Julian Fałat, one of the most outstanding Polish watercolourist, traveled to Ceylon and around the World in 1885. It turned out to be the adventure of his life.
He had studied painting at the Krakow School of Fine Arts and became its rector. He had studied in Zurich and Munich and became the court painter of the German Emperor. He had traveled around Europe and then went on a journey around the World. Reading his diary, I got the impression that he was a man of great fantasy, and a sense of humor, and his life was full of unusual episodes. Julian Fałat (30.07.1853 – 9.07.1929) – a painter and draftsman. One of the most outstanding Polish watercolourists and landscape painters of breach of 19th and 20th century.
It was supposed to be only a trip to Ceylon and India, and it turned out to be the best adventure of Julian Fałat’s life and also a trip around the World. He described his journey in his memoirs.
To Ceylon and beyond …
So in 1885, staying in Munich, Fałat had received a telegraphic proposal from a friend, Edward Simler, for a far-off non-European journey. As mentioned, he was a man with a lot of fantasy, therefore it comes with a little surprise, that he put up at the appointed time at the station without knowing many details about the expedition and having only a few hours “to collect art supplies and travel necessities.”
Fałat and Simler go by train from Munich via Paris to Marseille. Only then did Simler reveal to Fałat “a travel plan to India, offering himself to pay all expenses” on their trip. Fałat accepts the project with joy and gratitude, saying “whose car do you drive, you sing such a song”. From the first moments, their journey is full of adventures and, as Fałat recalls, they lost two thousand francs from their travel budget by playing cards on their train to Paris.
However, still full of enthusiasm and youthful carefree, both gentlemen board in Marseilles “to the Far East – Shanghai and Japan” called “Irrawody” and say goodbye to Europe in the sunshine, “knowing that now there is a month in the north, not without reason called February “.
From Europe to Ceylon
First daybreak at sea and first stop Naples. The ship stops here all day, so friends decide to explore the city while being surrounded by a big bustle full of music, calls from souvenir sellers and tour agents. They have a dinner and they set off escorted by dolphins. They are going to Port-Said in joyful anticipation of “what heaven, sun and this wonderful sapphire sea will bring”.
Their ship enters the Suez Canal. After the formalities, it passes the lighthouse and the monument to the developer of the channel – the French diplomat De Lesseps. Fałat sketches eagerly visible on land “tents, fires, picturesque silhouettes of camels and Arabs”. The journey to Suez, the gate of the Red Sea lasts two days, our gentlemen begin to meet other passengers who are slowly exchanging their European clothes for “light, white, mostly silk and tropical helmets”. The day on the ship is governed by meal times and for the first time, Fałat has a chance to try a curry – “boiled rice, very loose, to which some terribly strong, bitter, sour, peppery and burning spices are added from the platter. This is reportedly indicated for hygienic reasons for disinfecting the mouth and stomach.”
After five days of travel, as describes Fałat, the ship reaches the strait connecting the Red Sea with the Pacific Ocean, called Bab-el-Mandeb, or the Gate of Tears. Its name stems from the difficulties encountered by ships passing this way, on many of the rocks “one can see the hull of the ship through which the hull waves overflow.”
On the sixth day, they reach Aden, and here for the first time they see the boats “as if moved from the inside of Africa: narrow hollowed out of one trunk, connected by two with rods bent into a headband.” The arrival of the ship, just like in Naples, attracts whole clusters of natives. Fałat and his friend go ashore to visit the famous Cisterns – rainwater tanks created by building dams across the gorge. “Today, tankers have lost their significance, because distilled seawater is used for both drinking and cooking” – the author notes.
Seven days ahead of them through the mighty Indian Ocean to Ceylon, to the port of Colombo. The long, limited space travel “creates currents of sympathy, connects fellow passengers in close circles or makes them hostile to each other”, so that “even the intervention of the ship’s captain and iron discipline are needed” . Fałat meets “a fellow painter” – a doctor who, at the same time, becomes a great source of information about life in the Far East and bout travels for both Polish travelers.
They arrive in Colombo at dawn, before them a 24-hour stay in Ceylon. The first image of the island seen through the eye of the painter; “Everything is wonderful and unusual here – other than what I could have created in my imagination.” He is delighted with the green of the palm forests, the red of the earth, the blue shade of the water, the screaming colors of the Indians and Persians, the wonderful brown of the skin of the Sinhalese and the yellow, white and cinnabar gowns of the descendants of the former colonizers – the Dutch and Portuguese. Both friends visit the city “in a filigree, cage-like buggy, harnessed in a microscopic pony”. Their guide is a Sinhalese “in a delicious yellow turban on his head, with an earring in his ears and nose”.
They first visit a botanical garden and the National Museum in Colombo, but these places resemble other similar in the world, so they do not arouse their great enthusiasm. Then they go to a small Buddhist temple. Along the way, they pass huts built of bamboo, covered with reed roofs and shaded by tall palm trees. Fałat is stunned by the unusual sunlight breaking through the smoky interior of the temple, intoxicated by the scent of incense and flowers folded in front of the giant statue of the reclining Buddha, captivated by the “screaming costumes” of people and the unusual look of girls with black, deep eyes like “surprised deer”. Fałat has a huge excess of sensations – “I would like to paint something, but […] I do not know what is the most beautiful or the most characteristic.” He only makes “a few notes” and returns to the port area, for dinner at the “Grand Oriental” hotel. All passengers spend the night on a ship that sets off towards Singapore in the morning.
In the Way to Europe
In Singapore, Fałat, and Simler separate. Enormous heat is not conducive to Simler’s health, so he gives up going to Calcutta and Mumbai, and decides to go to Japan, where the climate is similar to the Italian.
Fałat stays in Singapore and spends most of his time in the Chinese quarter, “painting the Chinese who pose willingly but are obtrusive” . During his stay, he falls ill with malaria but thanks to the quinine he recovered from the disease and leaving Singapore. On the way to Japan, he stops for two days in Hong Kong, where he penetrates the picturesque streets and alleys and observes the lives of the Chinese.
In Yokohama, Fałat meets again with a friend who becomes his guide in Japan. “As an artist – painter, I am struck by the mistiness of the landscape, creating special perspectives and somewhat understatements, giving the artist a wide field of imagination” – wrote Fałat in his diary. He is impressed not only by the Japanese landscape but also by the unity of people with nature and the great culture of this “bizarrely artistic nation”.
The return route to Europe leads through the Pacific Ocean, America, and the Atlantic Ocean. They reach San Francisco in eighteen days, “rushed endlessly by winds, deprived of all movement, eating only canned food” and by rail travel to New York, where they spend 36 hours. From here, by the boat “Bremen” sail to Bremen, and then Fałat and Simler go back to Munich, where “the hoop closed”.
Source: Julian Fałat, Pamiętniki [The memoris], Katowice 1987