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Nikifor (21 May 1895, Krynica-Zdrój - 10 October 1968) (also known as Nikifor Krynicki and Epifaniusz Drowniak1) was a Polish folk and naïve painter of Lemko descent. Nikifor painted over 40,000 pictures - on sheets of paper, pages of notebooks, cigarette cartons, and even on scraps of paper glued together. The topics of his art include self-portraits and panoramas of Krynica, with its spas and Orthodox and Catholic churches. Underestimated for most of his life, in his late days he became famous as a primitivist painter.
Little is known of private life of Nikifor. For most of his life he lived alone in extreme poverty in Krynica, and was considered a mentally challenged person. He had difficulties talking and was almost illiterate. It was not until late in his life that it was discovered that in fact his tongue was attached to his palate, which was the reason why his speech was unintelligible to most. In 1930 his first paintings were discovered by Roman Turyn, who brought them to Paris. That made Nikifor gain some fame among the Kapists, a group of young painters formed around Józef Pankiewicz. However, this did not change his fate as his art was still being underestimated in Poland. In 1938 Jerzy Wolff published an enthusiastic review of Nikifor's art in Arkady monthly and bought some of his works. However, the war prevented Nikifor from gaining any notoriety.
In 1947 Nikifor was deported during Operation Vistula. The Lemko and Ukrainian minorities were resettled with force in northern and western Poland. Three times he attempted to return to Krynica. He was actually very lucky that the authorities allowed him to stay the third time, as other Lemko and Ukrainian people who tried to return to their native villages were deported to the concentration camp in Jaworzno.
In 1960 Nikifor met Marian Włosiński, a painter living in Krynica. The latter decided to devote his career and life to helping the elderly artist and promoted his works in major galleries of Poland. This led to a large exhibition in the Warsaw-based Zachęta Art Gallery, which became a huge success. After the death of Nikifor in 1968, most of his works were preserved by Włosiński and donated to various museums. The most complete collection is stored in the Regional Museum of Nowy Sącz and the Krynica-based museum of Nikifor.
The name and surname of Nikifor have been a matter of dispute for over half a century now, as he had no known relatives or documents, and was almost illiterate. He signed his works with the names Nikifor, Netyfor or Matejko. In 1962 the communist authorities in Poland arbitrarily chose the name Nikifor Krynicki (Nikifor of Krynica, after his place of residence) so that a passport could be issued for him. This act was declared null by a court in 2003, following a statement by the Lemko Association of Poland. The court idenrtified the documents which stated that Nikifor was baptized Epifaniy Drovnyak (spelled Epifaniusz Drowniak in Polish) and his mother was Eudokia Drowniak, a Lemko woman. Following the court's ruling the name on his grave in Krynica cemetery was changed. Currently his tombstone bears two names: "Nikifor Krynicki" in Latin letters and "Epifaniy Drovnyak" in Cyrillic letters.
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