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Józef Mehoffer

Józef Mehoffer
An outstanding Polish artist of the Cracow school,
Jan Matejko's pupil was born
in 1869 in Ropczyce ...

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mehoffer foto


Józef Mehoffer – an outstanding Polish artist of the Cracow school, a student of Jan Matejko, born in 1869 in Ropczyce. After his father Wilhelm von Mehoffer with family moved to Cracow in 1870, he graduated from the Cracow School of Fine Arts. After leaving in 1891 on a scholarship to Paris, he attended lectures at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifis, Academie Julian, Akademie Colarossi and lectures on art history at the Ecole du Louvre. From February 17, 1892 until the end of 1893, he studied at the Ecole Nationale de Beaux-Arts. Throughout his studies he was engaged in decorative art and continued easel painting. Józef Mehoffer was one of the pioneers of art in the Young Poland period, although he was familiar with the traditions of historicism and academism. Innovative tendencies, such as Art Nouveau decorativeness, symbolism or expressionism, and later also neo- impressionism, appear in Mehoffer’s painting in a specific form. Józef Mehoffer painted on various surfaces and in many techniques. He sketched with pencil, charcoal and crayon. He created watercolors, pastels, oil paintings on canvas. He designed and made stained-glass windows and holistic interior design. One of his passions was wall painting. He gained the greatest recognition and world fame in 1895, winning a competition for stained glass for the Gothic collegiate church of St. Nicholas in Freiburg, Switzerland. He left there a stunning work of 21 glazing to this day.

For his Freiburg stained glass window “Martyrs”, in 1900, he received a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris. After returning to Poland, the artist focused mainly on numerous works in the field of polychrome and stained glass. He made, among others: painting decoration of the treasury of the Wawel Cathedral, polychrome and stained glass windows in the Szafraniec Chapel and in the transept of this cathedral. The World Exhibition in St. Louis brought him a gold medal for the painting “Singer” and a silver medal for the stained-glass window “Vita somnium breve”. Stained-glass windows to the Świętokrzyska Chapel on Wawel, in 1925, were awarded the Grand Prix at the Paris International Exhibition of Decorative Art. The artist also carried out his projects among others in St. Mary’s Church in Cracow, St. John’s Cathedral in Lviv, Opava in Moravia, St. Elizabeth’s parish church in Jutrosin, Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Włocławek, Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Turku and the parish church in Lubien. He died on July 7, 1946 in Wadowice.

In 1932-1939 Józef Mehoffer undertook the most important late period of his work, designing and making polychromes, stained glass, altars, easel paintings and interior furnishings of the parish church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Turek.

Paintings in the church in Turek were made to order of then parish priest, Prelate Dr. Józef Florczak. Józef Mehoffer was very trusted by the priest, which allowed him to carry out the design work completely according to his own concept. The artist most probably started his work with sketches, and in 1933 his first projects (cartons) for the polychrome of presbytery were created. It is worth taking a closer look at these projects. The artist usually made them in natural size. During further works, they served as a model for fragments of polychrome made in casein technique, as well as later stained-glass windows. Already at the stage of cartons, which the author made with the use of watercolors, the character of master became visible. These projects emanated with fullness of intended colors and light. Depending on the nature of project, the author expressed emotions and expressions of figural representations, or calmness and nostalgia. He often expressed in them the characteristics of the era in which he came to create. It should also be noted that on some of many cartons that Mehoffer created for the church in Turek, mistakes were made in naming or symbolism, but it is necessary to remember that these are projects that could be corrected when creating polychromes on the walls of temple.

The artist made figural representations with particular reverence: Christ the King, Christ the Good Shepherd, Christ the Spouse, Christ the Pilgrim and Christ the Gardener. These cartons were perfectly and masterfully reproduced on the walls of presbytery of Turek temple. Similarly, eternal lamps and winged hearts, as well as birds in the choral part of building were carefully placed on the church walls. Mehoffer used casein technique to apply the polychrome. The color was applied only after the sketch had been reproduced on the wall, which was reproduced by means of sgraffito method consisting in puncturing with a glass of holes on paper on which a fragment of the polychrome was sketched, after which the paper was applied to the wall by hitting it with a stockings filled with soot. The paper used to sgraffito was most often destroyed.


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Vita somnium breve

Design of stained-glass windows is similar. At first, the artist made a project on natural scale, on the basis of which stained-glass factories made ready-made glazing. The most important thing was to render as faithfully as possible the color of this project on stained glass. Józef Mehoffer made nine stained-glass windows for the Church in Turek, eight of which had been mounted by 1939. The artist did not always make a complete design for stained-glass window. Sometimes projects of single quarters were created. This was due to the fact that some stained-glass windows had common features. This is visible in the projects for glazing of presbyterial chapels, where the artist designed only individual medallions; the rest of stained glass was repeated in subsequent designs.

A similar situation occurred in the projects to stained-glass windows for the side aisles. In this case, after the design for stained glass window of St. Teresa, the artist made or planned to make only the designs of blessed and saints for the next glazing.

History of the parish church in Turek

Turek is a town located in the central part of country, in the eastern Greater Poland region, at the junction of early medieval and medieval trade routes.

