Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò tracing his ancestors

Marian Paluszkiewicz

Interview with Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò, PhD, descendant of a famous family of Vilnius. He is a grandson of a great painter Tymon Niesiołowski.

Why are you here?

It is my second trip to Vilnius. For the first time I came here in 1988. This time I came here with my daughters. I am going to show them the city where our ancestors have lived. We are wandering in the streets of Vilnius.

Who are those ancestors?

First of all, my grandfather – Tymon Niesiołowski. He lived here in 1926-1945, most of the time on 24 Zamkowa street (currently 22) where now a bust of Juliusz Słowacki is placed. My grandparents lived on the first floor in the front part of the building with a view on the Saint Johns’ Church and the Świętojańska street. My mother – Dorota Niesiołowska born in 1934 – made her first steps on the balcony on the courtyard side. She has worked in the National Museum in Warsaw for many years.

You have a double-barrelled name. What is the reason?

My father was an Italian – his name was Donato Spanò. My mother, as I said, was a Pole from Vilnius. I have inherited my surname from them both. It was a fair solution. I was born in Italy, but I feel I am a Pole, because I have spent a large part of my life in Poland.

Does your profession have something in common with art?

I work at the Warsaw University at the Historical Institute. I deal with ancient history, the Bible and history of the ancient Palestine.

What can you say about your famous grandfather Tymon Niesiołowski?

He was born in 1882 in Lviv. The Niesiołowski family lived in Galicia for a long time. He studied in Kraków and was taught by Mehoffer and Wyspiański. Then he lived in Zakopane for many years. At that time he established many contacts with people from the world of art, for example, Witkacy. In 1926 he moved to Vilnius where he became Principal of the School of Arts and Crafts. He also joined the Vilnius Society of Artists. Since 1928 he was teaching painting and poster and fabric design at the Fine Arts Department at the Stefan Batory University. He lived on Zamkowa street, because there was his university flat. Exhibitions of Niesiołowski took place in many Polish cities. He took part also in presentations of Polish art organized by the Society for Promotion of Polish Art Abroad in Helsinki and Stockholm (1927), in Vienna and Brussels (1928), in Hague and Amsterdam (1929) and in Edinburgh (1932). In 1940-1941 he was the Director of the Vilnius Artists Association and taught at the Art Academy. In 1945 he moved to Toruń. In 1946-1960 he was the Head of the Chair of Easel Painting at the Nicolaus Copernicus University. Tymon Niesiołowski was well remembered in Toruń for his work. He is still highly valued as a formist. He died in 1965 in Toruń. Everyone can find more about his life in his published memoirs.

Have you found something related to your grandfather in Vilnius?

I know that in Pavilnys, in the local Christ the King church, there is a bas-relief of the Saint Christoper, patron saint of Vilnius, sculpted by Niesiołowski during the Second World War. We know from the memoirs that orders placed by church saved family’s life, because times were very difficult for them. The university was closed, there was no job. My grandfather painted even postcards to earn some money. In the Saint Teresa church there are two paintings of Niesiołowski from that time. Reportedly, in the Lithuanian museum collections there are other paintings created by him. He also painted a portrait of world famous oncologist Kazimierz Pelczar. Many of his paintings are in private collections.

Krzysztof Niesiełowski have come to Vilnius many times. Are you related to him?

He was my uncle, brother of my mother. He was 7 years older than my mother. He has worked as a director of puppet theatres. He visited Vilnius many times, because here he had many friends. He also worked for the “Kurier Wileński”. My mother was 11 years old, my uncle was 18 when they have left Vilnius in 1945. Of course, my uncle remembered more about the social and cultural life before and during the war. He recalled often some events from that time, his friends. Vilnius was an often discussed topic in our home. I have heard a lot about unmatched taste of potato babka, cold beet soup or Lithuanian dumplings, so called “kołduny”. When the family moved to Toruń, it turned out that the Pomeranian cuisine is completely different.

According to some sources your grandfather lived on 6 Wiosenna street.

Yes, it was his first address in Vilnius. Then, his aunt Anna Dzikowska lived there. She was buried at the local Saints Peter and Paul cemetery. She has never married and always accompanied my grandfather. When he has finished his education and moved to Zakopane, she moved with him. She took care of him since his mother died when he was young. They had a strong relationship. She died in Vilnius in 1932. Niesiołowski sculpted her grave monument of a sitting woman. It is the only one grave monument sculpted by my grandfather. In our home we have a portrait of her, as we call her aunt-grandmother.

Where can we see his works of art?

There are in many museums in Poland – of course, in the National Museums in Warsaw, Poznań, Kraków, Toruń, Bydgoszcz, but also in Gdańsk or Lublin. My grandfather is considered to be a painter whose artistic works one should have in his or her private collection of twentieth century paintings. Recently, a doctoral thesis devoted to the work of Tymon Niesiołowski was written. It includes almost all his known and preserved paintings.

Are you planning to visit Vilnius one more time?

Yes, next time I will come here with my wife who has never been here. My mother-in-law Maria Kałamajska is an art historian passionate about the city of Vilnius. She has written few books on the history of the modern art, especially on the sacred art in the eastern part of the Rzeczpospolita, including the Vilnius region, for example, a monograph titled “The Gate of Dawn in Vilnius”. Vilnius is such a beautiful city attracting people from all over the world. I will surely try to come back to Vilnius.

Source: http://kurierwilenski.lt/2014/09/05/lukasz-niesiolowski-spano-w-poszukiwaniu-sladow-przodkow/

Tłumaczenie by Maciej Jóźwiak w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Maciej Jóźwiak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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