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Tadeusz Makowski

Tadeusz Makowski is one of the most outstanding and highly valued Polish painters of the 20th century. He created fully original and independent painting as compared to the contemporary European art. He is known to a broad audience as the painter who depicted the child's world in a peculiar, modern style - its happiness, sorrows, plays and activities. Tadeusz Makowski spent twenty six years of his adult life in Francy he established many friendships with French artists and as hardly any of the Polish painters, he blended with the world of Parisian Bohemians. However, he remained a Polish artist, always sensitive to the news from Poland. French critics highlighted a lyrical "Slavic charm" present in his paintings.

"Through all my memories of youth I can see Tadeusz Makowski - tall, thin, dark-haired with a beret on his head, smoking a pipe, a little slow in his movements and words, not because of nonchalance but by virtue of focused attention and being lost in thought. Due to his art and Slavic origin, Makowski showed himself as a charming, hardly real person coming from the suffering Poland, but unsurrendered when gaining real intellectual, moral and spiritual values" - that is how he is remembered by Clotilde Cariou, a French painter and actress, whose home in Brittany was often visited by the artist in the 20s. While Makowski's artistic works are typical and easily recognisable, the painter's life, who was a loner focused mainly on work, seems to be colourless and monotonous, devoid of spectacular events. He was born in Oświęcim, on 29 January 1882. He was a person of many talents: plastic, literary, musical, and mathematical. After his A-levels passed in Cracow in 1902, he studied in the Philosophy Department at the Jagiellonian University, one year later he commenced simultaneous studies of painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. In terms of finance he could rely only on himself, as his father disapproved of his personal choices. He learnt painting under Jan Stanisławski and, after the professor's death in 1905, under Józef Mehoffer. After many years, Makowski was moved by the memories of Stanisławski, their common open air sessions in Tyniec and Zakopane: "We painted outside and in the snow.... Talks, arguments, competition. Humorous tricks. And our favourite songs. Our beloved professor among us". He graduated from the Cracow's Academy with a silver medal and at the turn of 1908 he left, via Munich, for Paris in order to complete his skills there over a year. At that time, he did not know that he would stay in Paris till the end of his life. Then he was still under a strong influence of Cracow's professors, he painted landscapes in the spirit of Stanisławski's style as well as scenes and interiors similar to the decorative paintings of Mehoffer.

At that time Paris was already the main artistic centre of Europe, the place where new artistic trends appeared. Throughout a year, the artist lived on the scholarship, later on he dealt with financial problems, he was suffered from loneliness. "Young artists in Poland who long for Paris do not think even how many difficult moments they will have to face here" - he wrote in 1911. In his Journal that he began to write then, he noted his moods, defined reflections on painting, analysed his own works. He was homesick, on the days when he was especially lonely he had remorses, that he did not go back home, but as he wrote, "artists should live in the environment of the top level culture which so much depends on social conditions". This "top level culture" could be found exactly in Paris.

He visited Louvre, where he studied the works of Rembrandt and Nicolas Poussin; he examined the paintings of impressionists, he was delighted with and he analysed the paintings of Cezanne. He visited galleries and modern cafes, where the artists' social life was focused. He participated in the life of the Polish community abroad - he had contacts with the home of Władysław Mickiewicz, he was a friend of the poet's granddaughter - Maria, he was a member of the Society of Polish Artists, he met Polish painters, among others, his close friend, Władysław Ślewiński, who belonged to the previous generation. However, he was increasingly more blended with the circle of French artists. He noted in his Journal: "It is a pity, that I am separated from my Polish colleagues by a difference of views and aspirations, it weakens our mutual relations. In spite of that I am willing to spend my free time with foreigners, love to art covers up differences, and ties deeply". Around 1910, he made friends with the representative of Cubists, a painter - Henri Le Fauconnier. In his atelier he met other representatives of avant-garde, painters: Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Fernand Leger, Piet Mondrian, Petr Alma, Conrad Kickert, sculptors: Aleksander Archipenka, as well as writers: Jules Romain and Gaullaume Apollinaire. At that time, in 19111913, Makowski had already mastered the cubist style of painting. He painted several landscapes, figure compositions, portrait studios and still life, the composition of which is based on the simplified geometrical shapes of forms. In 1913, having been exhibited in the Salon of Independents, they earned flattering reviews, and their authors foretold him further outstanding successes. However, cubism represented only an episode in Makowski's work, the school of different view and presentation of reality, a practice of technique. As Makowski claimed: "I had drawn from Cubism everything that seemed to be good to me and I withdrew from this formula. I was more attracted by a human being".

