The Great Painters

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz

- Witkacy, the great portraitist

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, ca. 1912, Wikipedia

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939)

His achievements could be divided into a few biographies and a few hard-working ones: he was a painter and art theorist, wrote dramas and novels, experimented with drugs, painted portraits, etc. A very versatile man, he appears in almost all disciplines of art. A classic of the world format - his texts have been translated into more than 30 languages (Europe, South America, the USA and Japan), and of all Polish authors, his plays are the most frequently played on foreign stages.










Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz


On 24 February in Warsaw, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz "Witkacy" was born, son of Stanisław Witkiewicz (painter, writer, architect, creator of the "Zakopane style") and Maria née Pietrzkiewicz (music teacher).


Due to Stanisław Witkiewicz's father's illness, the family moved to Zakopane. Witkacy's father was an ardent opponent of the school system, annihilating the individuality of the student. Therefore, he himself managed his son's education, organising private lessons for him, often conducted by university professors and outstanding artists. He also supported young Witkacy's independence in choosing his own interests.



He passed his baccalaureate exam in Lviv externally


studied at the School of Fine Arts and Jagiellonian University


Against his father's will, he began his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, first in Jan Stanisławski's studio and then in Józef Mehoffer's studio. The imagination of young Witkacy was strongly influenced by art Witold Wojtkiewicz


On 21 February, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz's fiancée, Jadwiga Janczewska, committed suicide. It is known that Jadwiga was pregnant, and Witkacy was panicked by the consequences of giving birth to a child whose future aroused the worst fears in him. It is also said that there were misunderstandings between the fiancées over an alleged flirtation with Karol Szymanowski. Since this tragedy happened after the fiancé's quarrel, Witkacy blamed himself deeply for it.


The proposal to travel as a photographer to New Guinea with Bronisław Malinowski was to tear him away from his deep depression. In July, they reached Australia, where they learned about the outbreak of World War I. After a dispute with the expedition's companion, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz returned to Europe, where he enlisted in the Russian Tsar's army (an elite infantry unit), because he believed that in a new armed conflict, Poles should fight for independence by fighting on the Slavic side, not on the Germanic side.


dismissed from the army, due to wounds sustained at the Battle of Stochod (among the enemies of the Russian army there were also troops of the Polish Legions of Józef Piłsudzki)



Return to Zakopane, he started to paint and write intensively. He was accepted into the group of Formists, and the first exhibitions and theatre premieres also began


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz married his granddaughter Juliusz Kossak - Jadwiga Unrug, however, was not a successful marriage. Constant conflicts made Jadwiga move to Warsaw. However, the unsuccessful marriage turned into a deep friendship with time. Stanisław and Jadwiga visited each other frequently, and from Witkacy's correspondence to his wife nearly 1300 letters have been preserved

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Young S.I. Witkiewicz with his father, c. 1893, Wikipedia


he gave up oil painting in favour of pastels, he also founded "Firma Portretowa S.I. Witkiewicz", which was his main source of income


in the summer Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz fell in love with Czesława Oknińska-Korzeniowska with reciprocity


He created the foundations of his own philosophical system - contained in "Concepts and statements implied by the concept of Existence". He also dealt with literary criticism, published and reviewed articles, and met Zofia Nałkowska, Witold Gombrowicz and Bruno Schulz at the time. For his literary work he received the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature.

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Portrait of Nena Stachurska, 1930, Wikipedia


The outbreak of the war found Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz in Warsaw, where he began his efforts to join the army. However, he was rejected on account of his age and state of health.


On 18 September, in the village of Jeziory in Polesie, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz committed suicide when he learned about the Soviet Union's attack on Poland. Together with him, Czesława Oknińska-Korzeniowska also pursued her life, but - unlike Witkacy - she survived despite taking a strong dose of luminal. Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz was buried in a rural cemetery in Jeziory (today Ukraine).

