The “Brotherhood of Saint Luke”, founded in 1925, modeled its name after that of craftsmen’s guilds of yore. Its members hailed from among the students of Tadeusz Pruszkowski, professor at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts. Both the group’s name and its premises were drawn from the work of the German and Austrian artists gathered in the “Brotherhood of Saint Luke” (otherwise dubbed “the Nazarenes”), founded just over a century earlier. Those painters had rebelled not against the subject of artwork, but against the very essence of art and its place in society[1].

The Polish “Lukians” initially boasted such figures as: Bolesław Cybis, Jan Gotard, Aleksander Jędrzejewski, Eliasz Kanarek, Edward Kokoszko, Antoni Michalak, Jan Podoski, Mieczysław Schultz, Czesław Wdowiszewski, Jan Wydra, and Jan Zamoyski – and theses artists were soon joined by Bernard Frydrysiak, Jeremi Kubicki, and Stefan Płużański. Their mentor and outstanding theoretician was Tadeusz Pruszkowski, their favorite teacher, who – despite his loose style of instruction – exerted considerable influence on his students’ creative work.

The Brotherhood of Saint Luke was to hearken to medieval traditions, and thus in establishing their program the artists stood for a return to solid, exacting craftsmanship. They opposed all forms of artificially concocted and impertinently besung ‘isms’. As representatives of the thematic current of the 1930s, they called upon tradition, ever manifesting their ambitions to create a modern art form[2].

The Lukians therefore returned to the classical school of painting, and above all to its principle of order. They also drew upon neoclassicism, traditional composition and iconography, and exquisite workmanship. Their return to thematic painting built around dialogue with the old masters was one of the proposals for art advanced in the interwar period. The artists of this milieu strove for the highest level of artistry, setting out to portray thematic issues of surpassing, presentist relevance. Their quest was for realism in a bid to bond art to life by introducing elements of contemporary life in an archaic form.

Wishing to create a new model for national art, the Lukians turned toward the paintings styles of the 16th to 17th-century Italian, Dutch, and German masters. They felt the greatest affinity to Hieronim Bosch, Peter Bruegel the Elder, Frank Hals, and Caravaggio – hence, in numerous of the Lukians’ works the influence of these masters can be discerned. Of course, the Lukians were hardly copyists. Rather, they depicted present-day scenes in reliance on earlier models of composition, usage of light, and painting techniques.

This was all intended to create masterful paintings, for the Lukians concentrated on achieving the utmost precision in rendering detail and on introducing a darkened palette, all the while evincing an affinity for realism. Thus did they develop a type of modern painting for museums, mellowing their works with a subtle patina. The Lukians borrowed only selected themes and issues, the greatest focus being given to perfecting their painting technique.

Each of the artists created his own manner of painting, although it is difficult to carry out deeper analysis of the Lukians’ works due to the small number that have survived. Nonetheless, the ideas of the Varsovian artists perfectly inscribe themselves into the general European trends of the interwar period. The features that foremost distinguish their paintings include impeccable drawing, linearity, harmonious colors, and an attention to detail that rises to perfection.

[1] I. Danielewicz, Tęsknota za Italią [w:] Malarstwo Niemieckie w XIX wieku, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warszawa 2005, s. 15

[2] A. Turowicz, Jan Gotard (1898-1943). Życie i twórczość, maszynopis pracy magisterskiej, IHS, UW 2000

tłum. Ph.E. Steele