J. Wzorek, Baudouin de Courtenay Zofia, in: Encyklopedia katolicka KUL, vol. 2, Lublin 1976, cols. 105–106; M. Teichert, Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay, in: Artystki polskie, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, exhibition catalogue, ed. A. Morawińska, Warszawa 1991, pp. 92–93.

[2] J. Howard, The Union of Youth. An artists’ society of the Russian avant-garde, Manchester 1992, pp. 52, 94, 95.

[3] W. Susak, UkrajinskimistcyPariża, 1900–1939, Kyjiw 2010, p. 365.

[4] J. Krawczenko, Szkoła Mychajła Bojczuka. Trydcat sim imien, Kyjiw 2010, pp. 114–117.

[5] E. Bobrowska-Jakubowska, Artyści polscy we Francji w latach 1890–1918. Wspólnoty i indywidualności, Warszawa 2004, p. 62; A. Korniejenko, Mychajło Bojczuk: szkoła ukraińskiego monumentalizmu, MA Dissertation written under the supervision of Prof. Joanna M. Sosnowska, Collegium Civitas, Warszawa 2014, pp. 10–13, 15, 27, 35, 38.

[6] I. Luba, W stronę ikony – mistycyzm czy stylizacja? „Bizantyzm” w malarstwie polskim lat 1910–1940, “Biuletyn Historii Sztuki” 62, 2000, nos. 3–4, pp. 545–571; eadem, Dialog nowoczesności z tradycją. Malarstwo polskie dwudziestolecia międzywojennego, Warszawa 2004, pp. 83, 87, 89, 110.

[7] Luba 2000 (fn. 7), pp. 345–571.

[8] Luba 2004 (fn. 7), pp. 110.

[9] Cf. fn. 28.

[10] J. Sosnowska, Poza kanonem, Warszawa 2003.

[11] Artystki polskie, ed. A. Jakubowska, Warszawa 2011.

[12] W. Smoleń, Twórczość malarska Zofii Baudouin de Courtenay, “Roczniki Humanistyczne” 17, 1969, no 5, pp. 33–45; S. Pospieszalski, Spuścizna wielkiej artystki w Częstochowie, “Niedziela” 26, 1983, no 15, p. 6; A. Baranowa, Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay a kryzys sztuki sakralnej, “Znak”38, 1986, nos 2–3 (375–376), pp. 44–54.

[13] Teichert 1991 (fn. 2), pp. 92–93.

[14] M. Gawlicki, Zabytkowa architektura Gdańska w latach 1945–1951. Kształtowanie koncepcji konserwacji i odbudowy, Gdańsk 2012, pp. 58–59.

[15] Z. Baudouin de Courtenay, Biogram, manuscript, Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Gdańsk (hereafter: BG PAN), Archives of Jan Borowski, Akc. no 1545.

[16] J.M. Sosnowska, Artystki w dwudziestoleciu, in: Artystki polskie, ed. A. Jakubowska, Warszawa 2011, p. 80.

[17] Ibidem.

[18] J. Borowski (?), Stacje Męki Pańskiej w katedrze oliwskiej malowane przez Zofię Baudouin de Courtenay, manuscript, BG PAN, Archives of Jan Borowski, Akc. no 1544.

[19] Gawlicki 2012 (fn. 15), pp. 113–115, 222–223.

[20] Photographs of the artist’s designs kept in the office of the Gdańsk Monuments Conservator.

[21] Archives of the Centre for Documentation of Modern Sacred Art of the University of Rzeszów (hereafter: CDWSS UR), handwritten notes on the back of a photograph from Barbara Pawłowska’s collection.

[22] A. Szarszewski, Szpital i kościół św. Jakuba w Gdańsku. Zarys historyczny, Toruń 1999; A. Kriegseisen, Sprawozdanie z badań konserwatorskich: kościół św. Jakuba w Gdańsku, wnętrze, prezbiterium, polichromie ścian, 2008, owned by the author; Gawlicki 2012 (fn. 15), pp. 126–127, 226–227.

[23] Szarszewski 1999 (fn. 23), pp. 261–262.

[24] Kriegseisen 2008 (fn. 23), pp. 2–3.

[25] J. Borowski (?),Freski w kościele św. Jerzego w Sopocie Zofii Baudouin de Courtenay, manuscript, BG PAN, Archives of Jan Borowski, Akc. no 1548.

[26] CDWSS UR, a sheet of paper with handwriting in pencil. Cf. Mistrzyni i uczennica. Z twórczości Zofii Baudouin de Courtenay i Barbary Pawłowskiej. Wystawa rysunków i projektów artystek ze zbiorów Centrum Dokumentacji Współczesnej Sztuki Sakralnej przy Wydziale Sztuki Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego, exhibition catalogue, Centrum Dokumentacji Współczesnej Sztuki Sakralnej Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego, Rzeszów 2012.

[27] Inter alia M. Kawecka, Sztuka witrażowa Zofii Baudouin de Courtenay, Warszawa 1990, MA dissertation written under the supervision of Prof. Andrzej K. Olszewski, Akademia Teologii Katolickiej.

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