Józef Czapski – son of Countess Josefa Leopoldina Thun-Hohenstein (Austria) and Count Jerzy Hutten-Czapski (Poland). Grandson of Count Bedřich Franz Josef Thun-Hohenstein, born on 7 May 1810 in Děčín, nephew of Prince Franz Thun-Hohenstein (Czech governor in 1889–1896 and 1911–1915).
He was born in Prague, he spent his childhood under the Russian occupation of divided Poland, his youth in St Petersburg, in the restored independent Poland and in France, and his adult life in France.
Józef Czapski – Polish painter, writer, soldier in Anders’ army, imprisoned in Soviet camps 1939–1941 (Starobielsk, Pavlischev Bor, Grjazovec), one of 395 survivors of almost 22,000 Polish citizens deported to captivity after the USSR attack on Poland on 17 September 1939. To the end of his life he fought to make the world know about the Katyn massacre.
On 2 April, Józef Czapski was born in the Thun family palace at 20 Nerudova Street in Prague. The family wished for their children to be born in this palace and not on the family estate, which at that time was located on the divided Polish territory, occupied by Russia. From the village of Przyłuki, located in present-day Belarus, the pregnant Josefa Hutten-Czapska travelled to Prague, where her mother and siblings lived. She gave birth to her child at the residence of her older brother František Thun, a long-time Czech governor and later (1898–1899) Austrian prime minister. Gabriela Sudová was the midwife.
4 April – the boy was christened in the St Nicholas Church in Prague.
Józef Czapski spent his childhood on the family estate in Przyłuki near Minsk (now Belarus, then a divided Poland under Russian occupation).
13 August – Thirty-six-year-old Josefa Hutten-Czapská died after giving birth. Joseph lost his mother and his premature sister Teresa in one day. He was seven years old.
Under the guidance of his tutor Władysław Iwanowski and his governesses he learned French, German, and Russian. He received a basic education. He took drawing lessons, did sculpture, and also learned to play the piano.
Together with his four siblings, he stayed in August and September under the care of his grandmother Elżbieta Meyendorff in Suddenbach near Riga.
He spent the summer at Houlgate in Normandy.
He was educated at the Twelfth Fontanka Gymnasium in St Petersburg. He was accompanied by his teacher Władysław Iwanowski. At the same time, he continued his piano studies and took drawing lessons.
In the summer he travelled around Italy with his brother Stanisław and his teacher Władysław Iwanowski, and also stayed in Venice. He visited Villars-sur-Ollon in the Swiss Alps.
On 28 July 1914, the First World War broke out.
On 30 June he was admitted to the Faculty of Law of the Saint Petersburg Imperial University, which guaranteed him a deferment from military service. He lived with his uncle Alexander Meyendorff.
Years later, when he reflected on his studies, he said that he had learned nothing. “I fell in love with Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. I had a kind of inferiority complex when it came to Russian literature.” (Czapski, directed by A. Holland and A. Wolski, 1985).
In connection with the outbreak of the First World War (in 1914) and the repeal of the law (in January 1916), which guaranteed students a deferment of military service, he received a draft order in the summer. In the given situation he decided to take the opportunity to fast-track the rank of non-commissioned officer and on 25 May he asked the rector to release him from the university. He obtained his approval on 31 May. Thanks to his father’s connections (including the help of General N. V. Bibikov), he joined the Passenger Corps. He studied at this elite military college from June 1916 to February 1917, attaining the rank of junior cavalry officer. He graduated from the Pages’ Corps, which at that time included many Poles, including his cousins Count Plater, with the rank of ensign.
He read Romain Rolland’s anti-militarist pamphlet Au dessus de la mêlée (Above the Battle). Captivated by this reading experience, he wrote a letter to the author, who subsequently replied. This was the moment when his pacifist sentiments began to emerge. The work of Leo Tolstoy appealed to him.
Czapski witnessed the outbreak of the February Revolution in St Petersburg, but spent its first days in a school hospital.
