Research conference
Organiser: The Tatra Museum, Zakopane

The three major topics that this conference seeks to address include:

– philosophical and theoretical writings and ideas that underpinned the return to nature ca. 1900;

– the rise of artists’ colonies and communities in the countryside in search of alternative ways of living;

– natural motifs, patterns and inspirations in decorative and applied arts, architecture and interior design as well as in painting and sculpture of the time.

The conference will take place in Krakow with a one-day study visit to Zakopane to visit the collections of the Tatra Museum and the artistic houses there.

The conference fee is 55 EURO, in which a trip to Zakopane is included. Participants are required to organize and cover the costs of their travelling and accomodation. Students can register free of charge for a conference, but will be charged 15 EURO for a study-visit to Zakopane.

Abstracts of 20 minute papers should be sent to by 30 June.

Context of the conference

In 2009 the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki launched the research project European Revivals. Its underlying idea is to reflect upon European national revivals by bringing together and analysing multifarious connections and correspondences, which helped shape the identities of modern European nations.

Towards the end of the nineteenth-century, European artists began to express a new profound interest in their unique local pasts and cultural inheritances. This was a discourse largely shaped by the desire within several countries for cultural and artistic, and ultimately social and economic, independence. Art historical scholarship on the subject has already been broadly established, but this joint project strives to examine the parallel phenomena from a wider-scale, international perspective.

The project’s aims are fostered by encouraging scholarly networking between academia and museum professionals by organising or supporting affiliating seminars and conferences, exploring different aspects of these phenomena. The project also plans to be manifested in publications and international exhibitions.

Return to Nature. Characteristics

The leading theme of the conference is a return to nature, which manifested itself in visual arts, architecture and design, literature and music, philosophy and lifestyles at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Rooted in the ideas of the 19th century thinkers and writers such as John Ruskin, it informed the Arts and Crafts and Back-to-the-Land Movements and parallel ideas comprehended as national revivals in central and northern Europe, all of which tapped into Romantic philosophy and imagination.

The return to nature took place both in art and in life, triggering the rise of the colonies of artists who, like the poet Godfrey Blount, believed that country life is the only happy, healthy and human one. In search of simple life and physical and spiritual regeneration painters, writers and composers settled down in the areas of natural beauty, such as the countryside around Lake Tuusula in Finland, the seaside village of Skaagen in Denmark, the village of Zakopane in the Polish Tatras or the agrarian village of Gödollo in Hungary.

In the arts, this turn to nature translated itself, among others, into the representations of the natural world and order, not infrequently endowed with symbolic and metaphysical qualities. Nature is carefully studied by artists, who are also increasingly aware of scientific discoveries of the time. As the representations of life, growth, germination and cycles of seasons make their way into painting and sculpture, in design and applied arts nature is stylised and increasingly abstracted into decorative forms and patterns. Some plants and trees, such as the rowan tree or chestnut rise to prominence and the motif of the tree of life stands out as a powerful symbol.