Uniwersytet Rzeszowski
Centrum Dokumentacji Współczesnej Sztuki Sakralnej
pl. Ofiar Getta 4-5/35, 35-002 Rzeszów
tel. +48 17 872 20 98

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.


Formally, it drew heavily on post-Impressionist colour traditions, and as for the themes used it relied on socialist-realist ideas. Those artists participated, inter alia, in designing artistic aspects of the reconstructed Gdańsk Old Town, skilfully incorporating into their monumental works genuinely autonomous and individual solutions, all this in works officially commissioned by the socialist state and which reflected socio-political requirements.


Most probably Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay appeared in the Tricity thanks to her acquaintance with the architect Jan Borowski, whom she knew from her time in St. Petersburg and who was appointed the first provincial monuments conservator in Gdańsk.[14] It is quite likely that thanks to his protection she won the commission for polychrome paintings in Gdańsk churches.[15] In fact, the two had already been cooperating together in the 1920s in Starachowice where she created a polychrome for a wooden church designed by Borowski. Borowski arrived in Gdańsk as early as October 1945 and, apart from his duties as monuments conservator, he also worked at Gdańsk University of Technology where he became the Head of the Department of the History of Architecture at the Faculty of Architecture. In all probability bringing Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay to Gdańsk was a result of her losing her post at Warsaw’s Higher School of Art in 1948, where only a year before she had become the Head of the Monumental Painting Department. While clearly agreeing with Joanna Sosnowska’s general observation[16] that it was a very common phenomenon in the post-war years for an artist to both assume a teaching role at an art school and simultaneously take an active part in creating the artistic environment, it is worth stressing Sosnowska’s suggestion that an “artist’s high position in the society was frequently against the views of the communist state authorities”.[17] Understandably, it is with this context in mind that one should perceive the artistic activities of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay in the area of sacral monumental painting. Although, at least in theory, such commissions were in the domain of independent Church patronage, the pressure from political and ideological factors towards the late 1940s was not insignificant and cannot be underestimated. In fact, as a sign of protest against such pressures and manifesting his disapproval, Jan Borowski resigned from the post of provincial monuments conservator in May 1951.

In trying to understand the complexity of the political situation in post-war Poland, one has to remember that Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay’s sister, Cezaria primo voto Ehrenkreutz, secundo voto Jędrzejewicz – was married to Janusz Jędrzejewicz, the Minister of Education and Religious Denominations and briefly Poland’s Prime Minister in the early 1930s. After the outbreak of the World War II Cezaria left Poland and through Romania and later Palestine finally settled in Britain, where she became one of the more prominent figures among Polish émigrés in London, never returning to Poland. Clearly, this fact was known to the communist authorities and had an influence on Zofia’s situation in Poland.


Chronologically speaking, the first of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay’s commissions in Gdańsk was the designing and construction of a circular stained glass window depicting the Holy Trinity in the presbytery of the cathedral in Gdańsk Oliwa, which she carried out in 1948. In the following years she also produced for this cathedral a cycle of tempera paintings with the Stations of the Cross. Unfortunately, they were removed from the nave some time around the beginning of this century and their whereabouts remain unknown.[18]

In 1948 Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay took up the task of creating a polychrome for the interior of St Elisabeth’s Church [figs. 1–6] which had been taken over by the Pallottines[19] and which was being rebuilt after (not very extensive) war-time damage. Inside this Gothic church she created some monumental paintings using al fresco technique fully covering the three walls of the closed stellar vault presbytery as well as one of the side naves with the Stations of the Cross. She also designed a stained glass window in the presbytery, which was installed in 1950 and can still be seen today. The layout of paintings in the presbytery was designed to form strips and quarters; on the northern and southern walls the divisions are emphasized further by inscriptions. The surviving fragments of alternative design projects[20] (to the ones actually painted) and archive photographs enable us to identify Biblical scenes from the Old and the New Testament as well as hagiographical scenes, into which the words of doxological prayers in Latin were added mingling into one integral picture: “GLORIA / PATRI, ET / FILIO, / ET SPIRITUI / SANCTO” (on the southern wall) and the acclamation “BENEDICTUS / QUI VENIT IN / NOMINE / DOMINI. HOSAN/NA IN EXCELSIS” (on the northern wall). On the eastern wall scenes from the history of Poland were presented (among others, the Union of Brest – the union of part of the Eastern Orthodox Church with the Latin Church which took place in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in Brest-Litovsk in 1596). Interestingly, most scenes were painted without using cardboard. Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay is said to have opted for the freshness of last-minute inspiration when working, and she would paint the whole scene al fresco within merely several hours. On the very few remaining private photographs one can see handwritten remarks and comments made during her work: “You probably have seen that. Further you can see Janeczek and the local Pallottine brothers posing as the apostles. Janeczek did not dry out very well. Duchess Dobrawa and her entourage. Attach to the Christianization of Lithuania below; Dobrawa, the Christianization of Lithuania, the Union of Brześć. You can find there Halina and Stasia as the ladies. Nike of Samothrace and Henio. She hands over the laurel wreath to the Triumphant Christ. I wanted to introduce some classics element into this history of the Church as it really was; Dominican nun painting a letter. There was a Dominican convent in Venice in which nuns were illustrating books and holy scriptures.”[21] The polychromes in St Elisabeth’s church did not survive until our times, they were painted over most likely in the 1970s.

