Painter, born 14 June 1898 in Warsaw, died 24 April 1962 in Warsaw.
Born 1898 in Warsaw, died 1962 in Warsaw. Tadeusz Potworowski is one of those artists whose work, hidden away for half a century, continues to provoke enthusiasm among young artists, not only acting as an inspiration but also as a reference point, a model they draw upon in their own explorations of a contemporary approach to the motif of the landscape.
The Face of the Sea
, 1960, oil, courtesy of The Leon Wyczółkowski Regional Museum in Bydgoszcz
Tadeusz Potworowski is one of those artists whose work, hidden away for half a century, continues to provoke enthusiasm among young artists, not only acting as an inspiration but also as a reference point, a model they draw upon in their own explorations of a contemporary approach to the motif of the landscape.
Potworowski began his artistic education in 1921 at the Warsaw school of Konrad Krzyżanowski, where he was a student of Adam Rychtarski. By the following year he was already a student of Józef Pankiewicz at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Pankiewicz incorporated Potworowski in the group of students who, under his patronage and with his guidance, would come to constitute the Paris Committee (a.k.a. the Capists). The group's name came from its members' main aim of traveling to Paris and continuing their studies there in direct contact with the French tradition in painting. Core members included Jan Cybis, responsible for the group's artistic program, Józef Czapski, Artur Nacht (known as Nacht-Samborski after World War II), Hanna Rudzka-Cybisowa, and Zygmunt Waliszewski. Their aim was realized in 1924 when the young painters found their way to the French capital where they would spend the next few years of their lives. Potworowski took full advantage of the visit, engaging in a range of beneficial and highly varied activities. He was a frequent visitor to the studio of Léger and saw a lot of painting. In studying early painting he was excited by Rembrandt, copied the paintings of Delacroix and Corot, and fell under the influence of the works of Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, and Braque. He traveled extensively, primarily in France (while at La Ciotat he visited with Eugeniusz Eibisch and Nacht among others), though he also managed to sail along the North African coast (during a six month voyage he docked at Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian ports among others). Back in France, he began to break out of the mindset that Cybis sought to impose on his colleagues and decided to exhibit independently (among other ways by taking part in the 38th Salon des Independents in 1927). In 1928 and 1929 Potworowski spent time in Great Britain and returned to Poland shortly thereafter (1930). He sought isolation by settling in areas far away from the country's artistic centers, initially in the small village of Rudki, then in Grebanin near Kępno in the region of Great Poland. He stayed in touch with his friends who were painters, some of whom visited often (the most frequent being Waclaw Taranczewski and Juliusz Strzalecki). Both his experiences while traveling and his discussions with friends inspired him to work extensively: he painted a lot and exhibited frequently.
During World War II he escaped initially to Sweden, from where, in 1943, he gained passage to Great Britain. Once in London he established contacts with the London-based community of Polish émigré artists, including Jankiel Adler, Franciszka and Stefan Themerson, Zdzisław Ruszkowski, Feliks Topolski, and Marek Żuławski. Three years later he had his first solo exhibition at London's Redfern Gallery (Adler being among those who most helped him to develop a relationship with the gallery). The artist's more significant achievements while abroad included his work as an educator at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham (from 1949) and his membership in the London Group (from 1954) and the Royal West of England Academy (from 1956). Potworowski's art was highly individual in style, something that was determined essentially by his frequent visits to Cornwall where he had his studio and where the St. Ives Group, a collection of experimental English artists, was based. The painter did not return to Poland until 1958, once the post-1956 "thaw" was well underway, and at about the same time the National Museum in Poznan organized the first post-war exhibition of the artist's works. He also began to work as an educator, becoming a professor of the State Higher Schools of the Visual Arts in Gdansk and Poznan, and maintained a relationship with the latter of these two schools for a longer time. His presence at both institutions was energizing. Because he had no past as a painter within the Polish People's Republic, Potworowski had never been burdened with erstwhile domestic dilemmas and remained unaffected by the sometime painful trip-ups of Polish artists, many of whom had been subjected to, and sought to respond to, the tenets of Socialist Realism. Untainted by ideological traps, living at a distance from local problems, possessing a permanent connection to world art, he appeared in Poland to be the inhabitant of another dimension. His was a free world, in the political sense, one filled with artistic freedom and un-fettered by pressures external to art.
