Limanowski Mieczysław

(1876–1948), geologist, theatre artist, and one of the most extraordinary figures in twentieth-century Polish culture. The son of the renowned socialist activist Bolesław Limanowski, he was expelled from his secondary school after being denounced by a colleague to whom Limanowski had revealed that he did not believe in the transubstantiation that is said to occur during the Eucharist. Unable to attend a classical secondary school, it was also impossible for him to gain entry to university (he had attended what was known as a Realschule). However, he did study engineering at Lwów (Lviv) Polytechnic, where he became interested in geology. At the start of the twentieth-century he was in Paris, where he became fascinated with non-European theatre, particularly the acting of Sada Yacco and Javan wayang. During this time he also published his first articles on the theatre (including a critical review of Dziady [Forefathers’ Eve] directed by Wyspiański) and his first articles on geology (on the geology of the Tatras, the Alps and the mountains of Sicily). Between 1899 and 1903 he was personal tutor to Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy), while also remaining heavily influenced by Stanisław Witkiewicz, Senior. In 1908 he was awarded a doctorate in geology in Switzerland. In 1910 he became a lecturer at Warsaw’s Wolna Wszechnica Polska. In the period leading up to the First World War he was intensively active in the theatre as a member of the theatrical section of Towarzystwo Dziennikarzy (Society of Journalists). During this time he presented his innovative set designs (Krakus na arenia cyrkowej [Krakus in the circus arena], 1914), while also writing theatre reviews for the weekly Prawda. In spring 1915 he became artistic director at Warsaw’s Teatr Powszechny where, together with Aleksander Zelwerowicz, he staged Le Cid in Stanisław Wyspiański’s adaptation (8 May 1915). The performance was not, however, a success, with Limanowski later admitting that this was a result of a lack of practical experience, primarily the inability to fix permanently and reproduce what had been achieved in rehearsals. With the war underway, as a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire he was ordered to head to Russia on 23 June 1915. He was thus in Moscow from 27 September, while from January 1916 he took part in rehearsals for a production of Dostoyevsky’s The Village of Stiepanchikovo (also known as The Friend of the Family) at the First Studio of the Moscow Art Theatre. It was there that he fell under the influence of Konstantin Stanislavsky, adopting many of his ideas, concepts and views, while also infusing them with his own thought and original logic. It was Limanowski who brought Stanislavsky to a performance at the Polish Theatre, then active at Alexander Tairov’s Chamber Theatre, where Juliusz Osterwa also became acquainted with him. In Moscow, he was also connected to a circle of Russian intellectuals (including Vyacheslav Ivanov and Nikolai Berdyaev) and to a group of people interested in esotericism. He wrote one of his most important texts here (Rok polski i dusza zbiorowa [The Polish year and the collective spirit], 1916), while also beginning his ‘séances’ of work on Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve) with a group of young people (including Józef Poręba, Halina Kaciska – later Gallowa). He continued this work upon his return to Poland, founding in 1919 Pierwsze Studio Sztuki Teatru im. Adama Mickiewicza (The Adam Mickiewicz First Studio of Theatrical Arts), which was the foundation of Reduta. Limanowski was the co-creator of its ideology and programme, introducing esoteric elements into it. He also developed it practically, since he bore a large portion of the responsibility for the internal work and directed its analytical activities. His manifesto Sztuka aktora (The actor’s art; 1919) comes from this period. During the 1924/25 season he was the co-director of Reduta, while also directing its 1924 tour. In 1925 he moved together with Reduta to Wilno (Vilnius), where he also worked as a director (including a version of Wyspiański’s Wesele [Wedding] staged according to an innovative, original interpretation and spatial arrangements). In 1926 he was made professor of the Stefan Batory University in Wilno which (in tandem with the crisis that had overcome the Reduta company) caused him to temporarily suspend his work with the group between 1927 and 1929. From 1929 he was again a permanent collaborator with the Reduta Institute, while in 1932 he became its director, taking responsibility for its internal and laboratory work. During this time he remained a lecturer at the university in Wilno while also working as the chief theatre critic of the city’s Słowo daily. Following the outbreak of the Second World War he remained in Vilnius. In 1940, under Lithuanian rule, he wrote reviews for the daily Gazeta Codzienna and continued to work in the theatre with a group of youths on Forefathers’ Eve. During the Soviet occupation, lasting until mid-1941, he was not allowed to work, consequently suffering poverty and hunger, while there were even rumours that he was suffering from mental illness or that he had even died (these rumours also reached Osterwa). The rumours proved untrue and in 1945 together with other professors from Wilno he was repatriated to Toruń, where he was made professor of geology at the Copernicus University. Weakened by his wartime experiences, he was unable to fulfil his plans to collaborate again with Osterwa and become active in the theatre. He died on 25 January 1948, six months after Osterwa. For many years, his role in the theatre world and in developing Polish thought on the theatre was underplayed and underappreciated (he was described as a fantasist, eccentric and borderline madman). It was only later into the century that the research of Zbigniew Osiński and the unequivocal, open references to Limanowski’s tradition in the work and achievements of Włodzimierz Staniewski and also Wacław Sobaszek with his collaborators at the rural Węgajty Theatre, that the original, holistic and ecological vision of culture created by Limanowski, in which the theatre was to have an essential role as the central institution of spiritual and social life, was understood and appreciated. Limanowski also played an important role in the work of Grotowski, for whom the text ‘Sztuka aktora’ (The actor’s art) was of particular significance, with Grotowski having become acquainted with it earlier, most probably thanks to Halina Gallowa. Grotowski made numerous references to its conception of the art of acting as a dramatic and direct response to impulses and its insistence on the necessity of presenting it in a legible structure, particularly during the Art as vehicle period.


Mieczysław Limanowski: Był kiedyś teatr Dionizosa, wstęp, wybór i opracowanie Zbigniew Osiński, Warszawa 1994.

Mieczysław Limanowski: Duchowość i maestria. Recenzje teatralne, 1901–1940, zebrał i opracował Zbigniew Osiński, Warszawa 1992.

Mieczysław Limanowski o sztuce aktora i szkoleniu aktora. Nieznane teksty, do druku podał i oprac. Zbigniew Osiński, „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 2003 z. 1–2, s. 271–286.

Mieczysław Limanowski: Istota kultury, [w:] Kultura wsi. Biuletyn XIII Konferencji Oświatowej poświęconej zagadnieniu kultury wiejskiej w Polsce (Łowicz 10, 11, 12 stycznia 1930), Warszawa 1930, s. 13–47; przedruk [w:] Dariusz Kosiński: Polski teatr przemiany, Wrocław 2007, s. 351–380.

Mieczysław Limanowski, Juliusz Osterwa: Listy, opracował i wstępem opatrzył Zbigniew Osiński, Warszawa 1987.

Mieczysław Limanowski. Człowiek, twórca, świadek czasów. Materiały z sesji naukowej – Toruń 1–3 grudnia 1995 pod redakcja naukową Marii Kalinowskiej i Andrzeja Sadurskiego, Toruń 1998.

Zbigniew Osiński: Grotowski o „parach teatralnych” (Osterwa – Limanowski, Stanisławski – Niemirowicz-Danczenko, Grotowski – Flaszen) i swoim Centro di Lavoro – Wokcenter w Pontederze, „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 2001 z. 1–2, s. 14–39.

Zbigniew Osiński: Pamięć Reduty. Osterwa, Limanowski, Grotowski, Gdańsk 2003.