Several years later Zofia painted the polychrome inside St Jacob’s Church with its timber beam ceiling (1952–1954)[22] administered by the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor. In the spaces between the ogive windows, on the three walls of the elongated presbytery, she painted Biblical scenes, figures of saints and Eucharistic symbols (lower part)[23] grouped into three sections divided by ornamental strips with stars. On the eastern wall at the top of the window arch there used to be the image of the Virgin Mary on the moon surrounded by angels. In the lower sections the figures of the four Evangelists were symmetrically positioned. The presbytery was separated by vertical stripes filled with geometrical ornaments. The scenes and figures were accompanied by inscriptions. Unlike the polychrome in St Elisabeth’s Church – here the scenes had a more linear-figurative character. The paintings were executed in vivid colours on a yellow background with strong contour drawings in the colours of umber and ochre. Zofia and her two assistants used the al fresco technique. They painted at a very quick pace (most probably the job was finished within a dozen days or so), which was conditioned by the sketch-and-contour style of painting. The style of the frescoes, as Anna Kriegseisen observed,[24] was supposed to be reminiscent of the interiors known from the early-Christian basilicas, and that association was perhaps additionally reinforced by the beam ceiling of the presbytery. The polychromes, initially executed in the style of early mediaeval primitive artists, were later considerably changed by being repainted a few times in the 1970s and 1980s and, ultimately, they lost the distinctive features of Zofia’s individual style. In 2008 they, unfortunately, disappeared completely after being painted over.

The only surviving set of polychromes (which have survived to the present day) by Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay in the Tricity can be found in St George’s Church in Sopot [figs. 7–9], which functions now as a garrison church. These are two fairly large frescos which cover the side walls of the presbytery. Although they have become darker with the passage of time, they still give us a very good idea of the author’s style and the technique she employed. On the southern wall a monumental scene shows the adoration of the Lamb by a group of saints. This archaic hierarchical strip layout shows the compliance with the principle of horror vacui. A different spatial layout can be seen on the opposite side, with the biblical scene of feeding the multitudes. Here the composition is reminiscent of Giotto’s style, very different from the rather obvious Byzantine character of the southern wall. It is worth noting the figures seen at the bottom of the scene on the right, which in all probability show Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay’s friends and benefactors – Jan Borowski with his wife Halina Szuman, and – slightly above – the images of fellow painters executing the pictures together with Zofia.[25]

In the archives of the Centre for Documentation of Modern Sacred Art of the University of Rzeszów, the legacy of Barbara Pawłowska – who was one of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay’s students – one can find scribbled notes with the outline of jokes and puns, most probably created ad hoc, and destined for the Gdańsk Bim-Bom cabaret, which enjoyed somewhat legendary status at the time. Here is one of those puns which works well in the Polish language: “If the lighting fails, Dear Lord, please light up the way for our souls”.[26] This clearly points to some other-than-professional interests of the artist when she was staying in Gdańsk. It is not unlikely that her witty comments might just have been provoked by some surprising aspects of the city’s everyday grim reality. Apparently, frequent blackouts in Gdańsk were the order of the day in those days.


The works of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay created in the Tricity may provoke one to ponder over the wasted and unfulfilled potential of Polish monumental painting. Had it not been for the complicated political situation influencing artists’ professional careers at the time, Zofia would probably have taken a well-deserved place among the best artists in Pomerania and perhaps she would have felt fulfilled academically by finding a place in the vibrant Sopot Academy. But that was not to be. Her works in Gdańsk and Sopot churches were just a short episode in her life. In the following years she produced a number of monumental paintings, among others in churches in Częstochowa. Some paintings (in Dobre and Wiewiec) were produced with the help of Zofia’s students from the Higher School of Arts in Warsaw – Maria Antonina Kozłowska, Barbara Pawłowska and Janina Pol;[27] it is quite telling that they were described later by Władysław Smoleń as “a group of monumentalists”.

It is interesting to consider the artistic and ideological context of these paintings. Incorporating the Byzantine style of painting to decorate sacral Gothic interiors in Poland can be traced back to the times of the Jagiellonian dynasty. It is debatable whether the conscious choice of such an approach is part of a broader concept of searching for national cultural identity as well as expressing the identity of religious art in an area where the East meets the West. When considering the simultaneous attempts at building the visual identity of Gdańsk after the war and the visual representation of Gdańsk in monumental decorative painting, sgraffito paintings and sculptures, especially in the context of the Royal Tract (i.e. Długa St and Długi Targ), composed at the same time, the much more modestly sized works of Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay should be viewed as an alternative attempt at visualisation of the history of Poland as well as local history. So the ideological and the historiographic aspect of those paintings, alongside their sacral and religious aspects, would be equally important here. Another debatable issue which as yet cannot be proved conclusively is the influence of the artistic monastic environment of the Beuron Monastery in Germany (Beuroner Kunstschule) on Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay’s works in the second half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. A similarly inconclusive issue is the influence of Maurice Denis’s idea of sacral art restoration and the influence of the group of artists centred around Académie Ranson, of which Zofia herself was a student. It is clear, however, that Zofia actively followed the changes taking place after WWII in contemporary sacral art, French art in particular. In all probability she was familiar with the texts published by the Dominican Father Raymond Régamey or[IU1]  the contents of the “L’Artsacré” magazine published between 1945–1954.

Zofia Baudouin de Courtenay’s paintings in Gdańsk and Sopot churches should be perceived as an important attempt at the post-war revival of sacral monumental art, undertaken outside the official state patronage and outside the contemporary circles of art critics. Her Tricity “neo-Byzantine” realizations exhibit signs of her searching for a modern formula for sacral art, and hence they tie in with the dialogue between tradition and modernity.


[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.

 [IU1]‘and’ ?

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