Polish painter, illustrator, and graphic artist; author of texts on art theory. Born 1882 in Oświęcim, died 1932 in Paris.
Makowski studied philology in the Philosophy Department of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow from 1902 to 1906. Simultaneously (from 1903), he attended classes at the city's Academy of Fine Arts, studying under Józef Unierzyski, Jan Stanisławski, and Józef Mehoffer. In 1908, he completed his artistic education with honours. In 1907 and 1908, he travelled to Italy several times, and visited Kiev in 1907 and 1912. At the turn of 1908-09, Makowski travelled through Munich to Paris where he would live for the rest of his life. He became a member of the circle surrounding artist Henry Le Fauconnier, meeting, among others, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Fernand Léger, Alexander Archipenko, Piet Mondrian, and Guillaume Apollinaire. He spent 1914 and 1915 in Brittany where he initially stayed at the home of Władysław Ślewiński in Doëlan, later moving to the village of Le Pouldu. In 1921, he travelled to Holland, visiting the country again in 1932 when on a trip to Belgium.
Makowski was a member of the Association of Polish Artists in Paris. He exhibited at the Salon of Independents (1912-14, 1921-1923, 1925-26, 1930), the Tuileries Salon (1926-29), the Autumn Salon (1924), and the Salon De L'Oeuvre Unique (1932). He also presented his works at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1914) and the Polish Arts Club in Warsaw (1924). His works were included in exhibitions of Polish art in Barcelona (1912) and Paris (1914, 1927, 1929, 1930) and in exhibitions organized by the Society for the Propagation of Polish Art Among Foreigners in Vienna and Budapest (1928). The artist also had solo shows at the Parisian galleries Chéron (1921) and Berthe Weill (1927, 1928).
The Symbolist landscape painting of Stanisławski initially shaped Makowski's artistic stance, and Mehoffer taught him the essence of drawing as a means of expression, inspiring him to develop a love for decorative, art-nouveau styling. His interest in theatrical design prompted him to create the puppets for Krakow's "Zielony Balonik" / "Green Balloon" Cabaret. In Paris, Makowski became fascinated with the Classicist, symbolic art of Puvis de Chavannes. Around 1911, influenced by Le Fauconnier and the Cubists, he shifted to a more compact manner of constructing his paintings and began treating forms geometrically, using light and shadow to create shapes that he then outlined with clear contours. Around this time, he made a series of dark still lifes with a limited colour range displaying this aesthetic.
Between 1913 and 1915, he began to find inspiration in the work of the French realists, Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet. Around 1915, he abandoned Cubist formulas in favour of bright, Impressionist-derived landscapes. During a trip to Brittany, Makowski created a series of rough textured landscapes and scenes in warm, yellow and red tones, depicting the life of the local peasantry. Like Makowski's still lifes and bouquet compositions, these reflected a merging of styles and in this respect resembled the work of Slewinski.
In 1918, Makowski introduced a motif that would be central to his work thereafter - the figure of a child. The artist began creating lyrical, naive images of children in refined, pastel hues. The expansive landscapes that Makowski produced in turn around 1920 were inspired by the art of the elder Pieter Bruegel. Though their dominant browns and greens are hardly glossy, Makowski's addition of figures injects life into the canvas. References to the Naive Art of Henri Rousseau-Celnik are also clear. Makowski painted a series of these small landscapes on wooden boards and pieces of cardboard, using a restricted and refined range of colours based largely on a counterpoint of pinks and emerald greens and supplemented with various tones of yellow and brown.
In his still lifes, the simplified, almost sketched forms of fruit and plate, underlined with soft contours, appear against abstract backgrounds, and the primitivist conventions of these canvases evoke intimacy and concentration. This naive styling also corresponded well with the poetic mood of his fairground compositions (Dziewczynka z girlandą kwiatów / Girl with a Flower Garland, c. 1922; Kapela dziecięca / Children's Ensemble, 1922). Makowski's output of this period seems to portray a single type of child. Although individualized, his children all possess subtle, regular features and somewhat surprised, thoughtful expressions in their wide eyes. Fine lines that precisely define forms, shapes created through tonal variation, and a colour range limited to a handful of pastel hues also characterize the works of this period. The culmination of Makowski's scenes with children came in the form of the landscapes he produced while on vacation in 1926-1927 in the town of Breuilpont in Normandy (Kościółek wiejski / Country Church, Pejzaż normandzki / Normandy Landscape; Powrót ze szkoły / Returning from School). Although oil paintings in their final form, these images were reached through a series of modest drawings and watercolor studies in which delicate, almost timid contours surround the geometric shapes of architectural forms, while patches of smeared pencil shadows introduce an unreal sfumato effect.
Throughout the 1920s Makowski showed his work with that of Expressionist-inclined painters like Marcel Gromair, Edouard George, Pierre Dubreuile, Per Krohg, and Jules Pascin. By 1928, a year that was a milestone in the artist's career, Makowski had arrived at a highly individual style of rendering his subjects, one unique within the context of European art. Generalized forms were now surrounded with contour lines that rendered them geometric. During this time, Makowski created a series of canvases with musical subjects, including Chlopcy z fujarkami / Boys with Pipes (c. 1928), Czworo dzieci z traba / Four Children with a Horn (1929), Kobziarze / The Bagpipers (1929), Trzej grajkowie / Three Musicians (1928), Jazz (1929).
In 1930, Makowski's paintings became more Expressionist. The artist used radically simplified shapes - restricting himself to triangles, cylinders, and cones - and made his lines clearer and weightier. He narrowed his range of colours to earth tones, primarily browns tinged with red and gray, and used thicker layers of paint. He introduced singular lighting effects, energizing his sombre, gloomy hues with areas of luminescence: beams of white light seeping from lamps and Chinese lanterns, and golden glimmering windows. Many of his paintings portray a figure-puppet - a ribald, old simpleton. In this way, Makowski created a grotesque vision of human existence, a world dominated by masks and props, a reality that is a masquerade populated with melancholy, such as his Pierrot-children frozen in theatrical poses. These "clowns" are often accompanied by pets and birds and exist in an unspecified, abstract space, in theatrical surroundings, in the interiors of studios, huts, or in courtyards. Carnival scenes are another recurring motif, one that evokes wonder and sometimes terror. In these scenes, adult figures are objectified and rendered as massive, rough-hewn volumes, their faces frozen in mask-like grimaces (Autoportret z paleta / Self-Portrait with Palette, c. 1931). The rhythm Makowski creates through the gestures of his figures further flattens the closed and cramped compositional space of his canvases. At times his seemingly innocent mannequins surprise the viewer with a predatory expression that brings them to life, making them unpredictable and threatening (Kolejarze / The Rail Workers, c. 1930). Makowski varied his textures in his later paintings, which clearly display their lateral troughs and short, parallel brushstrokes.
In 1930, the artist created a series of paintings depicting professions: Szewc / The Shoemaker, Rybak / The Fisherman, Strzelec / The Hunter, Piekarz / The Baker. Skąpiec / The Miser was the first in a series of works portraying human weakness, a series that epitomises his poetics of the grotesque. In addition to producing canvases, watercolors, and drawings, Makowski was also a graphic artist, creating woodcuts, etchings, and lithographs. He was an illustrator of books and a cover designer, producing woodcuts for the 1925 Parisian edition of Tytus Czyżewski's Pastorałki / Pastorals. Makowski also wrote poetry, short stories, and essays in art theory ("O rysunku" / "On Drawing", 1921; "O sztuce / On Art", 1924; "Uwagi o sztuce" / "Notes on Art", 1930-32).
Author: Irena Kossowska, Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Science, December 2001