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Józef Pankiewicz

Painter and graphic artist; one of the first Impressionists and Symbolists in Polish art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries; initiator of the Colorist movement in Polish painting of the 1920s and 30s; born in 1866 in Lublin and died in 1940 in Marseille.

He was one of the outstanding figures of 20th century Polish art. In the 1920s Pankiewicz was the initiator of the Colorist movement in Poland, which was a derivative of French post-Impressionism. As an educator he shaped the artistic stance of an entire generation of Polish painters and graphic artists, above all those who were part of the Komitet paryski / Paris Committee (Capists), a group that included artists of stature like Jan Cybis, Artur Nacht-Samborski, Józef Czapski, Zygmunt Waliszewski, and Tadeusz Potworowski.

He began his artistic education in 1884 as a student of the Drawing School initiated and run in Warsaw by Wojciech Gerson and Aleksander Kaminski. A Tyzenhauz scholarship enabled him to continue his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg in 1885-1886. He perfected his skills as a painter in Paris, where he lived in 1889 along with his school colleague Wladyslaw Podkowinski. It was there that he received a silver medal during the Universal Exhibition for his painting titled Targ na jarzyny na Placu za Żelazna Brama / Vegetable Market in the Square beyond The Iron Gate, which he painted in a realistic convention in 1888. Throughout his time in the city Pankiewicz imbibed the newest currents in French art. Upon returning to Warsaw in 1890, he transplanted the principles of Impressionist "luminism" to Polish painting. At the salon of Aleksander Krywult, Pankiewicz and Podkowinski exhibited a series of landscapes executed using Impressionist techniques. These, however, met with intense criticism from both critics and members of the public (Targ na kwiaty przed kosciołem Św. Magdaleny w Paryżu / Flower Market in front of the Church of St. Magdalene in Paris, 1890).

In 1897 Pankiewicz became a member of the Krakow-based "Sztuka" ("Art") Society of Polish Artists, a group he exhibited with regularly in Poland and abroad, among other places in Vienna (1902, 1906, 1908). Between 1897 and 1903 the artist traveled extensively throughout Europe, visiting Holland, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, and France. In 1899 he took part in the Universal Exhibition in Paris, during which he received a gold medal for his Portret Pani Oderfeldowej z corka / Portrait of Mrs. Oderfeld and her Daughter (1897); he went on to win a silver medal at the next Universal Exhibition in 1900. This same year he showed his work at an exhibition of Polish paintings at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. Pankiewicz also exhibited his paintings and drawings at a number of Parisian salons, including the Autumn Salon (1904, 1907, 1909, 1919) and the Salons des Independents (1911, 1912). In 1906 he was appointed a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. While in France in 1908, he established friendships with Pierre Bonnard and Felix Fénéon.

In subsequent years he would vacation in that country, recording views of Concarneaux, St. Valery en Caux, Collioure, Saint-Tropez, Vernon, and Giverny in his paintings and etchings. During World War I, Pankiewicz remained in Spain. In 1922 he had his first solo exhibition, which was held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris. In 1923 the artist resumed lecturing at the academy in Krakow, and went on to run the school's Paris branch between 1925 and 1937. In 1923 he presented his paintings at the Salon of Jozef Poznanski in Warsaw and exhibited at the Palace of Art in Krakow the next year. The artist also had a solo exhibition in 1924 at the Art Salon of Czeslaw Garlinski in Warsaw. In Paris, Pankiewicz exhibited his works at the galleries of Zborowski (1927), Ch. A. Girard (1929), A. Basler (1931) and at the Tuilerie Salon (1927-1931); he was a member of the Society of Polish Artists in Paris and the Association of Polish Artists in France. In 1928 he became a member of the Prague-based "Mánes" Artists Association. The French government granted the artist the title of Cavalier of the Legion of Honor in 1927. During the Universal National Exhibition in Poznan in 1929, Pankiewicz received a great gold medal. In 1933 the Institute of Art Propaganda in Warsaw organized a retrospective of the artist's works to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of his life in art. Pankiewicz also received the Polonia Restitua Commander's Cross. Celebrations of the artist's seventieth birthday in 1936 included a presentation of Pankiewicz's works from the collection of Feliks Jasienski at the National Museum in Krakow. That same year Pankiewicz went on several painting expeditions, visiting and working in Saint-Tropez, Cassis, Sanary, and La Ciôtat, where he settled permanently in 1939.

