August 26, 2020

Jakubowski's Fairy Tales

        Stanislaw Jakubowski (Poland, 1888-1964) is a Polish artist about whom I have very little information.  However, he made 10 woodcuts illustrating Kraina slowianskich basni (Land of Slavic Fairytales) in 1929.  For this series, at least, his style is very dark and shadowy with only a few white lines to delineate form and texture.  The fineness of the lines and hatching give these almost the look of wood engravings, but there are certainly some thicker gouges, as well.  Also, I’m not sure how large they are.
        We’ll start with the dragon, because a good dragon is always a winner.  Note that this one has no wings; otherwise, however, it’s a classic.  Plus, I like the bright area in the background: moonlit clouds, perhaps?
        Another classic creature is this basilisk — not the version that’s been conflated with the cockatrice, but the true King of Serpents.  It clings to a most excellent gnarled tree, something Jakubowski clearly enjoyed depicting, as similar trees show up in several illustrations.  But I especially like the touch of fantasy in the plants.  The vine at the left has a distinctly whimsical vibe.
        And finally, Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged hut.  This is a subject that’s been in the back of my head for a long time as something I would enjoy doing.  Baba Yaga is an interesting character who deserves her own post some time, but she is, basically, the most famous witch in Slavic folklore.  In Jakubowski’s version there is a crow or raven perched outside, and a girl is sitting by the door or perhaps climbing down the ladder.  I assume these details are specific to the particular story this piece illustrates.  Another interesting touch is that while Baba Yaga’s hut is usually said to be in a forest, the plants in Jakubowski’s version appear more like weeds enlarged to forest scale - or 
perhaps the house is shrunk down to something more like actual chicken size.  In it you can see again Jakubowski’s predilection for whimsical botany.  The faint pin-prick suggestion of very circular clouds in the sky is also reminiscent of the brighter clouds behind the dragon.
        I did share one more of Jakubowski’s fairy tale illustrations previously.  You can see his will-o-the-wisps here, with another gnarled tree.  The very dark style with only the wispiest of white lines works particularly well in depicting faint, mysterious faerie flames.  I think his work is great and I’d love to see more some time.

[Pictures: Dragon;
Baba Yaga’s Hut, all woodcuts by Stanislaw Jakubowski from Kraina slowianskich basni (Land of Slavic Fairytales), 1929 (Images from lamus dworski).]

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