from "Die Gnatowskis. Die Geschichte einer masowischen Familie" by Alfred von der Lehr
ISBN-Nr: 3-00-005311-5



Another known person with the name Gnatowski was Zygmunt Gnatowski. He became famous in connection with the Koliba House, a summer mansion in Zakopane in the High Tatra, which had been designed by the famous Polish painter and writer Stanislaw Witkiewicz and became style forming for a whole number of other houses. According to Witkiewicz's idea, in 1894 the completed house should become even the germ cell of a Polish national style. Zygmunt Gnatowski was the purchaser and first inhabitant of this house.

Today the house is a museum and holds, beside furniture and other furnishings, which were manufactured in the Zakopane style, also the ethnographic collection of Zygmunt Gnatowski. Due to its developing history the house is today an important Polish architecture and art monument. After a very unsteady past, during which the use of the house has often been alienated, it has been reconstructed for several years, the furniture has been restored and since 1993 it is open for visitors.

The house was scientifically examined and described, among other things by Teresa Jablonska in her book "'Koliba', Pierwszy Dom w Stylu Zakopianskim" ("'Koliba'. The first house in Zakopane Style") 1). Mrs. Jablonska also wrote a short summary of the history of the Koliba house. In accordance with the importance of this house for the Polish history of art, we publish a German translation here: 2)

Museum of the Zakopane-style in the Koliba House


"At the end of July 1894 was the tape-cutting ceremony of the Koliba House in Zakopane - the first house, which was constructed in the Zakopane style, designed by Stanislaw Witkiewicz for Zygmunt Gnatowski, a Ukrainian property owner. Nearly exactly one century later, in December 1993, the Stanislaw Witkiewicz Museum of the Zakopane style in the Koliba house was opened. There it is possibile to show both the art of the Podhale region extensively for the first time and the Polish art, in which the Zakopane style holds a special meaning, since it developed first theoretically and practically complemented concept of a national style.


The Zakopane style is an obvious and essential part of Stanislaw Witkiewicz's (1851-1915) work, created through his fascination for the Tatra Mountains and the culture of the mountain land population, "as merged in the mountains as lichen in the granite of the rocky hilltops". When he came to Zakopane for the first time in 1886, he was already a recognized painter and as an art critic had attained certain fame. He was well acquainted with at that time actual theories of a national Polish style, among others the idea of popular art, which saw folklore as the only resource of an authentic Polish style, free of foreign influence.

This was Witkiewicz's starting point when he, fascinated by the actual construction style, enhanced the original character of the furniture and decorations. Already in his first writings, that concerned itself with the Tatra-Region, he recommended the use of different subjects of the local folk art in the construction of houses, Chalets and private estates in Zakopane, which grew quickly at that time.


In 1891 Witkiewicz developed further his so far only regional art concept into a theory of a national style. Convinced of the crisis of the visual arts in Poland, that had lost its national identity through cosmopolitan influence, he saw the rescue in returning to the local resources, to the proto-Polish "elements of art", of which he believed, they would have survived in the Podhale Region since "the time of earliest determination of national elements". Architecture and handicraft would be born again from these earliest samples of Polish art and spread in the Polish society in a refined form, according to "more complex and refined needs".

Witkiewicz went further than the theorists of national folklore art when in 1891 - 1892 he designed a summer house for a moving in family, the first of this art in Poland, uniting the typical structure, form and decoration elements of the Podhale region. The Koliba-house was a challenge to the eclectic and world middle class manor style; the house and its furnishing marked a revitalization of the national Polish style in the art.

sketch1_m sketch2_m sketch3_m
sketch4_m sketch5_m sketch6_m
  Stanislaw Witkiewicz sketches


This undertaking was something special because the Koliba-house was designed by a painter, author and art critic, who had no professional education in the designing of architecture, while the success - what Witkiewicz always emphasized - depended on the cooperation of Zakopane's population; for the building site the best craftsmen, carpenters, cabinetmakers, wood cutters and sculptors were selected: Maciej Gasienica Jozkowy, Jasiek Stachon, Staszek Bobak, Klimek Bachleda, Jozef Kasprus Stoch and Wojciech Brzega.

Following the precepts of art as one, where architecture and interior furnishings build a unity, the Koliba house was equipped with furniture, cloths, ovens and other facilities in Zakopane style, to satisfy "the complex and fine needs of the wealthy classes". The few surviving documents - photographs, correspondences, news items - give us an approximate conception of the inside of Gnatowski's house, which has been meticulously furnished in the Zakopane style, also called at that time the Mountain-, Tatra- or Podhale-style. The peasant's living room held the house owner's rich folklore collection, which survived because it had been bequeathed to the Tatra museum. Other furnishings of Koliba were scattered or destroyed after Gnatowski's death.