“The Spring Revolution seemed hopeful to us, we thought that the entire Russian Empire would break up into individual independent states and, above all, that Poland would be restored to its historical borders”, Maria Czapska wrote years later.
From July he served in the 1st Regiment of Krechowetz Uhlans, which in the summer of that year fought against the armies of the Central Powers in the area around Stanislavov, Tarnopol, and Kalush (in the Ukraine).
On 22 January in Bobrujsk, under the influence of pacifist ideas, he resigned from the army together with Antoni and Edward of Marylski. After a few days in Przyłuki, the three left for St Petersburg. They were soon joined by Czapski’s older sisters, Karla and Maria, and together they founded a religious-pacifist commune, of which Antoni Marylski became the spiritual leader.
At the end of May, thanks to the help of Henryk Przewłocki, Czapski managed to leave together with his sisters towards Warsaw.
From 28 August to 4 October he stayed for the last time at the family residence in Przyluky.
On 16 October he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw in the studio of Stanisław Lentz. He was there for only a month…
On 11 November, Poland regained its independence after 123 years of being absent from the political map of Europe.
“The armed readiness of the Ukrainians and the threat to Lviv mobilised [Polish] youth. The Academic Assembly therefore resolved to proceed with general conscription and that universities would be closed,” wrote Maria Czapska.
“All the youth were joining the army, in Lesser Poland they were fighting against the Ukrainians, and I felt completely helpless, because in accordance with my convictions I didn’t, and couldn’t, join the army, so I found myself in a kind of exclusion from society, exclusion from Poland. So I turned to the commanders of the 1st Regiment […] and asked them to assign me any job I wanted, as long as I didn’t have to kill in the process,” Józef Czapski recalled.
He was entrusted with a mission to find five Polish officers of the 1st Regiment of the Krechowetz Uhlans, and set out for St. Petersburg in November. While seeking information about these missing men, he met by complete chance Dmitri S. Merezhkovsky, his wife Zinaida Gippius, and Dmitri V. Filosofov, who explained to him how it was possible and advisable to reconcile pacifist thinking with the struggle against the enemy. They became so close to each other that in the winter of 1918 he visited them almost daily in Sergeyevskaya Street.
On 22 January he returned to Warsaw and reported that the Polish prisoners had been shot. He also stayed in Kraków, where, under the influence of reading Stanislaw Brzozowski and Cyprian Kamil Norwid, his own Polishness began to appeal to him.
Until May he served as a private in the armored train Śmiały (Brave), commanded by the Małagowski brothers. From May he fought in the 1st Regiment of the Krechowiec Uhlans and took part in the Kiev campaign against the Bolsheviks. He was awarded the Virtuti Militari Cross and promoted to the rank of second lieutenant.
“At the end of 1920, the year of the greatest threat to Poland and its liberation, which is often referred to as the ‘Miracle on the Vistula’, my brother and I decided to settle in Kraków, where our grandfather moved to in his old age and established a museum named after himself. Our grandmother had warm relations with the Popiel, Morawski and Pusłowski families there – so I was fonder of Kraków than Warsaw,” wrote Maria Czapska. “Schools, universities, and academies were opening all over unified Poland. Finally, after so many delays, we could begin to devote ourselves to our studies.”
In February, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków and began studying painting. He attended, among others, the studio of Władysław Jarocki, Wojciech Weiss, and Józef Pankiewicz. He went to Warsaw very often and was in contact with Dmitri Filosofov.
With his classmates from the Academy of Fine Arts, he founded the group Komitet Paryski (Paris Committee), from whose acronym KP evolved their colloquial name “Kapists” (Kapiści).
In the summer, members of the group went to Paris, Czapski joined them in September. He was the only one with fluent French, and was in charge of organizational matters. He helped his classmates find jobs and establish contacts with the French environment. He was then going through a period of doubt about his artistic talent. His sister Maria was in Paris with him, writing her thesis on Adam Mickiewicz. Thanks to his aristocratic origins, he made contact with Misia Godebska-Sert and Lily Pastré. In their salons, where artists from Sergei Diaghilev’s circle of Russian ballets gathered, he met Jean Cocteau, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Nicolas Nabokov, and Pablo Picasso. He visited Jacques Maritain in Meudon near Paris.