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Portrait of Michał Choromański, 1928, Wikipedia

Interesting facts:

Witkacy's godmother was the actress Helena Modrzejewska, and the godfather was Jan Krzeptowski-Sabała, a storyteller and highlander singer.
Turbulent affair
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz experienced a turbulent relationship of several years with Irena Solska, an outstanding theatre artist - Mrs S. Her expressive figure was reflected in Witkacy's first novel '622 Falls of the Bug, or Demonic Woman'.
Portrait Company
In his company "Firma Portretowa S.I. Witkiewicz" painted several thousand portraits. However, the client had to adapt to the rules of "Regulations". One of them sounded: "The client must be satisfied. Misunderstandings excluded". Despite the willingness to accept unusual rules, not everyone could get the honour of portraying anyway. Some of the requests for immortalisation were rejected by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz with the appealless 'I see no reason!

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz experimented with drugs (and even published a book about drugs, known today as "Drugs"), which were even supplied to him by his friends, but he did not take any of them continuously... His portraits contained notes such as What - which meant that the artist created under the influence of cocaine, Et - ether, Eu - eucodal... and markings:

  • FBZ - a pipe without pulling,
  • FZZ - a pipe with a drag,
  • NP 12 - did not smoke for 12 days,
  • NΠ 3 - did not drink 3 days,
  • cof. - He was drinking coffee,
  • pyfko, piwo - beer
Portrait categories
Witkacy gave his portraits categories from A to E, of which A is the most accurate type, and E - pure form.
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Portrait of Stefania Tuwimowa, February 1929, Wikipedia

About the art of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz:

In his works, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz paraphrased motifs from Edvard Munch's painting, depicting the idea of "gender metaphysics". These drawings became the nucleus of the concept of pastiche, parody and grotesque, which the artist developed in his mature dramaturgical, novelistic and painterly work.

"Witkiewicz was a catastropheist, endowed like Orwell, and it was Orwell from both "Animal Farm" and "1984", with an astonishing clarity and sharpness of vision. He said that civilisations of equals, full-bodied and automated will be threatened not only by the pressure of 'levellers' from the East, Asia and Africa, but also by the fact that mechanised civilisations are not only fragile and prone to madness, but also defenceless against madmen and psychopaths. In a world that has become a 'global village', madness is contagious and widespread. In this great village, where everything happens simultaneously, everything has suddenly become possible.

– Jan Kott

During the Formist period, Witkacy formulated an art theory whose key concept was Pure Form - an "absolute form", constituting the essence of a work of art as a unity composed of many different qualitative elements. Unlike other formists, it had a symbolic meaning for Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.

"It is in Russia that Witkacy will accidentally see the face of the 20th century. (...) He reports to the army - he is a Russian subject, he considers it his duty. He finishes the Tsarist officer's school and, thanks to his uncle's protection, he gets into the Pavlovskiy leybguard regiment, which is swarming with "white" aristocracy. The atmosphere of the regiment's life, drunkenness, sexual orgies, the whole après nous le déluge, great Russian decadence, about the size and climate of which one has little idea in Poland - will leave an indelible mark on all his works.

– Konstanty Puzyna

From Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz's self-portraits, it is not possible to deduce the colour of his eyes. Depending on the composition needs, they were brown, black, grey, sometimes green or purple again.

"Art is an escape, the noblest drug that can take us to other worlds without harming our health, our intelligence (...)".

– Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Temptation of St Anthony II, 1921-1922, Wikipedia

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, a painter, has an established repertoire of motifs which he uses: human and animal-like creatures, sometimes mysterious and demonic, sometimes grotesque and funny. He also has an established set of themes to which he returns many times: the creation of the world, the temptation of Adam or the holy hermit, the apocalyptic struggle of everything against everything, the universal chaos in which everything is lost, or from which everything is born again. It is about the creation and self-destruction of worlds.

"(U Witkacego) art ceased to be art, or only art, and became a matter of social and moral choice, decision, or participation (or refusal to participate in the revolutionary transformations of the epoch in one way or another). 

– Mieczysław Porębski

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz was probably the most extraordinary and versatile artistic personality in Poland in the first half of the 20th century. During his lifetime, he was the object of stormy disputes due to his original views, and his contemporaries did not appreciate the value of his works. He gained real recognition after his death, first in Poland and then in Europe and America.