The outbreak of World War I changed the artistic life of Paris. Makowski, who was a citizen of Austria (a country hostile towards France) had to leave his own atelier and his favourite city. In 1914-1915, he was in Brittany, initially at the home of his friend, Władysław Ślewiński, in Doelan, then in the nearby village La Pould. He visited Brittany and Auwergne later during his summer holidays. He painted bouquets of flowers and still life similar to the paintings of Ślewiński, he was interested in colour and the artistic subject matter of the object. After his return to Paris he still improved his technique. He looked for patterns in the painting of Jean-Baptiste Corot, Gustave Courbet, as well as in the paintings of the 17th century masters of Dutch painting and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Distant traces of this style of painting are seen in his landscapes and scenes from the life of French provinces painted in the 20s. Makowski's all artistic fascinations were subordinated to his aspiration towards the development of his own style, looking for means of expression that could fully demonstrate his artistic individuality. He was aware of his own autonomy, already in 1914, he wrote: "Nearly all the Polish do not like my paintings. It is not surprising at all. Not everyone likes to speak abourt it loudly. Painters are even far from understanding many things. Could I really be an eccentric? For me everything I do seems to be clear and simple. The environment protects itself against any more daring, independent effort. A middle-class, common viewpoint. I prefer everything to being average. Fortunately, nobody can accuse me of it."

Exactly at that time the artist became a member of the circle of painters, established at the initiative of a French expressionist, Marcel Gromaire, which in 1923-27 organised yearly exhibitions in the La Licorne and Berthy Weill galleries. Bertha Weill highly valued Makowski's paintings, he was "an apple of her eye". The artist had two individual exhibitions in her gallery in 1927 and 1928. In the foreword of the catalogue from 1928 the author of introduction, Louis Leon-Martin, called Makowski "a clear, strong artist able to translate human daily life both in a lyrical and popular manner". Makowski was a commonly liked person, attracting attention by his universal education, sensitivity and delicate disposition. "He had something of an innocent child in his nature, some freshness, naivety... He loved children, He was always surrounded by children, and especially in the countryside they followed him closely". The topic of children appeared in his works around 1918. The first important painting preceded by many schemes, was Kapela dziecięca (Children's Ensemble), a painting from 1922, with a lyrical and naive atmosphere, simplified shapes, rhythmic composition and brightness of colours. It was the only painting that was purchased to the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw still when he was alive.

At the end of the 20s, the artist crystallised his individual style, original manner of expression, as compared to the European art. It included all his existing formal experience: it introduced a clear, legible composition, geometric figures, it simplified a solid to a sphere, a cone, and a cylinder, he limited colours to brown, sometimes broken with red, he lighted up the sallow colours with luministic effects. By these means the artist depicted the world of poetic metaphor, enchanted in the figures of children similar to wooden puppets, mannequins and marionettes with round heads covered with triangular, pointed caps, eyes-coals, innocently looking at the world. Usually, he portrayed them in a group, in the yard, inside the hut, or in the studio. He dressed them in masquerade clothes, masks with bird features, arousing the mood of anxiety and fear. His most famous paintings include, among others: Wiejskie podwórko (the Courtyard), 1929; Dziecinne ZOO (Children Zoo), 1929; Maskarada w mroku (Masquarade in the darkness), 1931; Teatr dziecięcy (the Children Theatre), 1931. Another deformation was applied to adults: persons were gross, with caricature-like faces, they intensively expressed the brutality of the world: Kolejarze (The Rail Workers), Dziad i baba (The Old Man and Woman), both 1930, as well as the cycle of canvasses representing the gallery of occupations -Szewc/Rzeźbiarz sabotów (The Cobbler), Rybak (The Fisherman), both 1930. The last painting of Tadeusz Makowski, which could herald a characteristic series of paintings, is Skąpiec(The Miser). This monumental grotesque with moralistic expression finishes the artist's creation. Tadeusz Makowski died in Paris on 1 November 1932, at the age of 50, he was buried in Paris at the Polish cemetery in Montmorency.

After his death, the Society of Tadeusz Makowski's Friends was established in Paris chaired by Marcel Gromaire, the purpose of which was to propagate his works. Due to the Society's efforts, Makowski's paintings were displayed at the Salon of Independents in 1933 and at the 20th Biennale in Venice in 1936. The same collection of 27 paintings was displayed one year later in Warsaw. The Society's activities were interrupted by World War II. Makowski's paintings survived, hidden in the furniture warehouse in Paris. They were brought to Poland in 1954. Their largest collection is in the National Museum in Warsaw, where in 1960, the monographic exhibition of Makowski's works was organised, which was very successful. This exhibition and the painter's "Journal" published in 1961 permanently popularised his works. His paintings represent part of a constant exhibition of the art of the 20th century displayed in the National Museum in Warsaw. The painter's works from the Museum's collection were exhibited separately in 2003.

Irena Bal