Dorota Seweryn-Puchalska

Jan Zamoyski (1901-1986)

It is thanks to Jan Zamoyski and his book Łukaszowcy (the Lukians) that we know so much about the artists forming the Brotherhood of St. Luke, along with those who gathered around their professor and master, Tadeusz Pruszkowski. It is a riveting story of a group ever so important in 20th-century Polish art – one that, in spite of being accused of traditionalism, brought a breath of fresh air to the art of that period and became a part of the classicist trend in European art of the 1920s and 1930s.

Zamoyski was an excellent organizer and activist involved in student endeavors. Initially, he attended the Municipal School of Decorative Arts and Painting, where he studied with Władysław Skoczylas, Jan Kauzik, and Mieczysław Kotarbiński (1921-1922). From 1923 he was associated with the School of Fine Arts and with the studio of Tadeusz Pruszkowski. He belonged to a group of eight students who participated in the first open-air ateliers in Kazimierz Dolny. Every year more and more painters joined them. These plein-air workshops in Kazimierz were extremely important because it was here that Pruszkowski most freely applied his didactic methods and, as Zamoyski wrote, here that he devoted himself most fully to the “training of his students”.

Jan Zamoyski, An old woman, 1928

In Kazimierz, “one could completely devote oneself to painting”. The participants practiced compositions, because the professor considered that the most important. “This is where friendships deepened”, along with “cordial contacts between students and the professor”, and discussions about art, its role, and its tradition were pursued. Here, too, time was spent having fun, because, as Pruszkowski preached, artists should also create their own world after painting and artistic models. It was Zamoyski, together with Zofia Czasznicka and Lucjan Kintopf, members of the Fraternal Aid Society, who came up with the idea of organizing a charity party called “Garden Party Monstre”, the funds from which would be allocated for the benefit of poor students. It was held at the castle in Kazimierz. The same party was organized by Zamoyski together with Jan Gotard and Wiktor Podoski a year later.

That same year, 1925, the idea of creating the Brotherhood of St. Luke was born in Kazimierz. It was realized in the autumn, after everyone had returned from the open-air workshop, back at the School of Fine Arts. The name referred to medieval guilds. The analogy was found, first of all, in the aspirations to perfectly master the art. Pruszkowski taught his students that well mastered painting techniques, i.e., a good workshop, were the basis. “There is no good painting if it is badly painted”, he used to say. “The most outstanding works of art are always accompanied by excellent craftsmanship[1]. Zamoyski himself stressed this on many occasions, for what mattered most to him was how and not what. It was then, he believed, that one could “try to speak their own language”. Thus, the members of the Brotherhood consistently used the nomenclature appropriate to this name. The Statutes were called “the Rule”, the assembly of members the “Assembly of Brothers”, and the Board the “Chapter”. The Chapter was headed by a Commander in the person of Jan Zamoyski, later renamed President. The secretary was Janusz Podoski, the treasurer Czesław Wdowiszewski. Of course, the Master was Tadeusz Pruszkowski. The rule was developed by Zamoyski together with Jan Gotard. Both also created the ceremonial of “liberations”.

Zamoyski liked to play with words. He invented texts for the Nativity plays of the School of Fine Arts, which he later also delivered himself. “Nature is too versatile and rich”, Bartoszewicz concluded. “He is as good a painter as an actor, a theater director as an organizer, a poet, a social activist, a speaker or a satirical entertainer”. Maybe it was his stubborn nature, logical speech combined with a sense of humor, which allowed him to formulate thoughts and construct sentences which were arranged in neat, funny rhymes characterizing people and situations. During his stay in Zakopane at the House of the Visual Artist in the winter of 1925/1926, he composed a song intended for Karol Stryjeński’s puppet. The witty text was exceptionally popular, evoking enthusiasm in Tuwim himself.

A strong connection with Kazimierz on the Vistula can be seen in works from the 1920s. The protagonist of some of them was Kozdroń, a resident of the town. In Pogorzelce (1925) he stands in the center of the painting, raising his eyes and hand to the sky[2]. Bartoszewicz compared Kozdroń to St. Francis. The somewhat local sage or mystic, detached as it were from reality, was a symbol of the spirit that permeated the town on the Vistula river. The artist also immortalized him in his The Courtship of the Blind Man of 1923 (lost), as well as in his portraits in which, as a rule, the side light illuminates the face, thereby emphasizing its unique expression[3]. Kozdroń was accompanied by his wife, whose features are those of the woman in the 1928 painting Woman with a Palm. In 1927, he created the painting Man Emerging from a Frame. At the first exhibition of the Brotherhood, held at the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in 1928, it enjoyed great interest and was immediately sold[4]. This work clearly refers us back to early painting – just like the one painted two years later, entitled Man with a Fish from 1929[5]. But Three Graces (lost), dating from the same year, has a clear modern element. They are three contemporary women in fashionable headdress. In fact, the artist created their portraits by linearly emphasizing facial elements, slightly exaggerating them. When we look at another portrait, we wonder whether Zamoyski looked through a catalog with works by Titian. We are talking about the Portrait of a Woman in a Red Sweater from 1931[6]. The sitting figure of a woman, slightly upturned, with the light falling from above on her face, resembles Titian’s female portraits. It is interesting that a few years later Jan Gotard would paint the same woman, in the same pose, and also wearing a red sweater.

Let’s return to Zamoyski and the Man Emerging from a Frame. Here, too, there is a very clear reference to early Renaissance portraiture. The artist plays with the old form with a great sense of humor. Although he treats it probably as a joke, he achieves the same aim as the artists of the Renaissance period. There, a hand placed on a painted window sill, “sticking out” in the direction of the viewer is to give the effect of “going out” into his space. The twisted figure and the gaze looking over the shoulder, as in the Portrait of Gerolamo Barbarigo by young Titian, is supposed to introduce an element of drama and, first of all, realism. Zamoyski does the same. The figure emerges into the viewer’s space, and the facial expression, though more reminiscent of the portraits of Quentin Massys, expresses realism.

