Albert Lipczinski was a young Polish artist and citizen of the German Empire who arrived in Liverpool in 1897, soon becoming a central figure in the city’s Bohemian artistic set. He took painting and drawing classes at Liverpool University’s Art Shed led by Augustus John and was active in the Sandon Studios Society, the focus of radical and progressive artistic activities in the city, where he rubbed shoulders with figures such as Charles Reilly, Professor of Architecture, fellow-artists and Herbert McNair, and sculptors Edward Carter-Preston and Herbert Tyson Smith.
He soon formed a relationship with Augustus John’s model, Elizabeth Milne, a barmaid known as ‘Doonie’ because of her fondness for the song, ‘The Banks of the Doon’, with lyrics by Robert Burns. Soon married, the couple settled into a Bohemian lifestyle in a Victorian Gothic building – now long gone – in Roscoe Street, which they called ‘the Schloss’. Here they kept a studio and held parties attended by friends and acquaintances, including progressive artists and radical trade unionists such as Tom Mann.
This is a drawing of ‘Doonie’, one of over 70 works by Lipczinski from all periods of his life that form the exhibition, Albert Lipczinski 1876-1974, which I saw yesterday at the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead. Why should this exhibition (which is later to travel to Poland) be launched in Birkenhead?
The answer is that the Birkenhead Art Gallery was the first to buy a picture from Lipczinski , an oil painting of his beloved greyhound Fanny (below). He also produced a strikingly modern and colourful design for the Birkenhead textile firm Arthur H Lee & Sons (also on display).
The Birkenhead Art Gallery bought this oil painting, Windspiel (Fanny), in 1913 for the sum of £7 (the curator bargained Lipczinski down from the £10 he was asking). ‘Windspiel’ is German for greyhound (rather poetically, the word literally means ‘wind chimes’). Fanny was the Lipczinski’s Italian greyhound, a much-loved animal that features in several paintings and drawings in the exhibition.
The exhibition guide recounts a story told by the sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith that when the Lipczinskis were particularly broke, Elizabeth would walk into town from the Schloss, and examine meat on the butchers’ displays, finally picking up a piece then appearing to change her mind and replacing it. Returning to Roscoe Street, she would let out the dog which would race down the length of Bold Street, scent the piece of meat that Elizabeth had handled, and run off with, pursued by the angry stallholder.
By 1911, Lipczinski’s career was beginning to take off. His work had been shown in a variety of local exhibitions, and he was becoming more embedded in the Liverpool art scene. He was invited by Augustus John to paint in North Wales, and several views of Moel Famau emerged from the trip. In 1911 his work featured prominently in the exhibition mounted by the Sandon Studio Society that featured a selection of paintings by Post-Impressionists such as Picasso, Gauguin and Matisse, alongside work by local artists. This is the exhibition that is currently recreated at the Walker Art Gallery as Art in Revolution: Liverpool 1911.
That exhibition features his portrait of Dorothy Reilly (above), the wife of Charles Reilly, who held the Roscoe Chair of Architecture at Liverpool’s University from 1904. Reilly and his wife were close to a number of the Sandon artists, including Lipczinski.
In 1912, Lipczinski had his first solo exhibition at the Citizen’s Theatre (now the Playhouse) on Williamson Square, whilst he also exhibited at Birkenhead Art Gallery which bought Windspiel (Fanny). However, just as he was making a name for himself, war broke out and, due to his German nationality, Lipczinski was interned in a camp on Chester racecourse. After an intervention by Charles Reilly, Lipczinski was released but placed under house arrest until the end of the war. To enable Lipczinski to earn some money, Reilly had Liverpool University commission him to paint a huge group portrait of the University professors, which is still on display in the Sydney Jones Library.
When the war ended, Lipczinski might have expected his troubles to be over, but he was arrested as a dangerous character, and interned once more before being deported to Gdansk in 1919, despite pleas by Augustus John that he be allowed to remain in the country.
Lipczinski settled in Sopot, a small Polish town near Gdansk on the Baltic Coast. There he spent the rest of his life, achieving some success producing commissioned portraits and landscapes, many of which are on display at the Williamson (above). Though his success continued under Nazi rule, the exhibition notes suggest that he had difficulties under the Communist regime for a while, facing confiscation of their property and struggling to gain Polish citizenship.
Lipczinski worked into his seventies, gaining renewed success with portraits, landscapes and views of Old Gdansk town as it was in the 1930s (below).
In 1969 Elizabeth died and Albert continued to live in a small flat in Sopot, surrounded by paintings, books and magazines. He died in 1974, and this exhibition is the first to gather together a body of work from all periods of his life. It has to be said that the work he produced after his deportation to Poland is not of great significance or interest. The best room in this exhibition is the one that is full of his drawings, and the most outstanding painting – which simply leaps from the wall to grab your attention, is the self portrait featured at the top of this post.