He discovered the paintings of Bonnard and Cézanne.
He worked in Paris as a draughtsman for fashion magazines; he occasionally attended classes at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie Ranson. He met Roger Bissière. With the Kapists, he went to paint outdoors at La Ciotat. They held a ball at the Société Nationale d’Horticulture de France in Rue de Grenelle, attended by Pierre Bonnard, Constantin Brancusi, Jean Cocteau, and Misia Godebska-Sert, among others.
He contracted typhus. He spent his convalescence in London with his uncle Alexander Meyendorff. At the same time he read Proust’s works thoroughly and wrote an essay entitled “Marcel Proust”, printed in the Polish Przeglad Współczesny (issue 71/1928). He visited museums and went to the National Gallery, where he was deeply impressed by Camille Corot’s painting The Rider in the Woods.
After his return to Paris, he made a number of contacts in the circle of Parisian artists and intellectuals thanks to Daniel Halévy. Among the personalities he met at that time were André Malraux, François Mauriac, Léon-Paul Fargue, Pierre Drieu de la Rochelle, Maurice Sachs, Paul Morand and Julien Green. He conducted an interview with André Maurois and published it in the Polish press.
With the painter Louis Marcoussis he met Gertrude Stein. Subsequently, he visited her in her Paris salon and in 1930 he went to the country to see her. At that time, she was considered the “Pope of painters”. She bought paintings by the Kapists.
For the first time, the Kapist group exhibited their paintings in France, specifically at the Zak Gallery on Place St.-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Czapski presented several of his works. The exhibition was curated by Lily Pastré.
In May and June, he travelled around Spain; the works of Francisco Goya in the Prado Museum left a particularly strong impression on him.
On 25 July, Józef Czapski’s father Jerzy died in Morda, Poland, on the estate of his sister Karla and her husband Henryk Przewłocky.
At Czapski’s invitation, Daniel Halévy went to Poland. Based on his visit to Poland and Central Europe, he wrote Courrier d’Europe (published in Paris by Ed. Grasset in 1933), which he dedicated to Józef Czapski.
A group of Kapists held an exhibition of their works at the Moss Gallery in Geneva. Most of the Kapists returned to Poland after the exhibition. Czapski remained in France and visited Poland only sporadically (among others, Krakow and Warsaw).
In December, a Kapist exhibition was also held in Poland, at the Polonia Polish Art Club in Warsaw. Czapski participated with his paintings.
Solo exhibition at the Vignon Gallery in Paris (17, Rue Vignon).
Solo exhibition at the Georges Maratier gallery in Paris with the financial support of Gertrude Stein.
At the end of the year, he decided to return to Poland and move permanently to Warsaw. At first, he lived at 83/9 Filtrowa Street, in later years he lived in Józefów, a town near Warsaw.
He worked on a book about Vasily Rozanov.
Kapist exhibition at the Institute for the Promotion of Art in Warsaw. Czapski exhibited 21 paintings. After the opening, he met Ludwik Hering, with whom he remained friends until the end of his life (Hering died on 4 December 1984).
Józef Czapski participated in the inaugural exhibition of Salon 35 in Poznań and the exhibition of the Zwornik art group in Belgrade. Other Polish artists from the Kapist group, such as Jan Cybis, Zygmunt Waliszewski, Hanna Rudzka-Cybis and Kazimierz Mitera, also presented their works there.
In the same year he also stayed in Paris. He worked on a book about Józef Pankiewicz. He was intrigued by an exhibition of the German Expressionist Max Beckmann.
During their walks through the Louvre, he and Pankiewicz met a young scholarship holder from Vilnius – the poet Czesław Miłosz, future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1980), whose fate later linked him to the Paris-based Polish exile magazine Kultura.