Pankiewicz's vast personal refinement, knowledge, and aesthetic sensitivity became the foundation for an oeuvre that would be abundant in themes and stylistic phases. In his early, realist stage he was most influenced by the paintings of Camille Corot and the members of the French Barbizon School, which he had the opportunity to view at the St. Petersburg gallery of Count Kushelev-Bezborodko. Pankiewicz's artistic stance was also shaped to a degree by the art of Aleksander Gierymski, which was promoted by the Warsaw-based periodical "Wedrowiec" ("Wanderer"), which renowned art critics Stanislaw Witkiewicz and Antoni Sygietynski propagated Realism.

While in Warsaw, Pankiewicz shared a studio with Podkowinski between 1886 and 1888. During this time he produced primarily realistic portraits of street sellers and Jews, as well as reportage drawings for "Tygodnik Ilustrowany" ("Illustrated Weekly") depicting various quarters of the city. While in Paris in 1889, he was stunned by the paintings of Claude Monet. This was decisive in motivating him to adopt Impressionistic techniques. The light-saturated landscapes Pankiewicz painted, primarily in the town of Kazimierz on the Vistula, were based on contrasting "cold" and "warm" tones and created using the technique of divisionism, by which forms were modeled using small, densely placed brushstrokes (Lato / Summer, 1890; Wóz z sianem / Hay Cart, 1890). In 1892-1893 the artist abandoned enchanting Impressionistic colors in creating monochromatic harmony in a series of nightscapes. Pankiewicz's nostalgic nocturnes are among the most outstanding works in Polish Symbolism (Rynek Starego Miasta w Warszawie nocą / Old Town Square at Night, 1892; Zaułek nocą - Wąski Dunaj / Wąski Dunaj Street by Night, c. 1892; Dorożka w nocy / Horse-drawn Carriage at Night, 1896; Park w Duboju / The Park in Duboj, 1897). His unusual combination of disappearing forms and bristling light reflections produce a melancholy mood characteristic of the decadent attitudes of the end of the 19th century (Nokturn - Labedzie w Ogrodzie Saskim noca / Nocturne - Swans in Saski Park at Night, 1894). Shapes, made unreal by nighttime sfumato, become the visual equivalent of the artist's emotional states, akin to those metaphorically yet so accurately expressed in the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. A restricted range of muted blues, greens, grays, and blacks also came to dominate Pankiewicz's portraits, characterized by the concentrated, yet restrained gazes of the subtly modeled faces of his subjects (Portret Wandy Kułakowskiej / Portrait of Wanda Kułakowska, 1894; Portret matki / Portrait of Mother, 1900). The portraits of James Whistler are also a clear inspiration for a series of paintings representing members of the family of prominent attorney Adam Oderfeld, executed by Pankiewicz in 1897. In these works, Pankiewicz subtly used sfumato to dissolve the sharpness of all lines while highlighting refined harmonies and color dissonances (Portret dziewczynki w czerwonej sukni (Józefa Oderfeldowna) / Portrait of a Girl in a Red Dress (Józefa Oderfeld); Dziewczynka w czerwonej sukni / Girl in a Red Dress; Portret Pani Oderfeldowej z corka / Portrait of Mrs. Oderfeld with her Daughter).

