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Zdjęcie Cieszyna

The Olza in painting and photography

Stefan Król


In the past, rivers to a large extent determined the location of human settlements. Such was the case of the Olza and Cieszyn. Ever since the establishment of the town, the river protected it and provided water necessary for people and animals to live. It was also abundant in fish, a valuable source of food. Fortified settlements defended fords and bridges used to cross rivers, which also fostered trade. As towns developed, rivers made it possible to advance crafts and industry which needed water to function. With time, the needs of inhabitants usually turned to entertainment and recreation, so riverbanks were often turned into boulevards. Obviously, rivers could also become a destructive force. Floods have always been a threat that humans have tried to bring under control by building embankments or marking out floodplains. All these factors confirm the interdependence between humans and nature. So it should not come as a surprise that people are fascinated by and feel bonded with the life-giving river. When it comes to Cieszyn, the Olza fulfilled different functions. Throughout centuries, the town functioned primarily on one (right) bank of the river. Therefore, Cieszyn leaned on the river and used its resources to function (also thanks to artificial arms and tributaries built by man). At the end of the 18th century and especially in the following century, when the left side of the town was being developed, the Olza gradually became the axis of the town. After 1920, when the Olza turned into a border river, it also became a dramatic symbol of division which forced the two mutilated urban organisms to look for new centres of gravity in their development. During the war, border barriers and bridges were destroyed in defence against occupiers, which symbolized threat and marked turning points in the lifestyle of town dwellers. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that the Olza is an important element in the depictions of Cieszyn. The oldest surviving images of the town and the river date back to the 17th century. The oldest preserved image is a small copperplate print from 1637. It measures 10x14.5 cm and shows the panorama of Cieszyn. Its author is Daniel Meissner. The town is shown as seen from the left bank of the Olza. We can see characteristic buildings and the castle on the hill (before it was destroyed), churches towering over the urban sprawl, the town hall, the city wall and gates, and the bridge. At the top of the panorama, there is an optimistic Latin maxim: Amore et non dolore, which most probably refers to a pair of Cieszyn townspeople depicted in the foreground. They are relaxing by the river and seem to be happy (the motto is a fragment of a longer work, which can be translated as follows: Gratitude brings eagerness and joy / Hostility brings misery and pain / A happy man is the one who / Takes delight in a tried love.)


Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn by Daniel Meissner, 1637, copperplate print (Pic. MŚC, MC/S/05753).



A little bit younger is a copperplate print by Mathäus Merian from Basel (1593-1650). It comes from 1650 and shows the town from a perspective similar to Meissner’s work, but it is slightly bigger (21x32 cm) and seems to be more detailed.


Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn by Mathäus Merian, 1650, copperplate print (MŚC, MC/S/04309/002).



Another preserved panorama of the town comes from the 18th century (it is believed that it was created around 1738). It shows the town one hundred years later, when some important changes had already been made in its architecture. Its author is Friedrich Bernhard Werner. He used the same technique as the previously mentioned artists, the copperplate.



Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn by Friedrich Bernhard Werner, ca. 1738, copperplate print (MŚC MC/S/05754)



A much bigger work (76x97 cm) is an oil painting by Ignacy Chambrez de Ryvos (1758-1835), which also depicts the panorama of Cieszyn. Its author came from Moravia and was born in an artistically endowed family. His father Jan was also a painter and became his son’s first teacher. Ignacy was a drawer, painter and architect who settled in Cieszyn in 1784 and married here. He taught drawing in the Secondary School in Cieszyn. In 1789, he survived the biggest fire of the town which left it almost completely destroyed. It opened up the possibility of reconstructing many buildings, including the Town Hall. During the time Chambrez spent in Cieszyn, he painted many portraits of notable townspeople, as well as religious works. The panorama of the town under reconstruction after the fire was created in 1800. It must have been appreciated by the contemporaries of Chambrez because he received a subsidy from Prince Albert Casimir of Saxony, Duke of Cieszyn, who wanted the artist to disseminate his painting as a copperplate print. Soon after finishing his most famous painting, around 1803, he moved to Kraków and then to Lviv. In these urban centres, he gave lectures on civil engineering at universities.



Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn, Ignacy Chambrez de Ryvos, 1800, oil painting (MSC MS/S/02921).



Twenty years later, in 1820, the town was immortalized by Ludwik Kmetty (1796-?) on a colourful lithographic print. This artist came from Hungary and just like Chambrez, he worked as a teacher in the Secondary School in the years 1819-1828. In his depiction, we can notice a change in the perception of the panorama. At that time, the left side of the town had already expanded significantly. That is why the author had to step away from the river to encompass the newly-formed part of Cieszyn. We can see characteristic buildings (with the castle and the Protestant church in the lead), whereas the Olza is barely visible.



Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn, Ludwik Kmetty, 1820, colourful lithographic print (MŚC MS/S/05757).



Another colourful lithographic print by Joseph Zahradniczek (based on a painting by Jakub Alt from ca. 1840) also deserves a mention because it presents a different view of the town. The artist showed the town from the perspective of the right bank of the Olza, near Mała Łąka. In this depiction, the river and the bridge by the castle are visible in the foreground. Above them, there are the towers of the Catholic and Protestant churches, whereas the Piast Tower is visible on the side of the painting.



Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn, Joseph Zahradniczek, 1840, colourful lithographic print (MŚC MC/S/05736).



The traditional method of depicting panoramas was revisited by Henryk Jastrzembski (1812-after 1899), a Silesian born in Jabłonków (Jablunkov) who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. In 1851, he painted an oil painting which shows a dramatic episode in the history of Cieszyn, namely the fire of 1789 (Jastrzembski based his work on a painting by I. Chambrez which did not survive to our times). Today, its copy hangs in the Town Council conference room in the Town Hall in Cieszyn.



Picture caption: The Fire of Cieszyn, Henryk Jastrzembski, 1851, oil painting (MŚC MS/S/04788)


The same artist created a watercolour painting showing a pair of townspeople from Cieszyn in their traditional clothes. In the background of the portrait, there is the Olza and the Castle Hill. The painting is dated to 1846.


Picture caption: A Pair of Townspeople from Cieszyn, Henryk Jastrzembski, 1846, watercolour painting (MŚC MS/S/01275)


Another interesting artistic work is a letter paper vignette, which is an example of a utility lithographic print. It comes from 1848 and its author is Franz Josef Sandmann. It shows a beautiful panorama of Cieszyn, with the Olza in the central position.




Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn on letter paper, Franz Josef Sandmann, 19th century, lithographic print (MŚĆ MC/S/05751).



In 1864, Carl Vögel created a painting which shows the Castle Hill, the bridge built in its vicinity, and the Olza River. It is a watercolour painting.



Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn, Carl Vögel, 1864, watercolour painting (MŚC MC/S/01594).



Another artistic technique is represented by a woodblock print entitled The Piast Tower in Cieszyn in Austrian Silesia. It was created in the second half of the 19th century by Konstanty Przykorski (+1882) from Warsaw, who worked as an illustrator at a popular weekly Tygodnik Ilustrowany.



Picture caption: The Piast Tower in Cieszyn in Austrian Silesia, Konstanty Przykorski, 19th century, woodblock print (MŚC MC/S/05750).



Some examples of 20th century paintings are the works of Józef Raszka (1875-1929), who came from Bystrzyca (Bystřice) on the Olza. At the beginning of the 20th century (ca. 1911), he painted a watercolour picture showing the Olza and the Castle Hill.



Picture caption: The Olza and the Castle Hill, Józef Raszka, ca. 1911?, watercolour painting (MŚC MS/S/05491).



There is another panorama of the town which comes from the same period. It was painted by Franz Aschenbrenner (1872-1948), a Viennese who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in his hometown and in Munich. He worked as a teacher in Cieszyn and lived here until the end of the Second World War.



Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn, Franz Aschenbrenner, 20th century, oil painting (MŚC MC/S/5187).



Our home artist, Karol Niedoba (1864-1947), was not much older than Aschenbrenner. He was born in Cieszyn and came from a poor rural family. Thanks to a scholarship, he was able to develop his talent and study painting in Vienna and in Munich. He worked as a drawing teacher in schools in Krnov, Brno and Cieszyn and became a secondary school professor. Apart from portraits and religious works, he also painted landscapes. In total, he created about 700 watercolour and oil paintings. In his twilight years, he lost his sight. His watercolour painting entitled An der Olsa comes from 1938.