Collective exhibition of drawings in the premises of the Association of Polish Artists in Warsaw.
At the Institute for the Promotion of Art in Warsaw he gave a lecture on Cézanne and the consciousness of the painter.
His first book Józef Pankiewicz: Życie i dzieło. Wypowiedzi o sztuce (Józef Pankiewicz. Life and Work. Statements on Art) was published by M. Arzt in Warsaw.
He was awarded at Salon 35 in Poznan.
He was awarded at the Painting Salon at the Institute for the Promotion of Art in Warsaw.
During a world exhibition in Paris, he won a bronze medal for his painting Soir, painted in 1936.
He exhibited his works at the Spring Salon in the Art Palace of the Association of Friends of Art in Lviv.
“Józef Czapski respectfully requests Mr. J. W. P. to appear at the Institute for the Promotion of Art at the opening of the exhibition of his works, which will take place on Saturday, 26 March, at 1 p.m. The exhibition will run until 18 April 1938.”
Participation in exhibitions: the 10th Painting Salon in Warsaw, the inaugural exhibition at the House of the Association of Polish Artists in Kraków, Salon 35 in Poznan, representation in the Polish Pavilion at the International Art Exhibition in Pittsburgh.
Representation at the exhibition Still Life in Polish Painting at the Institute for the Promotion of Art in Warsaw.
The painting The Pigeon House (painted in 1938) was exhibited in the Polish Pavilion at the World Exhibition in New York. Due to the outbreak of the Second World War, the work was not able to return to Poland. It is currently in the collections of the Polish Museum in Chicago.
Between 1934 and 1939, Józef Czapski actively participated in Polish artistic and intellectual life. He was associated with the circle of the Warsaw Institute for the Promotion of Art and published in the monthly Głos Plastyków (Voice of Artists) and the weekly Wiadomości Literackie (Literary News).
He painted, wrote and exhibited his works together with other kapists. In the years 1931–1939, as Janusz Nowak found out, Józef Czapski painted about 160 documented paintings. Most of them were lost in Warsaw during the Second World War.
The Beginning of the Second World War
On 1 September he was mobilised as a reserve officer and called to Krakow to the 8th Uhlan Regiment.
On 27 September he was captured by the Red Army in Chmielk on the border of Lvov province together with two squadrons of reservists of the 8th Regiment and deported to the Soviet camp in Starobielsk.
“On 5 April, 3,920 officers were transported to the Starobielsk camp, along with several dozen civilian prisoners and approximately 30 warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. Only 79 survived. I am one of them. All the others disappeared without a trace. (Memories of Starobielsk)
On 12 May he left Starobielsk. The NKVD deported 395 prisoners to Yuchnov (Pavlishchev Bor). There they were assigned numbers. Czapski received the number 205. Then they were taken to Gryazovets on the Volga. In the Grjazovets camp, Czapski held lectures on French literature and art for his fellow prisoners during French classes. Thanks to the notes of his fellow prisoners, he was able to reconstruct his lectures on Proust years later. They were published under the title Proust contre la déchéance. Conférences au camp de Griazowietz.
On 30 July 1941, General Władysław Sikorski – the Polish Prime Minister in exile – signed a Polish-Soviet agreement in London with the Soviet Ambassador Ivan Majsky on the restoration of diplomatic relations, cooperation in favour of the defeat of Germany and the creation of a Polish army in the USSR. According to an addendum to the agreement, Polish citizens were to be released from Soviet prisons and camps.
Czapski stayed in the camp in Grjazovec until August.
After his release from the camp on 3 September, he joined the Polish Armed Forces in the USSR, which were forming in Tock.
