The Great Painters

Witold Wojtkiewicz

- individualist, artist fin de siècle

Witold Wojtkiewicz
Self-portrait, Wikipedia



He left the art surprisingly mature. Heartbreakingly ill - he died young. Subtle, ironic and sophisticated, he was able to equip his extraordinary painting with similar features. He created a separate, fantastic world in which the grotesque mixed with drama, old age with immaturity, and pathos with comedy. His art closes the stage of modernist symbolism and at the same time announces surrealism.










(29 December) Witold Wojtkiewicz, son of Stanislaw (a cashier at Bank Handlowy) and Aniela Swiecicka, was born in Warsaw in a tenement house at the Old Town Square as one of eleven children. He was hastily baptized on the day of his birth - from the beginning he was frail and sickly


despite constant interruptions caused by relapses, Witold Wojtkiewicz finished Jan Pankiewicz's seventh grade male school and, against his father's will, enrolled in the Warsaw Drawing School.  



The conflict with the father, who does not accept the "artistic" decision of the son, made the financial situation of the young artist worse. In order to maintain his independence, he designed satirical postcards and Christmas cards for the Warsaw publisher Grabowski. He also started working with the Warsaw press, where he published drawings, caricatures and even features


He began his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, where he was a student of Leon Wyczółkowski (1852-1936). He and his colleagues rented a modest apartment at St. Thomas Street. He became actively involved in the life of artistic bohemians, regularly visiting "Jama Michalika", and even co-creating the program and decorations of the famous cabaret "Zielony Balonik".



he painted "Child Crusade". After graduating from the Cracow Academy, together with four friends he founded the "Group of Five", which manifestly defended the right to "literature" in painting, and together they exhibited at the Cracow Palace of Art, the Warsaw "Zachęta""Zachęta" and at the "Vienna Secession" in Lviv.

Witold Wojtkiewicz
Meditation, 1908, Wikipedia


André Gide and Maurice Denis admired his paintings at the exhibition in Berlin. Gide wrote an enthusiastic letter to Witold Wojtkiewicz, promising to help organize the exhibition in Paris. As a result, Wojtkiewicz left for Paris, where the opening of his exhibition at the Druet Gallery took place on 23 May.  


He painted the cycles "From children's poses" and "Ceremonies". Heart pains and seizures of breathlessness began to repeat themselves


died at the age of 29 from a heart attack in Warsaw (14 June). He was buried at the Powazki Cemetery. His mother hid his diary in the artist's coffin, burying with his son all his most secret.

Interesting facts:


For the last few years of his life, Witold Wojtkiewicz's secret and unhappy love was his eldest, married daughter Professor Parenski: Maryna Raczyńska. Stanisław Wyspiański introduced her to "Wedding". She and her second husband were shot by the Nazis in the massacre of Lviv professors in 1941.


When planning a painting composition, Witold Wojtkiewicz always prepared a careful sketch, in ink or crayon and paste. These precise drawings are separate, independent works of art. Many of the artist's paintings are lost, the only traces of them are other sketches.

Tempera on canvas

After experiments with oil paint, pastel, gouache and watercolor - Witold Wojtkiewicz's favorite technique has become a tempera on canvas. The tempera paint is created by combining the pigment with a suitable binder: egg, casein, resin. Casein and egg tempera can be spread with water. The tempera dries quickly, changing color - after drying it usually becomes dull and lighter, creating a gouache-like effect. Temper painting allows you to use a diverse and sophisticated range of colors, allowing you to get countless shades. Witold Wojtkiewicz mastered the technique of tempera for the championship.


Wojtkiewicz was fascinated by Tadeusz Kantor (1915-1990), who admitted that there is a lot of Wojtkiewicz in Cricot 2 theater productions: "I did d'après Wojtkiewicz did children's crusades (...). drawings related to the "Dead Class" - there is something of that old-timers-children march".

Witold Wojtkiewicz
Orca, 1905, Wikipedia

About the art of Witold Wojtkiewicz:

In Witold Wojtkiewicz's paintings: in the landscape of mysterious desert gardens, on the circus stage, behind the high wall of the madhouse - an eternal spectacle of life is played. In this drama, the roles of adults, the burden of their madness and passions - are carried by clowns, puppets and children. Witold Wojtkiewicz dresses his own fears and anxieties at the end of the century in a sophisticated costume of a fairy tale parable. He draws inspiration from literature, but his metaphors have a painterly shape.

