Dorota Seweryn-Puchalska

Władysław Bartoszewicz describes Janusz Podoski in Buda na Powiślu, as follows: “busy, nervous, fond of playing, brilliant in conversation, a chatterbox, with a thin, racy profile and black penetrating eyes”. Before he got to Tadeusz Pruszkowski’s studio, he took drawing lessons from various local teachers, as he and his family often changed their place of residence. One of such places was Kiev. Upon his return to Poland, he settled in Warsaw and in 1919 began studying at the school of Konrad Krzyżanowski. In the early 1920s he lived briefly in Vilnius, where he attended classes at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Vilnius University.

Janusz Podoski, A girl

From 1923, he studied at the atelier of Tadeusz Pruszkowski at the School of Fine Arts. He was among the first eight students who came to Kazimierz that year. Like the others, he came here often. He was a founding member of the Brotherhood of St. Luke and became the secretary of the group.

He presented his works at all of the group’s exhibitions beginning with the first, held in 1928 at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. In his review, Wacław Husarski pointed to the influence of seventeenth-century style in the artist’s paintings. After the group’s second exhibition, also at Zachęta in 1929, the critic Stanisław Ciechomski, distinguishing between two factions of artists, included Podoski in the passé group, i.e., those who referred to the old painting tradition. According to Ciechomski, this group included: Jan Gotard, Antoni Michalak, Jan Wydra, Czesław Wdowiszewski, and Jan Zamoyski. The other, impressionistic, included Eliasz Kanarek and Aleksander Jędrzejewski.

Janusz Podoski, Hunter

At his first foreign exhibition in Geneva at the Musée Rath in 1931, Podoski showed a painting entitled The Hunter. Podoski’s painting was well appreciated by the local press, which contributed to the overall assessment of the exhibition, which was received enthusiastically. The critics liked the modeling of faces and hands. They emphasized the freedom of painting. Workshop efficiency was highly rated. Also in 1934, Podoski was mentioned in one line with Antoni Michalak, Jan Gotard, and Bolesław Cybis in positive reviews in the Italian press on the occasion of the exhibition held as part of the 19th Venice Biennale. In 1930, an individual exhibition of the artist’s works was held at the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts.

Podoski painted mostly portraits, though we can also see his still lifes. One of the art auctions featured an interesting and boldly colored still life, which can be called a spring still life – it depicts spring vegetables: radish, leek, and cucumber.

Janusz Podoski, Portrait of a paintress, ca. 1925 – Muzeum Nadwiślańskie in Kazimierz Dolny

Tadeusz Pruszkowski assessed the artist as follows in one of his articles: “Podoski. A painter of figures and heads submerged in darkness, he has been grinding and smoothing the surface”. This brief assessment perfectly reflects the character of the artist’s work. Most of his portraits emerge from a dark, deep, even black background, as dreamt of by his colleague Bernard Frydrysiak. He also painted himself in the same way around 1929 (Self-Portrait in a Beret). Only the artist’s illuminated face is visible here[1]. There are many such works in Podoski’s oeuvre. The most important in them is the face and hands. It is on them that the intense light falls. The elements of the face – the eyes, nose, and especially the mouth – are clearly, linearly emphasized. Other objects in the paintings gently emerge from the background, as in Girl with a Book from around 1928[2] and Girl in a Fur coat from around 1929[3]. The artist obtained a very interesting effect in The Paintress[4]. Here, too, he emphasizes with light only the face and hands, but adds an important accent. The paintress is squeezing out white paint from a tube. We have the impression that she has just squeezed it out, straight onto the canvas, because a fleshy trace of paint remains. This is a sign of not traditional, but modern thinking about art. If we look closely at the background of the painting, we can see a window with a landscape in it. There were also portraits whose background is not black depth but dark in tone, as in the paintings of the Girl, the Old Woman or the above-mentioned Hunter[5]. Zochna from around 1930 is portrayed in a different way[6]. The girl is all lit up by an intense spotlight from the side, and is wearing a white blouse and a red dress.

In 1930, Podoski founded a painting school and ran it until 1933. Like all members of the Brotherhood, he belonged to the Professional Artists’ Bloc from its inception in 1934.

However, he was interested not only in painting, but also, and perhaps later even more, in photography. It became his passion. He took portraits of his colleagues, including Jan Gotard, Antoni Michalak, and Jeremi Kubicki. It is estimated that he photographed about 230 artists. As in painting, chiaroscuro was important here. Podoski used a single point source of light, thus bringing out the individuality of figures and, as a critic wrote, “achieving individual beauty”[7].

After the war, together with Jan Bułhak, Benedykt Dorys, Marian Dederko, and Janina Mierzecka, he founded the Association of Polish Artist-Photographers.

In 1947, he joined the Powiśle Group, which hearkened to the pre-war way of teaching at the Academy and to the program of the Bloc of Professional Artists. In the years 1950-1952 he was a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.

[1] Property of the Muzeum Narodowe in Warsawe.
[2] Property of the Muzeum Śląskie in Katowice.
[3] Property of the Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.
[4] Property of the Muzeum Nadwiślańskie in Kazimierz Dolny.
[5] All are property of the Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.
[6] Property of the Muzeum Narodowe in Warsaw.
[7] Jan Sunderland, “Fotografika Janusza Podolskiego”, Arkady 1937, nr 10, p. 559.