When asked about the criteria for selecting released prisoners in an interview in 1943, Czapski replied:
“After we left, there was almost no one left in Starobielsk. There were about fifteen officers. The question arises on what basis we were chosen. I have thought about this matter many times and have come to the conviction that there was no apparent political or other motivation to save the lives of the seventy officers who were taken from Gryazovets to Starobielsk. The only criterion was sheer fancy, which gives the impression of randomness. There was a whole plethora of different ranks and political attitudes among us, from General Wołkowicki to the rank-and-file soldier, from people who had made a ‘Red Corner’, to the extreme supporters of the Polish National Radical Camp.”
Today, thanks to the documents collected by Czesław Madajczyk, we know that on 30 January 1940, Count Ferdinand de Castel turned to the advice of the German embassy in Rome – Baron Johann von Plessen – and asked him to help free the Polish Count Józef Czapski from captivity. Prince Bismarck also wrote to Baron von Plessen on the same subject. In his letter, the Baron said that Countess Palacká had also written to him about Czapski, but that the efforts of German diplomacy were not producing the desired results in this matter, since “the Soviet state power is extremely reticent when it comes to prisoners of war.”
The rescue of the Memories of Starobielsk author was no miracle and besides the above mentioned influential personalities from Western Europe, Prince Stanisław Radziwiłł and Prince Eugeniusz Lubomirski also intervened in his favour. Czapski himself lived for many years in the conviction that he had saved himself by pronounced chance. It was not until Natalia Lebedeva’s letter of 22 October 1990, in which she described the intervention of the German embassy, that he learned the truth about his wartime fate.
In November, he was appointed head of the office for the search for missing officers and soldiers in Russia, which operated at the army headquarters in Buzuluk. The purpose of this office was to collect information from prisoners of war which would enable the whereabouts of missing persons to be ascertained.
General Władysław Anders, commander of the Polish Armed Forces in the USSR, appointed him as a commissioner in the matter of “prisoners not yet returned”. Czapski stayed in Chkalov, Moscow and Kuybyshev to gather information on what happened to the more than 21,000 missing Polish POWs. In Chkalov, he spoke with the gulag commander, General Nasjedkin. In Lubyanka, he also presented General Rejchman, whose superior was Berija, with an official list of the missing. However, no information was obtained.
On his return, he submitted a final report to his superiors on the missing Polish officers in the USSR. He informed them that the fate of the prisoners was unclear, but in his search he had stumbled upon a trace of the Katyn crime and suspected that the Soviets had massacred the prisoners there. However, he did not believe it himself.
From March onwards he stayed in Jangi-jul, near Tashkent.
In April, he was appointed head of the propaganda and information section of the Polish army staff.
In June he met Anna Akhmatova and Lidiya Chukovskaya in Tashkent. He then followed Anders’ army, which evacuated to Iraq, and was one of the last to leave the Soviet Union, arriving in Mashhad, Iran, on 3 September. He fell ill and in a Mashhad hospital began to write his memoirs of his time in Soviet captivity, later published as Memories from the Old Belt and then as Inhuman Land.
On 15 February, an exhibition of Polish soldier artists was opened in the hall of the British Institute in Baghdad. Czapski was represented by several paintings.
On 13 April 1943, German radio reported the discovery of the graves of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn.
In an interview published in 1943, Czapski, when asked what his conclusions were from the search for the missing prisoners and what he thought of the above-mentioned broadcast report, replied:
“All products of German propaganda must, of course, be received with great caution. However, the crudity of the information given, the agreement of the German authorities to have the matter investigated by a delegation of the International Red Cross, the fairly vague Soviet denial of the matter, and above all the fact that we have had no news of the missing for three years, do not cause us much optimism. Definitive verdicts must wait for the conclusions reached by the Red Cross Commission; in any case, they cannot serve as a justification for Nazi terror, just as Nazi barbarity cannot soften our opinion of the Kozelsk-Starobielsk-Ostashkov tragedy.”
He travelled with Anders’ army through Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt to Italy.
He took part in the Italian campaign. However, he did not fight with a weapon in his hand, but held the position of head (with the rank of major) of the Propaganda and Culture Department (until August 1944), which was responsible for spreading education and culture among the soldiers.