"The works of Mr. Wojtkiewicz have a strange allure... they are expressions of gloomy realism, sadly bizarre humanity, which would make Toulouse-Lautrec happy, and before him and Goya".

- André Gide, French poet

Witold Wojtkiewicz did not run away from "literature" in the painting, he often explained the drama of existence through the metaphor of theater, childhood or madness.

"We were stopped by the astonishing pronunciation of several canvases. They lit up the dark room not with the brightness of colors - but with a strange harmony of tone, a painful fantasy of drawing, a pathetic and moving play of colors".
 – André Gide

Witold Wojtkiewicz was also able to mock his own environment, many of his caricatures concerned artists, people of the theater. Together with his colleagues from "Jama Michalik" he published a series of lithographs, so called "Teka Melpomeny", dedicated to Krakow actors.

"There is some pathological element in Wojtkiewicz. He is such a typical turpist, who is rather occupied with the abominations of life".
Tadeusz Kantor

Witold Wojtkiewicz
Kidnapping of the Princess (Escape), 1908, Wikipedia

When the successive armed crusades of kings and knights ended in fiasco, children set off to the Holy Land. Their fervent faith and innocence were to defeat the infidels and liberate the Tomb of Christ. The children's crusade of 1212 had a tragic ending: most of the little pilgrims were consumed by disease and hunger and the rest were sold into slavery. This episode of the Middle Ages became the subject of a poem by Marcel Schwob (1867-1905). His depressing, poetic vision became an inspiration for Witold Wojtkiewicz to create one of the most moving images of Polish modernism - the shocking "Children's Crusade". The whole structure of the painting builds the atmosphere of the drama: nervous, expressive contour of the silhouettes, their dynamic distribution in space, the leading figure cut off from the picture frame. Everything intensifies the mood of the nightmare.

"Wojtkiewicz was a great poet, who spoke out by means of perfect painting".
 – Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński


Witold Wojtkiewicz
Meditation, 1908, Wikipedia
galeria marzeń

Warsaw: National Museum - Historical Museum - Polish Army Museum. You can admire there, among others..:

  • Satyra na cenzurę prasy” namalowany w 1902
  • Orka” namalowany w 1905
  • Planty w Krakowie” namalowany w 1905
  • Manifestacja uliczna” namalowany w 1905
  • Korowód Dziecięcy” namalowany w 1905
  • Krucjata Dziecięca” namalowany w 1905
  • Portret Muzyka Zygmunta Skirgiełły” namalowany w 1906
  • Portret Lizy Pareńskiej” namalowany w 1906
  • „Cyrk Wariatów” namalowany w 1906
  • Wegetacja” namalowany w 1906
  • Lalki” namalowany w 1906
  • „Uczta” namalowany w 1906
  • „Cyrk” namalowany w 1906-1907
  • Tłum” namalowany w 1907
  • Marionetki” namalowany w 1907
  • „Porwanie Królewny” namalowany w 1908
  • „Chrystus i Dzieci” namalowany w 1908
  • „Bajka o Rycerzu” namalowany w 1909
Jacek Malczewski


  • Chicago: Detroit Institute of Art
galeria marzeń

Cracow: National Museum - Historical Museum of the City of Cracow. You can admire there, among others..:

  • Zgaszony świecznik” namalowany w 1904
  • Czułostkowi” namalowany w 1904
  • Rozpustnica” namalowany w 1904
  • „Portret Muzyka Bolesława Raczyńskiego” namalowany w 1905
  • Fantazja” namalowany w 1906
  • „Medytacje” namalowany w 1908
galeria marzeń

Other Polish cities:

  • Bytom: Muzeum Górnośląskie
    • „Swaty” namalowany w 1908
  • Kielce: Muzeum Narodowe
    • Portret Maryny Raczyńskiej” namalowany w 1905
  • Łódź: Muzeum Sztuki
    • „Za Murem” namalowany w 1906
  • Poznań: National Museum. You can admire there, among others..:
    • „Samotny Pierrot” namalowany w 1907
    • Turniej” namalowany w 1908
    • „Rozstanie” namalowany w 1908
    • „Scena alegoryczna” namalowany w 1908
  • Gdańsk: Muzeum Narodowe
  • Płock: Muzeum Mazowieckie
  • Szczecin: Muzeum Narodowe
  • Toruń: Muzeum Okręgowe
galeria marzeń

Wrocław: National Museum. You can admire there, among others..:

  • „Wezwanie” namalowany w 1908
  • „Zjawisko” namalowany w 1908



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