21st May 2022
A few weeks ago I received this invitation to attend a book launch and exhibition of ceramics, both by the artist Elizabeth Stanhope, as she is known in English speaking circles. I have written about her before, when I was writing a profile of her for the Polish Ball, to which she kindly donated two of her pieces to be auctioned for charity. This time the whole oeuvre was up for sale, in aid of the Laski Foundation for the Blind in Poland. Magnificent generosity, – but more important and pleasant for me was to actually attend the evening. It nearly didn’t happen – my attendance, that is, as I originally got the date quite wrong, but we were fortunately able to change our flights and stay another week.
The first part of the evening was a reading by the very famous actress Maja Komorowska from Elizabeth’s grandmother’s diaries from the first world war. Elizabeth had translated them from the French – Grandma, though Polish, was educated in Switzerland, and writing in French came much more naturally to her. Born an aristocrat, brought up in the very same palace where we were introduced to her work, she lived to see it razed to the ground but not of course to see the fabulous restoration. She wrote without a shred of self pity, though she suffered greatly. Yet she overcame her misgivings and gave up her comfortable life to become a an extremely competent and courageous nurse on the Russian/Ukrainian/Polish field of war.
Maja Komorowska read extracts from this diary, which she had chosen carefully to resonate with the contemporary audience; the war in Ukraine is still raging – reflections that Wanda Marylska wrote in From Warsaw to 1914-1917 could have been made this month. Plus ca change…..
The readings were interesting, and it was a pleasure to see quite a few people from England that we knew who had also managed to be there. The whole atmosphere was quite surreal – to be in such a beautiful building, listening to Maja Komorowska’s rich and melodious voice, and hearing her own commentary on what she was reading was an enormous privilege.
We were all given a copy of the diary at the end, which was a lovely gesture. It really needs to be translated into English, so that its contects can be more widely disseminated, but maybe that’s a project for another day.
Meanwhile I was thrilled when both ladies signed the little book for me.
Wanda Marylska – From Warsaw to PetroGrad, 1914-1917, translated by Elżbieta Marylska-Stanhope.
And then we were invited to go through to the exhibition of ceramics. This was in a beautiful room, lit by enormous windows looking out onto the park, and by exquisite chandeliers.
Elizabeth’s ceramics are very original in design and purpose. Some are vases and pots, but it’s the jardinieres which are the most striking. Female torsos and heads, with the suggestions of plants for hair. Very witty and and amusing – and all up for sale. When I visited Elizabeth in her home last November, she explained how she makes her creations – she is not a potter, and has never used a wheel – instead she forms the clay shapes by hand, rolling and pressing and pinching. She made it sound so easy!
The exhibition was set off perfectly by the enormous photographs which apparently had been taken a fortnight previously in the palace grounds.
Then we were invited for more champagne, and canapes and macarons. It was a really beautiful occasion and elegant evening all round.
I was delighted to see that by the end of the evening most of the ceramics had been sold. We all had to leave our purchases behind, however, as the exhibition was to run for another fortnight.
What a great excuse to go back to Poland to collect our pieces! Which ones would you have chosen?