Dorota Seweryn-Puchalska

Edward Kokoszko

He began his studies at the Warsaw Drawing School under Prof. Jan Kauzik and Miłosz Kotarbiński, owing to whom he began attending the Free Polish University[1]. Kokoszko also attended lectures on art history at the University of Warsaw. He next attended the school founded by Professor Konrad Krzyżanowski. This was another important master who had a great influence on Kokoszko’s artistic development. His subsequent step was to enter the Warsaw School of Fine Arts, where he participated in workshops at the ateliers of Prof. Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Prof. Władysław Skoczylas. Together with Prof. Pruszkowski, Kokoszko would also travel to Kazimierz Dolny, the alluring town upriver on the Vistula, for plein-air painting sessions. He was among the small group of students who came here in 1923. We know from Jan Zamoyski’s account that they found lodging at the onetime shelter at St. Anne’s Church. He wrote that they led a “truly Spartan life there. We slept on a floor covered with straw and cooked our own breakfasts and dinners, which were built around milk and bread: only our lunches did we eat in town. We got up early and went to bed early – and except for a break for a short rest on the beach and for dinner, we spent the whole day painting”[2]. In 1924 another open-air workshop was held in Kazimierz. This time students from various studios of the School of Fine Arts came, including, of course, Prof. Tadeusz Pruszkowski’s students along with their Master. That Kokoszko was in this group we know from at least two accounts. Recalling a ball at the ruins of the castle dubbed “Garden Party Monstre”, which was organized under the auspices of ‘Brotherly Aid’ (Bratniak), Jan Zamoyski describes how the “pyrotechnician” Kokoszko initially had no luck trying to set off fireworks. Not until his third attempt was he successful[3]. We also discover Kokoszko’s presence at the open air sessions in another context. On November 19, 1924 a journalist from the newspaper Kurjer Czerwony noted the later exhibition of the plein-air works that took place at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, stating that he would “gladly […] purchase a wonderful, subtle canvas by Edward Kokoszko”.

Edward Kokoszko took an active part in the social life of the school. He participated in the nativity plays prepared by the students, as well as in the “Liberation” ritual, i.e., the award of the master’s degree. When Antoni Michalak and Bolesław Cybis underwent the ceremony in December 1925, Kokoszko gave a brilliant, witty speech[4]. He belonged to the group of those students of Prof. Tadeusz Pruszkowski who founded the “Brotherhood of St. Luke” in 1925. Jan Zamoyski recalls that in 1930, after an exhibition in Kraków, Kokoszko left the Brotherhood, and when he wanted to return to the group it was not permitted, he stated, as that was the rule. So it was because of his withdrawal from the artistic group that he did not participate in the painting of pictures for the 1939 World Exhibition in New York.

Edward spent the winter of 1925/26 in the Tatra Mountains – namely, in the town of Zakopane at the House of the Visual Artist, where he was sent by the Board of ‘Brotherly Aid’. He arrived in Zakopane with Jan Zamoyski, who complained about the working conditions in the open air. The cold made satisfactory work impossible. In his memoirs, Zamoyski claims that nor did Kokoszko create anything that satisfied him, although, as Zamoyski rightly notes, “the landscape ceaselessly attracted him and was a frequent subject of his studies”[5]. This description from the artists’ stay in Zakopane also testifies to how seriously they treated plein-air work and how important painting nature was for them.[6]

Having won a foreign scholarship, Kokoszko went to Paris. After returning to Poland, he began teaching at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw (from 1932, the Academy of Fine Arts). His interests focused on painting techniques and conservation. In 1932, he established a studio for painting techniques at the Warsaw Municipal School of Decorative Arts and Painting. At his initiative, professional chemists and technologists were added to the artistic work, which was an interesting and innovative solution. After the war, he became head of the Painting Conservation Study. He took this position as an experienced painting technologist and also a friend of Prof. Bohdan Marconi, after the latter left for the United States. During the occupation, Kokoszko also taught at the Vocational School of Commerce, which was created from the pre-war Municipal School of Decorative Arts and Painting[7]. How important pedagogical activity was to him and what role he attributed to it is confirmed by the article “On the Proper Ways of an Artistic Education” (Plastyka, No. 5/26, 1938). The artist stressed what an important role is played by constant contact with nature.

