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Bolesław Barbacki was born in Nowy Sącz on 10 October 1891 as the third son of a teacher couple, Leon and Helena Barbacki at their family home at what is today Kunegundy street. From the earliest years he has shown artistic abilities which he has been consistently developing despite numerous obstacles. In his youth, his greatest love, besides art and his family, was Poland – he was dreaming of independence and was working towards its restoration, i.a. as one of the organizers of the underground youth group, the “Filaret Circle”.

After graduating from the 2nd gymnasium in Nowy Sącz, he went to Krakow to study his beloved art of painting. He was however unable to focus solely on art; he had to divide his time between classes at the Fine Arts Academy, where he studied i.a. under the supervision of Teodor Axentowicz, and legal studies at the Jagiellonian University.

When the First World War broke out, he wanted to join the army, as he was hoping, as many Polish people did, that the world conflict could allow Poland to regain its much-sought independence. However, due to his visual defect, he was rejected. Three of his brothers went to war: Tadeusz, Zdzisław and Witold who fought in the Polish Legions. Barbacki remained in Nowy Sącz and then spent several months in Austria, when officials and their families were sent away as part of compulsory evacuation. He used that time to intensively develop his painting abilities. After returning to Nowy Sącz, he took part in an exhibition, where he presented his works to the public. His portraits were very appreciated by the visitors and soon he received orders for more. Also during the war, in April 1918 he co-founded the Drama Society, as he had great passion for the theater.

After Poland regained its independence, Barbacki took a drawing teacher position at the female gymnasium, and also worked as a private drawing teacher. In 1925, to improve his skills, he went to Paris for a year; there, despite coming in contact with the most recent movements in visual arts, he was mostly impressed by the art of old masters. Their craftsmanship inspired his awe. He became famous as a realist portrait painter – his paintings were commissioned not only by the elites of Nowy Sącz but also by well-known people from Warsaw and Lviv; he portrayed Józef Piłsudski as well as Polish generals and professors of the Jan Kazimierz University in Lviv.

However, despite a large number of orders, his great creative temperament and social sensitivity did not allow him to focus solely on painting. And so he worked as a teacher, ran the Industrial Women’s School, was the chairman of the “Sokół” Gimnastic Society and was an active member of the theater led by the Drama Society.

When the war broke out in 1939, Barbacki took it upon himself to hide and secure the assets of “Sokół”; he also joined a secret underground organization. In January 1941, he was arrested and brutally interrogated by Heinrich Hamann, the chief of Gestapo in Nowy Sącz. After his release from prison, Barbacki decided not to leave the city. In July 1941, he was arrested again. He was shot together with a group of over 40 other prisoners in a mass execution in Biegonice near Nowy Sącz. The source documents indicate that his death was a result of Heinrich Hamann’s personal dislike of him.

Boleslaw Barbacki was a man who never lived only for himself. He lived his life in dedication, not only to art but also to his homeland, to his neighbors, to his fellow citizens. He was both a romantic and a positivist. He was committed to help lift his country, destroyed by historical events, from malaise; he would work and create and with his life he has given proof of the best possible kind of patriotism. All of this did not come easily to him, he made difficult decisions, he was brave and faithful to the artist calling and his love – for his family, for people, for his city and homeland – all of his life until its tragic end. Today, his figure moves the best parts of us – it shows the meaning of life dedicated to self-realization through creative love for the world, as it is being changed for the better.

Reccomended further reading (in Polish):

Barbacki B., Praca pozaszkolna absolwentek szkół zawodowych żeńskich, "Przewodnik Oświatowy", nr 10–12, 1913.

Barbacki B., Komar S., Towarzystwo Dramatyczne w Nowym Sączu 1918–1928, Bochnia [no date].

Bolesław Barbacki, Nowy Sącz 2021.

Dagnan K., Bolesław Barbacki wybitny portrecista, Nowy Sącz 1966.

Golachowski K., Towarzystwo Gimnastyczne „Sokół” w Nowym Sączu 1887–1937, Nowy Sącz 1937.

Małecka A., 102 lata Pani Eugenii Romańskiej, "Dobry Tygodnik Sądecki", 13.01.2018.

Maszczak M.T., Bolesław Barbacki 1891–1941, Nowy Sącz 1981.

Maszczak M.T., Bolesław Barbacki (1891–1941), Kraków 1990.

Molenda M., Wieczory wigilijne Barbackich, "Gazeta Nowosądecka", 22.12.2017, p. 10.

Molenda M., Bolesław Barbacki – zapomniany bohater niepodległości, "Sądeczanin. Historia", 1/2018, p. 56–65.

Molenda M., Trzy Heleny. Opowieść o trzech kobietach z rodziny Barbackich, "Sądeczanin. Historia", 4/2020, p. 47–52.

Molenda M., Spektakle Towarzystwa Dramatycznego w oczach recenzentów, "Sądeczanin. Historia", 2/2020, p. 43–60.

Molenda M., Wokół „Kostiumologii” Bolesława Barbackiego, "Sądeczanin. Historia", 1/2021, p. 80–83.

Pawłowski E., Działalność społeczno-kulturalna Bolesława Barbackiego. Katalog pośmiertnej wystawy obrazów Bolesława Barbackiego, Nowy Sącz 1946.

Reguła R., Bolesław Barbacki 1891–1941 (Zarys życia i twórczości). Katalog pośmiertnej wystawy obrazów Bolesława Barbackiego Nowy Sącz 23.IV–8.VII.1946, Nowy Sącz 1946.

Sitek A., Artysta Bolesław Barbacki – człowiek i dzieło. Katalog wystawy obrazów Bolesława Barbackiego, Nowy Sącz–Kraków 1959.

Sitek A., Bolesław Barbacki – artysta, malarz i działacz społeczny. Katalog wystawy malarstwa Bolesława Barbackiego w Galerii TPSP „Stara Kordegarda” w Warszawie, 1978.

Sitek A., Sylwetki zasłużonych sądeczan. 1. Bolesław Barbacki, "Rocznik sądecki", 9 (1968), p. 475–477.

Sztuka nie dla sztuki. Refleksje i wspomnienia Ewy Harsdorf, Nowy Sącz [no date].

Totoń A., Chryzantym Uhacz i Roman Uhacz – przyjaciele Bolesława Barbackiego, Stary Sącz 2014.

Wnęk J., Szkoła Przemysłowa Żeńska Towarzystwa Szkoły Ludowej w Nowym Sączu (1926–1937), „Rocznik sądecki”, 41 (2013), p. 223–242.