"Full critical recognition of the work of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, who was more willingly called Witkacy himself, would require the creation of a whole separate discipline and research method. This would be quite risky, as it would have to extend from the theory and history of visual arts, through the theory and history of drama and novel, sociology of culture and futurology, to logic, ontology and historiosophy. Such a discipline could be called vitkacology. 

– Mieczysław Porębski

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz in Museums:

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Portrait of Julian Tuwim, February 1929, Wikipedia
galeria marzeń


  • Dzieła malarskie i graficzne
    • Rysunki
      • „Bóg Ojciec pierwszy raz poważnie zastanowił się nad istotą ziemi (nie świata)”
      • portrety, np. Ireny Solskiej, Brunona Schulza, Stefana Żeromskiego, autoportrety
    • Obrazy olejne z okresu formistycznego
      • „Ogólne zamieszanie”
      • „Rąbanie lasu”
      • „Kompozycja fantastyczna”
      • „Kuszenie św. Antoniego”
      • „Portret Jarosława i Anny Iwaszkiewiczów”
      • autoportrety
    • Pastele
      • cykl kompozycji „astralnych”
      • cykl „Firmy Portretowej S.I. Witkiewicz”, w tym portrety ludzi kultury: Michała Choromańskiego, Leona Chwistka, Zofii Nałkowskiej, Marii Pawlikowskiej-Jasnorzewskiej, Karola Szymanowskiego, Juliana Tuwima i innych ( portret Krystyny i Ludwika Fischerów)[22]
      • autoportrety


Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Portrait of Nena Stachurska, 1930, Wikipedia
galeria marzeń