Along with a love for the art of Whistler, Pankiewicz developed an interest for Japanese aesthetics. This interest became stronger through his close relationship with Feliks Manggha-Jasienski, an exceptional art collector and connoisseur who propagated his collection of Japanese woodcuts among Polish artists (Jasienski przy fortepianie / Jasienski at the Grand Piano, 1908). Pankiewicz's paintings reflect Japanese principals of compositional asymmetry and often include various Oriental items, including kimonos, porcelain objects, and drawings (Japonka / Japanese Woman, 1908; Wazon perski / Persian Vase, 1908; Martwa natura z blekitnym wazonem / Still Life with Blue Vase, c. 1900; Budda i lewkonie / Buddha and Stock Flowers, 1906).

During numerous trips to Italy and France during the first decade of the 20th century, the artist produced a series of watercolor sketches of landscapes that were condensed, ethereal, luminous, and intense in color. These were a harbinger of subsequent stylistic phases that were marked by a fascination for the art of Pierre Bonnard and Paul Cézanne. Bonnard and Pankiewicz were friends and during summer vacation in 1909-1910, they shared a studio in St. Tropez. In 1911-1912 they traveled and worked together, painting in the open in Normandy, at Giverny, and Vernon. It was Bonnard's influence that prompted Pankiewicz to expand his palette and introduce a Fauvist system of colors that were strong, saturated, and juxtaposed in a contrasting manner (Kobieta czeszaca sie / Woman Combing her Hair, 1911); he assigned paramount importance to the color composition of his canvasses (Port w Concarneau / The Port at Concarneau, 1908). Intense sensitivity for the pictorial qualities of the plane and analysis of the relationships between color tones co-existed in his paintings with a compositional discipline that the artist drew from the works of Cézanne. Cézanne's aesthetic became an even stronger influence during Pankiewicz's stay in Spain, where he enjoyed close contacts with Robert Delaunay, with whom he shared a studio in Madrid. In his landscapes dating from between 1914 and 1919, natural forms and buildings are clearly geometric in form; at the same time, the structure of these compositions is highlighted while the palette is dominated by clear colors illuminated with strong, southern sunlight (Ulica w Madrycie / A Street in Madrid, 1916; Taras w Madrycie / A Terrace in Madrid, 1917).

Another change in his formula for painting came in the 1920s, a decade during which he was additionally very active as a teacher. Around this time, Pankiewicz abandoned his post-Cubist interests in favor of a traditionalist aesthetic that referenced earlier art and was based on direct observation of nature. The galleries of the Louvre became the inspiration for both Pankiewicz and his students. The artist reverted to traditional painting skills, modeling his forms from light and shadow; he also studied gradations of color, building his shapes softly, using smoothly laid patches of color. His spacious landscapes from Sanary, Cassis, and La Ciôtat frequently depict trees in the forefront, hills covered in pine trees, and glimpses of the sea in the distance. These canvasses were highly suggestive in their representation of spatial depth. At the same time, Pankiewicz limited himself to tones of olive green, warm browns, and cool blues that passed into pinks (Pejzaz poludniowy z domem / Southern Landscape with a House, c. 1925; Pejzaz z Cassis / Cassis Landscape, 1928). Pankiewicz also produced decorative still lifes, their primary motif being an abundant bouquet of anemones in a vase. His still lifes from the 1930s are characterized by both decorative arrangements and by mimetic recreation of different textures - the matte surface of porcelain, the glow of a faience vase, the transparency of glass, reflections gliding over the rounded surfaces of fruit, the softness of patterned fabrics (Martwa natura z zielonym dzbanem / Still Life with Green Pitcher, 1929). Pankiewicz began to analyze the skills of 17th century Dutch masters; his narrow color scheme, dominated by browns and greens, served to create a mood of calmness and reflection. In 1929 the artist was invited to participate in decorating Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, a project that was directed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz. He continued to live in Paris, and in 1930-1931 executed eight oil panels for the Royal Chapel, including the plafond paintings Nawiedzenie / The Annunciation and Ucieczka do Egiptu / Escape into Egypt.