The furnishings of the Koliba house made the Zakopane-style famous and popular. Further houses, designed by Witkiewicz, were built in Zakopane: the mansions Pepita, Oksza and Zofiowka (Sophie's), the house Pod Jedlami (under the fir), the retirement home Rialto, the chapel near Jaszczurowka (lizard); outside [Zakopane] the most important buildings were the Railroad station in Sylgudyszki in Lithuania and brick mansions in Przyborow and Lancuchow. Around the turn of the century the Zakopane-style was declared the official Polish national style; its nearly twenty-year-old history culminated in the construction of a brick house for the Tatra Museum. In addition, the plans sketched by Witkiewicz in Lovrana in the years 1913-14, when he was already critically ill, were his last work in the style, which he had created.

Koliba, which luckily survived serious changes and destruction through the ups and downs, was carefully restored for some years. The rich photographic material made the perfect reconstruction of many missing details of the building possible.

The furnishing of the inside of the house, which is now at the museum, corresponds with the functions of the original use. Thus we can see a considerate ethnic collection in Gnatowski's peasant's room, in addition the living room, a bedroom and, in the upper floor, Gnatowski's room and next to it the servant's room. Some details were reconstructed based on photographs (oven, floors, curtains), while others were rebuilt according to the original installation of the Pod Jedlami house (ledges).

Most of the furniture, devices and small objects, although not part of the original facilities of the Koliba, belong to the same era and the same style; they have been designed by Stanislaw Witkiewicz, his close co-worker Wojciech Brzega, and also Stanislaw Barabasz, since 1900 principal of the wood carver school, which had introduced and propagated the Zakopane-style, and also by Franciszek Neuzil, the first principal of that school, who has constructed the first furniture with ornaments of the Podhale style for which he has been severely criticized by Witkiewicz.

Today we know that the Zakopane-style did not become the most popular form of Polish art, as Witkiewicz believed and hoped. The reason for it was on the one hand Witkiewicz misleading theoretical concept, because the art from Podhale was not a remnant of the proto-Polish style and the folklore was too limited to fulfil the needs of a new art and on the other hand the fact that his idea came much too late. As a new national style, he proposed an eclectic style at a time when the European art started being shaped by modern developments that openly rejected historicism and imitation.

Nevertheless, Witkiewicz's ideas and work have strongly influenced similar developments of the Polish art and turned out to be right on a local level. He brought reputation to the folklore of the Podhale region and revived this artistic tradition again by emphasizing new possibilities and development of regional architecture. Koliba was the first link in this chain of tradition."

This summary of Mrs. Jablonska particularly focuses on the historical art developments and contains very little data about Zygmunt Gnatowski. In her previously mentioned book, Mrs. Jablonska gives some further details - after all the Koliba house was built on behalf of Zygmunt Gnatowski. So he must have been very well acquainted with the ideas of Stanislaw Witkiewicz, and in giving him the possibility to build a house in the national style, has probably ensured the success of the Zakopane-style. Zygmunt Gnatowski's folklore collection indicates furthermore not only wealth, but also wide-ranging interests and education of this man.

As a Ukrainian property owner, Zygmunt Gnatowski has evidently got a considerable fortune at his disposal. So he could afford a country house in the mountains - the Koliba-house - that he had built in the "Goralen-style" (Highland-style). The "Goralen-style" in architecture is comparable with the "Oberbayern-style" (Highland Bavaria). The word "Gorale" means in the geographic sense "on top, above" and is often used when referring to the Carpathian Mountains . So it was to be a house like other mountain houses, but with all conveniences. In any case, it was to look "authentic".

Witkiewicz has obviously seen all the possibilities given here. The Podhale region was becoming a favourite summer region for the, in Witkiewicz's words, "well to do class". After the success, which the Koliba-house had in these circles, the artist Witkiewicz was able to construct further mansions, even next to the Koliba-house, and other buildings.

1) Teresa Jablonska, Zbigniew Mozdzierz, "Koliba", Pierwszy Dom w Stylu Zakopianskim, Zakopane 1994. Unfortunately it was not possible for us to receive an English or German version of this book from Zakopane. Translation into German seemed, even though the Koliba house is so important, too extensive.

2) Translation by Beate Freitag and Dr. Herbert Winter. A detailed English representation of the history of the house and the art of the Zakopane style is in the appendix.