  • Krakow: National Museum. You can admire there, among others..:
    • Martwa natura” namalowany w 1910
    • „Kompozycja figuralna: trzy głowy” namalowany w 1910-14
    • „Kuszenie św. Antoniego” namalowany w 1916-1921
    • „Kompozycja z postaciami kobiecymi” namalowany w 1917-1920
    • „Kompozycja Kastor i Pollux” namalowany w 1918
    • „Kompozycja z tancerką” namalowany w 1920
    • „Ogólne zamieszanie” namalowany w 1920
    • „Marysia i Burek na Celjonie” namalowany w 1920-21
    • „Topielice” namalowany w 1921
    • „Martwa natura z zegarem” namalowany w 1921
    • Kompozycja” namalowany w 1922
    • Autoportret” namalowany w 1922
    • „Kompozycja” namalowany w 1922
    • „Portret mężczyzny” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret profesora Stefana Szumana” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret Janiny z Turowskich Leszczyńskiej” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Neny Stachurskiej” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Janiny z Turowskich Leszczyńskiej” namalowany w 1931
    • „Portret Janiny z Turowskich Leszczyńskiej (matki)” namalowany w 1931
    • „Portret” namalowany w 1933
    • „Rozkoszny dręczyciel przy pracy” namalowany w 1936
    • „Kompozycja Pani Plutyńska” namalowany w 1936
    • „Dokładne mierzenie ohydy życia” namalowany w 1936
    • „Rozmowa nieznanej staruszki z demonicznym dyrygentem orkiestry” namalowany w 1936
    • „Portret” namalowany w 1936
    • „Dziewczynka śmierdzinóżka” namalowany w 1937
    • „Portret Jana Leszczyńskiego” namalowany w 1938
    • „Portret Janiny z Turowskich Leszczyńskiej” namalowany w 1938
  • Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki. Można tam podziwiać m. in.:
    • „Furia Adormentata” namalowany w 1913
    • „Kompozycja figuralna” namalowany w 1918
    • „Kompozycja” namalowany w 1918
    • Dwie głowy” namalowany w 1920
    • „Walka” namalowany w 1921-1922
    • „Tworzenie świata” namalowany w 1921-1922
    • „Portret podwójny” namalowany w 1925
    • „Portret dra Ludwika Kotulskiego” namalowany w 1928
    • „Portret” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret Doktora Pakowskiego” namalowany w 1934
    • „Portret mężczyzny” namalowany w 1936
    • „Portret Mieczysława Gajewicza” namalowany w 1936
    • „Portret Heleny Birula-Białynickiej” namalowany w 1931
    • „Portret Andrzeja Rybickiego” namalowany w 1931
  • Poznań: National Museum. You can admire there, among others..:
    • Autoportret” namalowany w 1910
    • Portret Bronisława Malinowskiego” namalowany w 1911
    • Pejzaż zimowy ze strumieniem” namalowany w 1913
    • „Portret kobiety” namalowany w 1926
    • „Portret Heleny Birula-Białynickiej” namalowany w 1930
  • Słupsk: Muzeum Pomorza Środkowego. Można tam podziwiać m. in.:
    • „Jowisz przemieniający się w byka” namalowany w 1921
    • „Portret Anny Nawrockiej” namalowany w 1925
    • „Portret Mari Nawrockiej” namalowany w 1925
    • „Portret” namalowany w 1926
    • „Autoportret” namalowany w 1927
    • „Portret Jana Nawrockiego” namalowany w 1927
    • Portret doktora Teodora Birula-Białynickiego” namalowany w 1928
    • „Portret Andrzeja Rybickiego” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret Neny Stachurskiej” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret podwójny Stefana Glassa” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret Ludwika de Laveaux” namalowany w 1929
    • Portret Pani Bylczyńskiej” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret Zofii Krzeptowskiej” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Artura Schroedera” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Doktora Totwena” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Michała Choromańskiego” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Janiny z Turowskich Leszczyńskiej” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret podwójny H. Jutt i M. Choromańskiego” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret doktora Skibińskiego: namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Janiny Filipowskiej” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Stefana Daszyńskiego” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Zofii Jagodowskiej” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Rafała Malczewskiego” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Michała Krajewskiego” namalowany w 1930
    • „Portret Stefana Glassa” namalowany w 1931
    • „Portret Heleny Birula-Białynickiej” namalowany w 1936
    • „Kompozycja fantastyczna” bez daty
  • Toruń: Muzeum Okręgowe. Można tam podziwiać m. in.:
    • „Portret dra Ignacego Wasserberga” namalowany w 1905-1910
    • „Portret Eugenii Dunin-Borkowskiej” namalowany w 1913
    • Maskarada” namalowany w 1918
    • „Pejzaż nocny” namalowany w 1922
  • Warsaw: National Museum. You can admire there, among others..:
    • „Pejzaż nocny” namalowany w 1902
    • „Krajobraz z kwitnącymi drzewami” namalowany w 1911
    • „Pejzaż górski” namalowany w 1911
    • „Autoportret” namalowany w 1913
    • „Kompozycja symboliczna” namalowany w 1914
    • „Kompozycja figuralna” namalowany w 1914
    • „Pocałunek mongolskiego księcia w lodowej pustyni” namalowany w 1915-1918
    • „Kompozycja fantastyczna” namalowany w 1915-1920
    • „Kompozycja” namalowany w 1917
    • „Kompozycja” namalowany w 1917
    • „Portret kobiety” namalowany w 1918
    • „Kompozycja Hurys” namalowany w 1918
    • „Szatan” namalowany w 1920
    • „Kuszenie Adama” namalowany w 1920
    • „Fantazja” namalowany w 1921-1922
    • „Kompozycja fantastyczna” namalowany w 1923
    • „Autoportret. Ostatni papieros skazańca” namalowany w 1924
    • „Portret Michała Choromańskiego” namalowany w 1928
    • „Portret Juliana Tuwima” namalowany w 1929
    • „Portret Antoniego Słonimskiego” namalowany w 1932
    • „Autoportret” namalowany w 1939
  • Zakopane: Muzeum Tatrzańskie. Można tam podziwiać m. in.:
    • Portret Marcelego Staroniewicza” namalowany w 1927
    • „Portret Irminy Zborowskiej” namalowany w 1936
    • Portret Pani Włodarskiej” namalowany w 1937

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939)

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Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Multiple Self-Portrait in Mirrors, 1915-1917, Wikipedia