Peter Potworowski – West Country Exile (Exhibition Chippenham)
8th September – 11th November 2023, Chippenham Museum, Chippenham
Exhibition Opening Friday 8th September 5-7pm
The artistic world In post-war Britain was energised by a determination to break away from the past. In this spirit Clifford Ellis, the Principal of the Bath Academy of Art, Corsham Court had gathered together artists including Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Adrian Heath, Kenneth Armitage and William Scott, who were all exploring new ways of expressing themselves in painting and sculpture.
What for Ellis was lacking in this group was someone who had experienced the rich turmoil of modernity in France and knew how to share it. In February 1948 he was told that a Polish painter was exhibiting in London. Ellis met Peter Potworowski and was excited at the way he spoke of his art. He immediately offered him a position.
About Peter Potworowski (1898–1962)
Peter (Piotr Tadeusz) Potworowski was born in Poland in 1898. He was an abstract and figurative painter who had lived and exhibited in Poland, Sweden, France and England. From 1924 he spent seven transformative years in Paris where he kept company with Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Jean Cocteau, Constantin Brâncuși and for a period attended the studio of Fernand Léger.
Of these artists it was Bonnard who had the most influence on Potworowski, believing Bonnard achieved such a uniquely satisfactory synthesis between the perception and the building of a painting.
Potworowski extended this to the search for the spirit of place in his own paintings, for a way of expressing his own presence in the place, to the quest for essence, for example the feminine essence he knew so well, to the preservation of simplicity, sparseness, the less rather than the more. He was able to do this with a technique that was always sophisticated.
It was at Corsham Court where he attempted to cultivate such an approach in his teaching. He asked his students to reject any conceptual solutions or direct transcriptions of the object.
In their place he required solutions based on subjective, emotional and perceptual responses which should occur through direct exposure to the subject. He requested that images should be tactile or perceptual equivalents for the subject but never literal documentation. He did not believe, however, that child-like naivety or direct sensory response to the subject would or should lead to easily comprehensible solutions.
The majority of paintings and drawings presented in this exhibition belong to his English period and are taken from his sketch books. It is in Corsham and Cornwall, that his own work as an artist matured in contact with the English landscape: people, land and sea. It was during this time he also toured Europe including in Italy and Spain.
In 1958 he returns to Poland and takes up the post of Professor of Painting at Poznań and in 1960 he was a prize winner at the 30th Venice Biennale. He died in Warsaw in 1962.
In 1996 a retrospective exhibition was held at the Polish National Gallery of Contemporary Art in Warsaw consisting of over 70 works in oil and 80 sculptures, scenography projects and watercolours. Potworowski’s next major retrospective is due to be held in 2026 at the National Museum in Warsaw.
“Peter Potworowski had lived most of his working life in Paris, including working in the studio of Léger and knew most of the things that were going on in the art world. He was a very sensitive and appreciative man and a very good teacher – a miraculous teacher. I gave him one of our so-called studios. These were former Army huts and within a week it had been completely transformed into a kind of Polish fairyland. Potworowski created something that was no longer of the ordinary world, it had become a magical one – mysterious, joyful, it had strange and varying moods. It was the world of a painter, a very private
world made tangible.”
Clifford Ellis (1907-1985)
British printmaker and painter. Principal of Bath Academy of Art
In the UK, Potworowski’s work can be found in public collections in the following:
Tate Gallery St Ives
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
Royal West of England Academy
Bath Spa University College
To find out more, see below: