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Muzeum Okręgowe w Nowym Sączu

Maria Ritter - priestess of art from Nowy Sącz

(1899 -1976)

The artistic heritage of Maria Ritter consists of hundreds if not thousands of works, if numerous versions of the same subject drawn in sketch-books and on small cardboards in order to find the ultimate composition, the best iconographic approach are taken into account, as well as oils, water-colours, graphics, gouaches, drawings, collages, sculptures and wall paintings.
The painting career of the artist spreads over a period of almost fifty years in the 20th century, when many trends appeared in arts that stressed the need for individualisation, creative independence and novelty.




Portrait of Maria Ritter  (The Museum Archives)

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Despite being interested in the newest artistic trends Maria Ritter always distanced herself from the radical avant-garde. In her works from the 1920’s there are visibly clear references to the 19th century Realism and Naturalism, as well as references to the works of academic professors (for example the painting In a Coffee House is irresistibly associated with paintings by Wojciech Weiss). It was at this time that she painted many portraits, especially of children, which were certainly influenced the works of Bolesław Barbacki, a master of this genre. Both those portraits, and the still life dating to that period were a precise reflection of the reality.
In the 1930’s, Maria Ritter started to paint more landscapes - views of Nowy Sącz, Sądecczyzna region and the mountainous region of Podhale, as well as landscapes of more distant places, painted during her stay at the seaside or trips abroad. After a period of academic realism, the artist started to refer to post-Impressionism and Colourism – her palette of colours, originally slightly dimmed and generally dark, became filled with light, the lumpy forms were replaced with the lengthened ones, and the paintings became divided into surface and colour sections. Still life was no longer painted to reflect the reality in every detail, the artist started to synthesise the objects into geometric forms and, clearly fascinated by some avant-garde solutions observed in Paris, she introduced decisive divisions and decorative elements.


The Italian experience, contact with the best Renaissance works of art, resulted in religious themes in the artist’s works. Quite often in the religious paintings by the artist a characteristic idealisation appears, corresponding to early Medieval and Byzantine stylisation. These works constituted a kind of an antidote to the works glorifying workers and farm labourers that were demanded from the artists in 1940’s and 50’s . Besides the works done according to the demands of the Socialist Realism, that most of the artists associated in unions obliged to, Maria Ritter also still created works kept in the style elaborated in the 1930’s, adding borrowings from the best samples of the old art.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, the artist created her most famous paintings, characterised by the thoroughly thought compositions and colours (among others The Amazon, The Accordionist, The Harlequin with a Guitar, as well as nudes, landscapes, and so called “structural” landscapes). Those works are characterised by a more limited range of colours, quite often monochrome, as well as by the utmost synthesis of the simplified and stylised forms.
Maria Ritter created works of a grand scale, especially while realising her own projects of interior design and the furnishing of churches (polychromies, altar paintings). At the same time she was a master of miniature, painting religious and genre scenes, as well as portraits, on small cardboards and wooden slats. She explored new painting techniques to enrich the texture and the expression of her works. Apart from countless sketches and drawings that, above all were her method of putting down the new ideas quickly, she also created graphics, collages and sculptures. It was most probably why she was called the priestess of Nowy Sącz art.

Maria Marcinowska, Exibitions expert

Maria Ritter biogram


October 11, 1899 Maria Ritter was born in Nowy Sącz as the fourth daughter of Feliks Ritter and Anna from the Wiśniewski family (later another sibling of the four sisters was born – this time it was a boy).


1919-1920 After finishing primary school and then the Secondary School for Girls in Nowy Sącz she worked for two years as a teacher in Ciechocinek.


1921-1927 She studied philosophy and the history of art at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (two years), as well as the easel painting under Wojciech Weiss, drawing under Jan Wojnarski, sculpture under Xawery Dunikowski, and wall painting techniques under Jan Hopliński at the Academy of Fine Arts (five years).


1924/1925 During a private trip to France, in the company of Bolesław Barbacki (Maria’s relative), the artist studied in Paris at Fernand Léger and Othon Friesz. At that time she was also in touch with the avant-garde group of Polish scholarship holders at the Cracow’s Academy of Fine Arts branch in Paris, run by Józef Pankiewicz. In the Louvre she copied works of arts of the great artists such as: Rembrandt (Self-portrait, Henrikje), Leonardo da Vinci (St. John the Baptist), Velasquez (The Infanta Margarita), Watteau (La Finette) and Reynolds (Portrait of a Child), learning the best examples of the Dutch, Italian, Spanish, French and English art.


1926 She showed her works on the ”Niezależni” (“Independent”) exhibition, the exhibition of works by young, avant-garde individualists in Cracow (the first exhibition of her works).


1927 She became a member of the moderate Cracow’s ”Zwornik” (”Keystone”) Society that grouped mainly the colourists and artists following the post-Impressionist style (the Society was active till 1939).


1934 It was a year during which she admired works of art and fathomed the secrets of the wall painting art in Italy.


1930’s. She renovated, designed and painted polychromies in various churches. She was also part of Józef Dutkiewicz’s team, which renovated the interiors in Dębno Podhalańskie, and painted the walls in sanctuaries in Rzeszów, Łańcut and Paszyn near Mogilno in the Nowy Sącz area. She also designed the Stations of the Cross for the church in Żegiestów.


1939-1945 She was active in the underground, distributing illegal press and leaflets. As a representative of the Rada Główna Opiekuńcza (the Central Welfare Council) she took part in the campaigns to help political prisoners, as well as Poles uprooted from their homes in eastern Poland. She cooperated with the Polish Red Cross and the Social Help Committee.


from 1945 She began social work for her hometown. She set up the Division of the Polish Artists Association, and for many years was a member of its Board representing the interests of the Association. She highlighted the problems of the Nowy Sącz artistic circle during the conventions in Warsaw and Cracow, and she won the decision to include works by artists from provincial centres, located away from the capital in the Ministry of Culture and Art shopping list.


1948 She painted polychromies in the interiors of churches in Brzesko and Tuchów.


from 1949 She was a councilor in the National City Council in Nowy Sącz, a member of the Education Commission, and a member of the Heritage Conservation Committee.


1950 She joined the Polish Committee for the Defense of Peace.


1955 She led a team that included Zbigniew Borowski, Czesław Elster and Ewa Harsdorf during the renovation and partial reconstruction of the frescoes in the meeting room of the Nowy Sącz Town Hall.


1957 Together with her colleagues from the Nowy Sącz Division of the Polish Artists Association she opened the Office of Artistic Exhibitions in a tenement house at 34 Jagiellońska Street, personally supervising the renovation of the interiors to be adapted for exhibition purposes. Together with Zbigniew Borowski she rescued the fragile remains of the polychromy found in the Jesuits Monastery. The preserved elements of the polychromy were transferred onto plaster slabs and handed over to the museum.


1958 She decorated the walls of the vestry of the St. Margaret Church in Nowy Sącz according to her own project designed in the years 1956-57.


1959 She did the polychromy in the parish church in Witkowice near Kęty.


1960 She also decorated the church in Jakubowice with a polychromy.


1961 She organised the individual exhibition of paintings and sculptures on the 35th anniversary of her artistic work (her works were exhibited in Nowy Sącz, Cracow, Rzeszów and Zakopane). She also initiated the setting up of the ”Grupa Czterech” (the Group of Four) that included Mieczysław Bogaczyk, Jan Dzieślewski and Stanisław Szafran (exhibitions of the works of that group took place in the years 1963 – 1971).


1964 She designed and created many works for churches in the Tarnów Diocese, among others the painting of St. Ursula for the church in Korzenna and the painting of St Anthony for the church in Cikowice near Bochnia. She also sculptured a bas-relief Pietá ( a representation of the Virgin Mary mourning over the dead body of Jesus) for the Grybów church.


1965 She painted two drapery paintings for the altar in the Limanowa church entitled Sacrifice and Coronation, as well as the triptych The Holy Family containing scenes of the Annunciation and the Sacrifice. She also painted pictures of St.Casimir and Christ the Teacher for the school chapel.


1972/1973 She designed and made stations for the Passion of Christ that were commissioned by churches in Limanowa and Biesiadki. She also designed several versions of the Stations of the Cross to be used in churches in Kąclowa and Falkowa.


1973 On the order of the parish priest of the church in Rzepiennik she made a feretrum depicting St. Francis/Father Maksymilian Kolbe. She also made a copy of the Transfiguration of Jesus altar painting for the St. Margaret Church in Nowy Sącz.


1974 After a heavy stroke, suffering from paralysis on the right-side, she couldn't come to terms with idleness, so she drew clumsily, signing the drawings with the inscription “done with a left hand”.


25 III 1976 She died in Nowy Sącz and was buried in a family tomb at the municipal cemetery.

(compiled on the basis of the artist's diary and the text entitled “Maria Ritter” by Maria Teresa Maszczak published in the “Maria Ritter Paintings Gallery and Historic Interiors of Burgher Homes”, Nowy Sącz 1999)

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