Maria Papa Rostkowska

1923Warsaw, Poland | 2008Lido di Camaiore, Italy
Maria Papa  Rostkowska — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Maria Papa Rostkowska carving the Great Warrior, photograph published in the booklet of the Maria Papa exhibition at the Galerie del Naviglio, Milano, 1967

Polish sculptor and painter.

Maria Rostkowska had just started her technical drawing and architecture training in Poland when the Second World War broke out. She joined the armed resistance, along with her husband, Ludwik Rostkowski. She escaped deportation, and returned to a devastated Warsaw, there giving birth to her only son. She at last resumed her studies in 1946, entering the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and later travelled to Paris after winning a scholarship. There were she studied drawing and painting, copying works in the Louvre. In 1950 she returned to Poland, and taught painting, first in Gdansk, then in Warsaw. She participated regularly in Polish exhibitions, showing paintings in a social realist style that foregrounded the world of the Polish working class(Portrait of Aleksander Gronostajski, Labour Hero In Nowy Port, 1950, Zamoyski Family Museum, Kozłówka).

M. Rostkowska’s husband had disappeared during Stalinist purges, and life under such a charged political atmosphere, along with the limits she felt were being put on her exercising her artistic practice, led her to emigrate to Paris in 1957. The following year she married Gualtieri Papa, known as Gualtieri di San Lazzaro, an Italian art critic, gallerist, and editor of the art journal XXe siècle. At his gallery she met and was encouraged by many of the celebrated artistic personalities of the 1960s, including Serge Poliakoff (1900-1969), Émile Gilioli (1911-1977), Marino Marini (1901-1980), Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Joan Miró (1893-1983), Jean Arp (1886-1966) and César (1921-1998).

M. Papa Rostkowska increasingly found herself drawn to sculpture. In Albisola, an Italian village that attracted artists from all over the world, who came to visit the ceramicist and sculptor Tullio Mazzotti (1899-1971), she discovered clay modelling. She began to create terracotta bas-reliefs, scratching and indenting the clay to form intricate networks (Untitled, bas-relief, c. 1962). She also modelled clay into three-dimensional rugged, almost abstract forms, sometimes painting them (Tête de bélier, 1963, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Meudon,; Untitled, terra cotta, 1962). As well as her terracotta works, she exhibited bronze sculptures (La Femme, 1974) in group exhibitions: at the Salon de la Jeune Sculpture in 1961, 1962 and 1963, and at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan in 1961.

Turning to the technique of carving directly into marble, M. Papa Rostkowska became fascinated by the material. She would work with it for the rest of her life. In 1966,she set up a studio in the Henraux marble quarries in Querceta di Serravezza, an iconic location, closeto the Carrara quarries. Here she came into contact with marble workers, practitioners and artists from around the world. She familiarised herself with all aspects of the material, learning how to transform raw stone through careful attention to detail: building the support, polishing andcreating variants in different marbles. She experimented with size, making large format works such as Grand guerrier (Large Warrior, 1967). Produced between 1967 and 1991, her “warriors” series calls up her own experience of war, but transcends pure tragedy through its references to ancient Greek and classical figures (Guerrier grec, 1987, and Guerrier florentin, 1986). Throughout the 1990s, still working with a very smooth marble, she created “lighter” works: odes to life and joy or to family (Promesse du bonheur, 1994, Paris, Assemblée Nationale). Despite suffering a stroke in 2001, M. Papa Rostkowska continued producing smaller marble works up until her death in 2008.

Marianne Lombardi

Translated from the French by Flora Hibberd.

Publication made in partnership with the Institut Polonais de Paris.

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