The beginnings of this town date back to 1136, when in the Gniezno Bull the name Turkoviste appears, to this day identified with the name of town Turek. Another important date in the history of town is 1341, when the Archbishop of Gniezno, Janisław, located the town under the sredenses rights. This document ended the formation of Turek as a city.

Certainly, one of elements that created the city was the parish. Its origins date back to the middle of the 12th century. The first wooden church of St. John the Baptist probably dates back to this period. During the period of unification of the Polish lands in 1331 it was probably burnt down by the Teutonic army striving to meet the Czech troops to Kalisz. After this event, the inhabitants made a huge effort, which resulted in a new brick building in the Gothic style. In May 1813, a fire broke out on an adjacent plot of land, where a municipal hospital was built, which under favorable weather conditions moved to the church building and damaged it to a significant extent. In 1839 the tower collapsed, destroying the body of the Gothic building. Subsequent restorations and reconstructions significantly changed the Gothic character of this damaged church.

Due to the continuous development o city, the inhabitants of Turek were faced with a choice of extending the existing building, which was no longer able to perform its function properly or to design and build a new parish church.

The new design of church in neo-Gothic style – brick on a field granite substructure – was carried out by the architects Konstanty and Jarosław Wojciechowscy from Warsaw. The temple was built in 1904-1913. At the consecration in 1924 it received the call of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The church has a three-nave structure with a transept and a two-tower massif on the western side. The presbytery of church is closed on three sides and has an additional farmyard. The roof is completely covered with sheet metal. To this day, this building is the architectural landmark of Turek overlooking the whole town, not only because of its size, but mainly due to the “treasure” that hides inside – the work of Józef Mehoffer, which turned out to be one of his greatest projects.

The wall paintings in parish church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Turek belong to the most precious Polish polychromies occurring in our country. The neo-Gothic church is completely covered with paintings by Józef Mehoffer, an outstanding, recognized in Poland and Europe, versatile artist: painter, graphic artist, stained-glass painter, decorator. Beautiful paintings from Turek, valued by critics and art experts, are considered to be the most important project of the late period of Mehoffer’s artistic creation.

Paintings in the church in Turek were created in 1933-1936 to the order of then parish Priest Józef Florczak. The subject matter of polychrome decorating the interior of temple was accepted by the investor and agreed in rich correspondence. In addition, Mehoffer made full- size projects of all painting decorations – figural compositions and decorative motifs located on the walls of presbytery. He also made cartons with stained-glass designs. Most of them are signed.

All figural compositions were painted by Mehoffer himself and bear his signature as well. For the purpose of painting the church interiors, the artist created a twelve-person team, which he personally managed. The young painter Józef Siemianowicz helped Mehoffer to create paintings and large ornamental planes on the church walls, while other members of his team worked on making small ornaments and monochromatic parts. Józef Mehoffer, decorating the interior of Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Turek, combined figural and purely ornamental compositions, which was a real novelty to the common polychromes so far characterized by expressive divisions, emphasizing or even imitating elements of architecture.

The artist made figural representations with particular reverence: Christ the King, Christ the Good Shepherd, Christ the Spouse, Christ the Pilgrim and Christ the Gardener. These cartons were perfectly and masterfully reproduced on the walls of presbytery of Turek temple. Similarly, eternal lamps and winged hearts, as well as birds in the choral part of building were carefully placed on the church walls.

Decoration of the church in Turek was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. As a result, the church in Turek became a camp for German resettles, and Fr. Józef Florczak died in 1943 in Dachau. After the end of war in 1946, the news of Józef Mehoffer’s death reached Turek, which made impossible to complete work on the decoration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus church.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the polychrome had undergone conservation and restoration works, which were meticulously carried out under the supervision of Dr. Ewa Roznerska-Świerczewska from Toruń. The whole maintenance project was co-financed by the European Union, which allocated a grant of 7,514,407.18 PLN. Maintenance and restoration project of Mehoffer’s works in Turek also won the Greater Poland Star competition organized by the Marshal’s Office in Poznań. Today, the temple regained its original glory, which appeared before the master Mehoffer and Turek residents before 1939.

Creation of a virtual Museum of Józef Mehoffer’s Works
along with digitization, elaboration and sharing collections

The project was co-financed by the Minister of Culture and
National Heritage from the Cultural Promotion Fund.

In 2018, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Turek was digitalized by laser scanning. The latest Faro Focus 3D X330 scanner was used for this purpose. The author of project is PRO RESTAURO S.C. Karolina Świerczewska, Paweł Świerczewski from Turek. As a part of the project, 55 scans were made, out of which a three-dimensional model of the church with its equipment was created. On this basis, documentation was created – façade projections in .dwg and .rvt format. Additionally, gigapanoramas of three altars and vaults were created. What is more, a virtual tour of the church was created, consisting of fifteen panoramic images. As a part of the project, a website – www.mehoffer-turek.pl was also prepared, where the results obtained in the process of digitization, a virtual walk and gigapanoramas are posted. The website has been translated into three foreign languages and adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. Results obtained in the process of digitalization of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Turek:

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