Potworowski's achievements as a painter remain among the most interesting in post-war Polish art and his work was some of the most independent to be done within the Capist movement. His art was strongly influenced by his friendship with Cybis, who helped him to develop a sensitivity for color. In an independent, original, almost masterly way, he transformed the possibilities inherent in Colorism as practiced by the Capists. He was aided in this by his relatively early contacts with various manifestations of French art, which helped him to recognize and give direction to his own, individual artistic talents and predispositions. These included a sense of structure, developed primarily through consideration of the post-Cubist works of Léger, and a sensitivity to the stability achieved through thought-out arrangements of color planes, something he noted in the paintings of Bonnard. His voyages were as inspirational as was, somewhat later, the regular access he enjoyed to up-to-date information about developments in the arts.
Gradually and consistently Potworowski abandoned the subject matter he had shared with many of his Paris Committee colleagues. In time he reverted to the landscape - which served as a point of departure, a source, rather than a motif in and of itself. The painter elected to focus on what makes a piece of canvas a painting: the mutual relations between arranged planes of color. By combining color skills with an analytical attitude towards nature and by accenting purely painterly qualities, he arrived at abstract painting. This evolution seems rational: color had always been a more basic element and material in Potworowski's art than had been the reality that surrounded him. His paintings often come across as fascinating, penetrating, and simultaneously nonchalantly free in their examination of a single hue through its many tones and intensities, and in a number of lighting situations (Krajobraz z Łagowa / Lagow Landscape, 1958). This search for a way to turn pigment into the essence of the painterly gesture characterizes many of the artist's compositions. These include his early, figurative, Bonnardesque works (Przed lustrem / Before the Mirror, 1932) and his later, nearly abstract landscapes in which color planes constitute a mere allusion to the external world, a painterly symbol of the visible rather than a description or record thereof (Zachód słońca w Toskanii / Sunset in Tuscany, 1956; Hanka na pasiaku / Hanka on a Striped Cloth, 1959-60). In some works colors seem freed entirely, becoming a thoroughly autonomous element (Liściasty krzyż / Leafy Cross, 1959; Kompozycja gołuchowska / Goluchow Composition, 1961; Akt owalny / Oval Nude, 1961). In this way Potworowski's art became art of the eye - sensual but self-conscious, basically powerful but inwardly focused. This control over the structure of paintings, a skillfully measured creative freedom, also characterized the artist's textural experiments within the realm of "matter painting". This consisted of strengthening the structure of his paintings by adding non-painterly elements like pieces of canvas, fragments of plywood, and the like, in a technique characteristic of this genre. At times the painter would retain the natural color of his materials, at others he would retouch them with paint (Biała sieć / White Net, 1958; Worek z szarym niebem / Bag with Gray Sky, 1958-61). These experiences lead to the creation of a series of artistic objects, akin to objets d'art, which referred among other things to known projects by Albert Burri. They include his half-spatial compositions and reliefs (Maska na tle kosza / Mask and Basket, 1961), as well as his spatial and sculptural works (Stateczki / Little Boats, a series of small and unpretentious works).
Although Potworowski was primarily a painter, he tried his hand at the graphic arts (see his highly expressive and Surrealistic lithographs from a portfolio devoted to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, 1934) and succeeded in creating some exceptional scenery designs (Faust directed by Jerzy Grotowski at Poznań's Polish Theatre / Teatr Polski; Dziady / Forefathers' Eve at the Silesian Theatre / Teatr Śląski in Katowice).
Potworowski exhibited his paintings widely and with some success, among other things winning an award at the Venice Biennale (1960). Some information about Potworowski's oeuvre can be found in a catalogue accompanying a monographic exhibition held at the turn of 1976 and 1977 at the National Museum in Poznań. A vast retrospective was organized at Warsaw's Zachęta Contemporary Art Gallery in 1996 and a catalogue attempting to summarize the painter's oeuvre was published on that occasion.
Author: Małgorzata Kitowska-Łysiak, Art History Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin, Faculty of Art Theory and the History of Artistic Doctrines, December 2001