Picture caption: An der Olsa, Karol Niedoba, 1938, oil painting (MŚC MC/S/01631).



Henryk Nitra (1891-1948) was an artist active in the second half of the 20th century. He was born in Szobiszowice in Cieszyn Silesia (in today’s Zaolzie, that is the Trans-Olza Region). He studied painting in several renowned academic centres and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. In the inter-war period, he lived in Zaolzie and settled in Cieszyn after the Second World War. He is the author of an oil painting depicting Český Těšín.



Picture caption: View of Český Těšín, Henryk Nitra, 20th century, oil painting (MŚC MC/S/03044).



When it comes to contemporary artists, we should mention Zbigniew Damiec (born in 1939 in Lutynia Górna), whose works devoted to the Olza River were exhibited in Cieszyn in 2005 under the title The Unknown Olza. He also published a book with his paintings, The Olza in Watercolour (Olza w akwareli, Cieszyn 2005). He is most probably the only artist who created a series of paintings devoted to the Olza River.



16 Picture caption: View of the Cieszyn Castle, Zbigniew Damiec, watercolor, 2005



Since the second half of the 19th century, photography has been gaining more and more popularity. Even though in the beginning, technical conditions limited its mobility and the possibility of documenting dynamic events, technological changes put an end to these inconveniences within several decades. In 1860, there were three permanent photo studios in Cieszyn. Thirty years later, there were five. The two most highly renowned ones were a studio established in 1861 by Richard Jastrzembski and a studio opened in 1870 by Heinrich Jandaurek. The latter maintained a very high artistic level of his photographs and won numerous awards. In 1900, Jandaurek was even appointed imperial and royal court photographer. Sometime later, in the inter-war period, Polish photographer Tadeusz Kubisz also earned a reputation in the photography industry. He opened his studio in 1920 and was highly acclaimed for his artistic photographs.

Due to the abovementioned technical issues and high costs of taking up photography as a hobby, this occupation was rather elite. The first society of photographers from Cieszyn was established in 1903 under the name Amateurphotographen-Klub Teschen.

Here, we present a few photographs showing important moments in the history of the town, such as visits of emperor Franz Joseph I, the entrance of the Polish army into Zaolzie in October 1938, the first day of the Second World War (1 September 1939) or the dismantling of the culvert bridge in 1982.


Photograph caption: The visit of Emperor Franz Joseph I in Cieszyn - The Main Bridge (Photo MŚC). 


Photograph caption: The visit of Emperor Franz Joseph I in Cieszyn in 1906 - The Jubilee Bridge (Photo MŚĆ). 


Photograph caption: Generals František Hrabčík and Tadeusz Malinowski surrounded by officers on 2 October 1938 on the border bridge in Cieszyn (Photo MŚC). 


Photograph caption: The Main Bridge destroyed by Polish sappers on 1 September 1939 (Photo MŚC).  


Wehrmacht troops crossing the Olza in Cieszyn on 1 September 1939 (Photo from the collection of MŚC).


The dismantling of the culvert bridge (which served small border traffic) on the Olza in 1982 (Photo MŚC).  


Photograph caption: Two shots of the Friendship Bridge (by the Castle) from the time of the Polish People’s Republic. At that time, taking photos of such structures could lead to unpleasant consequences from the Border Guard Troops. (Photo MŚC) 



The art of photography was related to publishing series of postcards, showing e.g. city landscapes. This trend reached Cieszyn as well and local publishers were keen to issue such utility prints. Cieszyn postcards were printed by Polish and German companies and after 1918 also by Czech ones. An interesting fact is that it was customary to publish the same postcards with captions in German, Polish and Czech. Sometimes one card had captions in different languages. One of the most famous publishers of Cieszyn postcards was undoubtedly Edward Feitzinger Junior (1851-1932), a publisher, bookseller and printing house owner. He was also a photographer and took photos himself. They were then copied (often after colourization) and disseminated as postcards. He even established a separate company responsible for making postcards. It was called Kunst und Postkartenverlag. The scale of its activity is illustrated by the fact that until 1905, it published about 350 pictures of Cieszyn. Other publishing and printing companies from Cieszyn also engaged in this kind of activity, yet on a smaller scale. These companies included e.g. Kutzer & Co. and publishing houses run by Sigmund Stuks, Hollander, and Huttner. When it comes to Polish institutions which published postcards, they were the National House Society (Towarzystwo Domu Narodowego) and the Polish Ethnological Society in Cieszyn (Polskie Towarzystwo Ludoznawcze).