Jozef Pankiewicz was among the pioneers of Polish graphic art, a discipline that came into its own in this country at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1894-1895 he was the first to explore the medium of original graphic art that would be freed of its traditional illustrative and reproductive functions. In 1897 he began work on a series of dry-point engravings that depicted the landscapes of the Polesie region of Poland. In these works, he adapted the mode of depicting nature and the graphic means of representation of Camille Corot and the French Realists. In 1899 he published the first graphic art portfolio in Poland's history, titled Quatorze Eaux-Fortes. The portfolio consisted of landscape motifs from Paris, Chartres, Rouen, Rome, and Venice. These were a reminiscence of the highly innovative prints of Whistler, whose masterful Venetian etchings captured varying atmospheric phenomena. Pankiewicz's understanding of the possibilities of graphic techniques and in his treatment of graphic substance were highly akin to those of Whistler, though he himself quickly perfected his abilities and developed an original form of artistic representation. Much like Whistler, Pankiewicz executed drawings directly on plates, recording fragments of the landscape from nature and forthwith imbuing his images with fleeting sensations. Consistently following the example of his master, Pankiewicz burned the plates and printed the final works using a manual press. Paradoxically, it was graphic art, with its radically limited tonal scale reduced to nuances of black and white, that prompted the artist to take a renewed interest in Impressionism, a fascination he had abandoned in painting in 1892 in favor of harmony in color tones in his symbolic nocturnes. Whistleresque rendering of the Venetian view is evident in the engraving Wenecja. Widok na Canale Grande i Kosciol S. Maria Della Salute / Venice - View of the Canale Grande and the Church of S. Maria della Salute (1899), in which Pankiewicz equaled his master in the suggestive representation of the reflection of the church in the clear surface of the bay. In the etchings Teatr Marcellusa w Rzymie / The Marcellus Theatre in Rome (1899) and Kuznia - Rzym. Arkada Teatru Marcellusa / Smithery - Rome - Arcade of the Marcellus Theatre (1900), Pankiewicz evoked the bristling play of sunrays and vibrating shadows in the curves of moss-covered walls. Whistler's prints supplemented by the aesthetics of Japanese woodcuts also clearly inspired the engraving Kanal Pinski / The Pinsk Canal (1899), in which the empty plane of the water surface is complemented solely through slight needle scratches that suggest bulrush. Pankiewicz's series of ethereal marina scenes is wonderfully represented by the etching Przystan w Concarneau / Marina at Concarneau (1908), and the motif of the boat appears as essential in the drawings Port w Fécamp / Port at Fécamp (1907) and Lodzie w Concarneau / Boats at Concarneau (1908).

Whistler was also a source of inspiration for Pankiewicz's graphic endeavors aimed at representing night scenes. The nocturnes Duboj na Polesiu / Duboj in Polesie (1897), Forum Romanum (1899), Targ rybny W Chartres / Fish Market in Chartres (1899), and Castello del'Ovo w Neapolu / Castello del'Ovo in Naples (1900) are symbolic and nostalgic. In the etching Port wloski noca / Italian Port at Night (c. 1900), Pankiewicz achieved dramatic expression through sharp contrasts of black and white that energize the view of the port enveloped by darkness. The engravings Ulica w Sienie I / Street in Siena I (1900) and Ulica w Sienie II / Street in Siena II (1900) gained a rigorous, geometric composition; the townhouses along stair-lined Siena streets are massed together densely and sharply rise upwards as if fighting gravity. An Impressionistic relaxation of form appeared once again in Pankiewicz's late cityscapes from France, which include Rue de la Boucherie a caudebec en Caux, Rue Charlemagne (c. 1904), Dinan - Ulica Jerzual / Dinan - Jerzual Street (c. 1907), and Rue de Barres a Paris (c. 1905). In 1909 Pankiewicz was forced to abandon graphic art as an activity because of his weakening eyesight.

Author: Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Science, September 2002's picture
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Józef Pankiewicz


Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), "Portrait of Halina and Michał Mycielski among a Herd of Horses in Gałów", 1926, oil on canvas, courtesy of of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, credit:

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