Edward Kokoszko, A Landscape seen from Kazimierz on the Vistula, approx. 1928; Nadwiślańskie Museum in Kazimierz Dolny

Edward Kokoszko was a co-organizer and president of the Professional Artists’ Bloc (1934), a member of the editorial committee of Plastyka magazine, and from 1938 its editor-in-chief. After the war, he was a co-founder of the “Powiśle” artistic group, with which he exhibited his works, for instance, in April 1948 at the National Museum in Warsaw. In the introduction to the catalog for this exhibition, we can read that the artists were united by their sentiment for Warsaw’s riverside Powiśle district, the place where the School of Fine Arts building was located[8]. The grouping included artists who had previously been students of Prof. Tadeusz Pruszkowski, including Stefan Płużański, Tadeusz Kulisiewicz, Eugeniusz Arct, Bronisław Linke, Janusz Podoski, and Michał Bylina.

The first exhibition he participated in was the Open National Exhibition in Poznań in 1928, the next was the Brotherhood of St. Luke’s exhibition in Warsaw’s “Zachęta” gallery that same year. After the 1936 exhibition, a critic wrote in the magazine Plastyka that Kokoszko had stabilized his painting and did not go beyond passive naturalism, though he also stressed that “this experienced expert in the craft of painting and draftsmanship is a solid and objective portraitist”. The critic concluded that the “Portrait of Mrs. Krammowa” was one of the best at the prestigious exhibition. He went on to write that “for E. Kokoszko, the skill of enriching the surface of the canvas with skillful effects of texture is characteristic”[9]. Kokoszko’s portrait skills were also emphasized by Pia Górska, who recalled that in Pruszkowski’s studio at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw, “Kokoszko created a beautifully composed, subtle figure of a darkly dressed woman”[10]. And after all, the important role of portraiture was emphasized by Tadeusz Pruszkowski, who instilled in his students its significance as a contemporary testimony of the times.

Another important theme in Kokoszko’s work was landscape. His first forays were painted in darker tones. The greens he applied to the canvas gave a fleshy effect. Later, the artist brightened the palette, which gave the impression of greater lightness. The works were distinguished by excellent composition and attention to painting technique. It should be mentioned here, as Tadeusz Pruszkowski emphasized, that his students took great care with each painting, even the plein-air ones. As he explained, it takes them much more time than it does others, but they obtain a marvellous result. We can also apply these words to the way Kokoszko worked on a painting. The artist was respected by his milieu. Włodzimierz Bartoszewicz counted him among the most outstanding individuals he knew[11].

In a short text that can be read in the magazine Plastyka from 1936, Kokoszko expresses his attitude to art. He indicated two paths that young painters were wont to follow. First, there were artists who were “to forego the subject matter in favor of formal issues”. The others had the need to “sanctify the object, surround it with special care”. Kokoszko, while criticizing the former, was very supportive of the latter. For of course, it was to them he himself belonged. He believed that it was important to relate to modern life, something full of new content, at the same it being necessary to draw upon tradition when creating one’s own artistic worldview. Thus, about those with whom he had an affinity, he wrote: “without rejecting the experience of solving problems purely for painters, they want, through a new interpretation of the object, to use it to highlight the artist’s contact with life, with his roots, and with what he wants to give expression to”[12]. This description of Polish art at the time became a kind of personal manifesto for Kokoszko.

The artist’s works can be found i.a., in the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw, the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, the Nadwiślańskie Museum in Kazimierz Dolny, and the Leon Wyczółkowski Museum in Bydgoszcz.

[1] From the catalog accompanying an exhibition of Edward Kokoszko’s paintings, 1960, p. 3.

[2] Jan Zamoyski, Łukaszowcy – malarze i malarstwo Bractwa św. Łukasza, afterword by Zbigniew Florek, Warszawa 1989, p. 8.

[3] Ibidem, p. 34.

[4] Ibid., p. 67.

[5] Ibid., p. 69-70.

[6] Edward Kokoszko’s paintings from that plein-air session have survived.

[7] Joanna Kordjak-Piotrowska, “Artyści ASP podczas wojny”, [in:] Sztuka wszędzie. Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w Warszawie 1904-1944, koncepcja Maryla Sitkowska, ed. Jola Gola, Maryla Sitkowska, Agnieszka Szewczyk, Warszawa 2012, p. 452.

[8] See – Joanna Stacewicz-Podlipska, Ja byłam wolny ptak… O życiu i sztuce Teresy Roszkowskiej, Warszawa 2012, p. 423.

[9] Stanisław Rogoyski, “Malarstwo na Salonie Bloku Z.A.P.”, Plastyka 1936, R. 2, nr 3-4, p. 245. The portrait of Mrs. Krammowa is found in the collections of the Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.

[10] Pia Górska, Paleta i pióro, Kraków 1960, p. 209.

[11] Włodzimierz Bartoszewicz, Buda na Powiślu, Warszawa 1966, p. 126.

[12] Edward Kokoszko, “Dwie drogi”, Plastyka 1936, R. 2, nr 3-4, p. 233.

tłum. Agnieszka Wolska