Until 1918


Picture caption: Panorama of Cieszyn with barracks (built in the years 1895-1901), as seen from the Castle Hill (From the collection of MŚC)


Picture caption: Postcards made before the banks of the Olza were industrialized. (From the collection of MŚC)


Picture caption: The surroundings of the Main Bridge at the turn of the 20th century. Publisher Kutzer & Co. (From the collection of Leszek Gańczarczyk)


Picture caption: The Olza as seen from the mouth of the Młynówka Canal. Publisher Ed Feitzinger (From the collection of Leszek Gańczarczyk) 


Picture caption: Two main bridges in Cieszyn and the Market Square (the former Demel square). The postcard also came out with captions in Polish. (From the collection of Leszek Gańczarczyk)


Picture caption: A postcard with the so-called third weir. Publisher Hutteners Postkarten Verlag (From the collection of Leszek Gańczarczyk)





Picture caption: Two almost identical shots of the Main Bridge. One comes from the years 1920-1938 (which is evidenced by booths for border guards and customs officers), the second one was taken in 1939 (there are no customs facilities). This bridge was destroyed on 1 September 1939. (The postcard on the top comes from the collection of MŚC, the one on the bottom from the collection of L. Gańczarczyk)


Picture caption: A postcard from the period of Nazi occupation. A curious detail is the destroyed footbridge (it was probably damaged by a flood). The card was made after road bridges had been rebuilt. (From the collection of Leszek Gańczarczyk)


After 1945


Picture caption: One of the few postcards made after 1945 whose main object is the Olza. It is shown as seen from Przykopa Street, when you look in the direction of the bridge by the Castle. It goes without saying that the card was published at the time of the Polish People’s Republic (it was printed by RSW Prasa), but the photo most probably comes from before the war, which is indicated by the characteristic construction of the bridge. The postcard was published by the Polish Tourist Society (Polskie Towarzystwo Krajoznawcze), which most probably used a photograph from its archive. (From the collection of Leszek Gańczarczyk)


Picture caption: A postcard which illustrates mental changes in the perception of the main tourist attractions of the town. The Olza became a peripheral area. (From the collection of Leszek Gańczarczyk)


After 1989


Picture caption: This perception was slowly reversed after the political upheaval of 1989. Once again, the Olza became a symbol of Cieszyn. A postcard printed by Interfon (From the collection of L. Gańczarczyk)


The number of preserved photos and postcards depicting the Olza in three periods: until 1918, in the inter-war period and after 1989, shows how its importance for the town changed over time. Until 1918, it was depicted very often because it constituted an axis of the town. On its banks were located many representative objects, such as the Castle Hill, bridges and the beginnings of riverside boulevards. Numerous industrial plants also sprang up on its banks, giving birth to an informal industrial district (at that time, most machines were propelled by water and steam). In the inter-war period, the Olza became a border which divided the town, the region and its residents. Yet it was still alive in people’s consciousness and symbolized the torn community. After the Second World War, due to paranoiac secrecy, people tried not to depict the border river or bridges, which were considered to be military installations. Two separate urban organisms developed on either side of the river which began to divide rather than connect them. The part of the two towns located near the river became peripheral areas and their centres of gravity shifted to different districts. As a matter of fact, this state of affairs continued until the end of the 20th century. When Poland and the Czech Republic joined the European Union, their great achievement was the implementation of projects whose aim was to revitalize the banks of the river and give them new functions, which nowadays focus on sport and leisure. It is both residents and tourists who benefit from this new role, which is the best possible means of integration and building good interpersonal relationships.


Projekt dofinansowany przez Unię Europejską ze środków
Europejskiego Funduszu Rozwoju Regionalnego
 w ramach Programu Interreg V-A Republika Czeska – Polska