In two other paintings, Portrait of a Lady with a Teacup from 1934 (private property) and The Nanny (private property), we find features that bring to mind New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit). In 1930 the artist created a portrait of a black boy entitled Mamruka (private property). It is the result of the artist’s stay in Africa. That very year, together with Bolesław Cybis, he went to Italy. They traveled all over Italy, from Venice and Padua through Florence and Naples to the south, and from there to Tripoli and Tunis.

Jan Zamoyski, Madonna bathing (the Child)

Zamoyski used various techniques – tempera, encaustic; in Girl with a Rooster from 1939 he also used plaster[7]. A curiosity here is the rooster, which the girl embraces with her hands. The rooster also appears in the paintings of other artists from this circle. In Eliasz Kanarek’s painting the peasant holds the cock on his lap, and in the painting by Frydrysiak the girl, daughter of the Bieńkowski family, supports it with one hand. The rooster became a symbol of rural life, which the artists saw when they came to Kazimierz (Prusz himself took care of a rooster called Macbeth). Zamoyski also used mixed technique in his painting Madonna bathing from 1937[8]. It is an interesting, symmetrically composed work, where the artist added an element of everyday ritual to the classic Marian iconography theme of Madonna and Child. Zamoyski’s interest in the technique of painting and his knowledge of nomenclature was taken advantage of by Samuel Tyszkiewicz, who consulted him on terminology when translating Cennino Cennini’s Trattato della Pittura.

Zamoyski took part, of course, in all the most important exhibitions of the Brotherhood. After the exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1937, his works were distinguished alongside paintings by Michalak, Gotard, and Wdowiszewski. He also created wall decorations for the interiors of public buildings. Pruszkowski instilled in his students the dream of public, monumental art “serving the general public, to be found at every step where a citizen of the state resides”[9]. Zamoyski placed an order for decorations at the Military Cartographic Institute in Warsaw. After long debates he suggested, inspired by a childhood book The History of Poland in 24 pictures, that it should be a scene of Bolesław Chrobry hammering border posts into the Odra river. The pictorial map was made by Edward Manteuffel. Bolesław Cybis helped Zamoyski in the realization of the scene itself. As the artist recalls, “among the warriors we placed the effigies of Colonel Toruń – the head of military construction, Colonel Lewakowski – the head of the institute, Arch. A. Dygat – the designer of the building, E. Manteuffel – the creator of the map, St. Karpiński – the first president of the Bank of Poland, and our own likenesses (with headbands)”[10].

Bolesław Cybis and Jan Zamoyski,
Polish Heavens, 1939
Photo: Urząd Marszałkowski Województwa Pomorskiego

Yet another monumental work was that of the murals in the Polish Educational Society Grammar School in Gdańsk in 1938, where Zamoyski and Bolesław Cybis created a plafond Poland and her districts against the background of the Polish sky, i.e. the constellations and zodiac as seen in Poland. Zamoyski prepared an ideologically coherent programme. In the center, there was a figure symbolizing Poland. It was surrounded by personifications of Industry, Trade, and Agriculture as well as geniuses of Science, Art, Peace, and War. War was accompanied by personifications of Strength, Enthusiasm, and Faith. All around were districts and selected cities. The painting was to be ceremonially unveiled on September 1, 1939. The Germans destroyed it during World War II. In 2018, the frescoes, reconstructed from photographs, were unveiled. This work was directed by Professor Jerzy Zdybel.

In 1939 a panneau was created for the villa of the architect Adam Dygat. Zamoyski made a copy of Jan Matejko’s Batory at Pskov for the reading room on the ocean liner m/s Batory. He was assisted by Bernard Frydrysiak, but the work was not finished.

In a famous film made by Pruszkowski, Szczęśliwy wisielec, czyli California w Polsce / Happy Hanging, or California in Poland, Zamoyski played a local priest. In the film “Polish Sierra Nevada”, i.e. Kazimierz Dolny, he was one of the main characters, about whom Pruszkowski himself said, “he is the best, most outstanding Polish film actor! (…) water, rocks, gorges, architecture… and all for free!”. This was not Zamoyski’s only role. He had previously played in student cabarets. He got the role of “Dziad” (Old Bugger) in a performance that took place during a ball at the Kazimierski Castle in 1925. And during the war, in the camp theaters of Prenzlau, Neubrandenburg, and Gross Born, he was an actor, stage designer, and costume designer.

After the war he created a number of monumental projects, including a panneau for the foyer of the Chamber Hall of the National Philharmonic, a plafond in the theater at the Palace of Culture and Science, and a frieze in the seat of the Polish Academy of Sciences (together with Edward Kokoszka).

[1] Taken from J. Zamoyski, Łukaszowcy, malarze i malarstwo Bractwa św. Łukasza, Warszawa 1989, p.18.
[2] The painting was purchased in Geneva by the Lacroix gallery, during the exhibition at the Musée Ruth in 1931.
[3] One of them is the property of the Muzeum Górnośląskie in Bytom: “Portret Józefa Kozdronia z Kazimierza, 1927, oil on wood.
[4] Sold then to Stanisław Michalski .
[5] Property of the Muzeum Śląskie in Katowice.
[6] Property of the Muzeum Narodowego in Warsaw.
[7] Property of the Muzeum Polskie in Chicago.
[8] Property of the Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.
[9] T. Pruszkowski, “Niewyzyskane siły plastyki”, Gazeta Polska 1936, nr 24.
[10] Zamoyski, Łukaszowcy…, p. 103.