Dorota Seweryn-Puchalska

“A slight, introverted man. A sensitive, high-strung loner”, wrote Zbigniew Florczak. “He could while away over his paintings with truly Benedictine diligence, bringing its texture to a perfection forgotten since the days of Holbein or Memling, sometimes imitating the effects of enamel…”[1].

Czesław Wdowiszewski enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in 1923, going on to study in the ateliers of professors Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Władysław Skoczylas. He was a co-founder of the Brotherhood of St. Luke, which was established in 1925, and was in the group of eight artists who came to Kazimierz Dolny for the first plein-air workshop. Wdowiszewski participated in all the Lukians’ joint undertakings and escapades, including the “Liberation” ceremony for Bolesław Cybis and Antoni Michalak, where, like Jan Gotard, he acted as Minister. Jan Zamoyski recalls that “dressed in black, with chains draped on their chests, and bowler hats on their heads”, they were tasked with reading the Attestatio, or diploma conferring the title of master[2]. It is possible that Wdowiszewski and Cybis were selected according to their height, as both were quite short.

Wdowiszewski took part in the Lukians’ first exhibition in 1928 at the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The 50 copies of the catalog for the exhibition include the handwritten signatures of the participating artists, including Wdowiszewski’s[3]. In the catalog that belonged to the artist, we read comments by Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Jan Gotard. The former wrote: “There’s no sweet gain/without seering pain/Hail, hail! Paint as best as you will/For if not, you’ll rot”. Jan Gotard jotted down: “Remember me – forget about Matejko! Your Janek”[4]. At this first exhibition Wdowiszewski showed only one painting, “Habdank” from 1927 (oil, canvas, 119×90 cm, privately owned). Wacław Husarski emphasized Wdowiszewski’s faithful adherence to the teachings of Tadeusz Pruszkowski. Like others, he also related his work to that of Poland’s famous 19th-century painter, Jan Matejko[5]. These historical compositions, genuinely Matejko-like “in concept, in approach, in color” will also be mentioned by Mieczysław Wallis in 1932, though only before adding that Wdowiszewski had since changed beyond recognition in moving on to “genre paintings of contemporary life in the style of New Objectivity[6]. Tadeusz Pruszkowski also wrote a commentary on this exhibition of the Brotherhood at the Warsaw gallery ‘Zachęta’. He, too, noticed the change in Wdowiszewski’s work: “He is moving in the direction of technical precision, painting with a transparent laser on a white base. I foresee significant evolution in the current year”[7].

Czesław Wdowiszewski, Diana

It seems that Wdowiszewski’s trip to Italy in 1930 was a kind of caesura. In 1929, the artist painted the work “Diana”[8]. The goddess stands against a landscape. The whole work is kept in dark tones. In subsequent works, those of the 1930s, Wdowiszewski increasingly neutralizes the background. In “Fishmonger” (1931) we do have a cabinet with a net behind the girl, but she appears as an independent entity[9]. The artist’s focus on the subject is similar in “Still Life” from 1931[10]. Here he renders every detail with great precision. It’s hard to avoid an association with New Objectivity again. In 1937, two further important works by Wdowiszewski are created: “Goldfish”[11] and “The funeral”[12]. And although the latter depicts a scene related to that specific ceremony, the sense of the actual place is lost. This painting was presented at an exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh that same year. We should add that the artist took great care in preparing the substrates and used very labor-intensive techniques.

Wdowiszewski took part in all of the Brotherhood’s exhibitions, although he did not come to Kazimierz Dolny with his colleagues to paint the 11 canvases for the World Exhibition in New York. Jan Zamoyski claims that “he did not take part in this endeavor for important personal reasons”[13].

Sadly, Czesław Wdowiszewski’s pre-war oeuvre is largely lost. Jan Zamoyski wrote that in 1939, the first year of the war, his house was “completely destroyed”[14]. The trauma of World War II was clear in his postwar works. One example is his painting from 1972, “The Women’s Exodus from Warsaw”[15].

Czesław Wdowiszewski, Still life with a pitcher, 1967, oil on plywood, mixed technique,
Nadwiślańskie Museum in Kazimierz Dolny

After the war, he painted mainly flowers and still lifes. He also took up didactic work, teaching painting and drawing at the Youth House of Culture.

In 1972, an exhibition of the artist’s works was held at the District Museum in Toruń.

Czesław Wdowiszewski, Still life, 1975, oil on plywood, Nadwiślańskie Museum in Kazimierz Dolny

tłum. Agnieszka Wolska

[1] Zbigniew Florczak, “Pochwała ręki. Posłowie”, [in:] Jan Zamoyski, Łukaszowcy, Warszawa 1989, p. 145.

[2] Zamoyski, ibidem, pp. 59-66.

[3] On the page with signatures e read the following: “350 copies were printed. Of that number, 50 were specially numbered and then signed by the members of the Brotherhood of St. Luke”. See Pierwsza wystawa Bractwa św. Łukasza, [the exhibition catalogue], Feb. 1928, Tow. Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie, p. 3.

[4] Taken from: Marzena Królikowska-Dziubecka, “Zapomniany Łukaszowiec”, Pamiętnik Sztuk Pięknych 2020, no 15, p. 354.

[5] Wacław Husarski, “Bractwo św. Łukasza (wystawa w Zachęcie)”, Tygodnik Ilustrowany 1928, no 7, p. 137.

[6] Mieczysław Wallis, “Sztuki Plastyczne. III Wystawa Bractwa św. Łukasza” (Towarzystwo Zachęty Sztuk Pięknych), Robotnik 1932, no 52 (7 Feb.), p. 4

[7] Tadeusz Pruszkowski, “Wariacje na temat Bractwa św. Łukasza”, Kultura 1932, no 6, taken from: Tadeusz Pruszkowski, Wybór pism, opracowanie i wybór Irena Bal, Zeszyt Naukowy Akademii Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie, 4/26, Warszawa 1989, p. 17.

[8] Czesław Wdowiszewski, Handlarka ryb, 1929, oil on plywood, 178×103, Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.

[9] Czesław Wdowiszewski, Handlarka ryb, 1931, fiberboard, mixed technique, 116,5x 93,5, Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.

[10] Czesław Wdowiszewski, Martwa natura, 1931, oil on wood, 44×54, privately owned.

[11] Czesław Wdowiszewski, Złota rybka, plywood, tempera, laquered, Muzeum Okręgowe in Toruń.

[12] Czesław Wdowiszewski, Pogrzeb, oil on plywood, Muzeum Okręgowe in Toruń.

[13] Zamoyski, ibidem, p. 109.

[14] Jan Zamoyski, Łukaszowcy, Warszawa 1989, p. 79.

[15] Czesław Wdowiszewski, Wyjście kobiet z Warszawy, 1973, oil on plywood, 90×170, Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.