In Rome, the Biblioteka Orła Białego (White Eagle Library), published by the army of General Władysław Anders, published Memories from Starobielsk, an account of a stay in a Soviet prison camp and a mission to find out from the Soviet authorities what happened to the captured Polish soldiers.
On 5 October, he sent an open letter (more than fifteen pages) to Jacques Maritain (at the time serving as General de Gaulle’s ambassador to the Vatican) and François Mauriac, protesting against the Allied propaganda’s concealment of what the Germans were doing in Warsaw during the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising.
The letter began with the words:
“I had the good fortune to meet you during my studies in Paris.
I admired your sincerity as a thinker and writer, your courage. To me, a foreigner, you were not only Maritain and Mauriac, you were France, a tradition of intellectual sincerity, an atmosphere one felt when dealing with French writers from the conservative to the revolutionary (with exceptions, of course).
There is a certain type of propaganda which, since the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in 1939, has specialised in the method of spreading false theses, and then there is another, similar type of propaganda which is successful in today’s democratic states and consists in ignoring certain facts. But is there a man in this country who would not want to know the truth, to know the cost and suffering of a country, even if he were unable to help that country?”
He received no reply to his letter.
From May 1945, he managed the workplace of the second unit of the Polish Armed Forces, which was first located in the building of the Polish embassy at the ambassador Kajetan Morawski, then in the Hôtel Lambert in Paris.
On 12 May he published an article in Gavroche titled “The Truth about Katyn”.
In June, he met Jacques Maritain, who had served as French ambassador to the Vatican, in Rome, and André Malraux and Gertrude Stein in Paris.
In Rome, together with Jerzy Giedroyc and with the support of the army foundation, the publishing house Instytut Literacki (Literary Institute) was founded, which published Polish books.
He settled permanently in Paris. He wrote articles for the Polish exile magazine Kultura and also for Le Figaro, Littéraire, Prevues, Gavroche, Nova et Vetera and Carrefour. He also contributed to the periodical Wiadomości (News), published by Polish emigrants in London.
He returned to painting. The exhibition of the Society of Friends of the Arts (an organization of Iraqi artists) in Baghdad presented his paintings that were made during his stay in Iraq.
In June, the first issue of the monthly Kultura, published by Instytut Literacki, was published in Rome. It was launched at the instigation of Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, who, together with Jerzy Giedroyc and with the generous contribution of Józef Czapski, had been instrumental in shaping the magazine. It was here that Czapski printed a line written in response to the death of Pierre Bonnard (who died on 23 January 1947): “I felt that Bonnard’s world was so close to my whole pre-war period, when I was absorbed in painting, that I called my article Paradise Lost, because I did not know then how to return to the world of painting, or whether I would be able to return there at all.”
In the autumn he moved with his sister Maria and the editorial staff of Kultura, which had moved from Rome (Jerzy Giedroyc, Zofia and Zygmunt Hertz) to Maisons-Laffitte near Paris in a rented house at number 1 Avenue Corneille, which also housed the offices of the publishing house of the Institute of Literature.
In September 1947, the French communist magazine L’Humanité openly described Czapsky and Giedroyc as “bandits and fascists from Anders’s army”.
In October, Czapski was demobilized in Calais.
Whenever he had the opportunity, he drew in his sketchbook. At that time, a cartoon portrait of Edith Piaf was made in a Paris café. He attended General Charles de Gaulle’s rallies in St Étienne and met his secretary André Malraux many times.
In January he met with Charles de Gaulle and in May with Albert Camus.
He was friends with Misia Sert, Lilly Pastré, and Dolly Radziwiłł. This period also marks the beginning of his friendship with François Mauriac and Philippe Ariès, a French intellectual and medievalist.
He met the twenty-one-year-old painter Jean Colin, with whom he remained friends until 1959, when Colin died.
During the war, Czapski’s paintings created in Warsaw. For the first time since 1939, he picked up his oil paints again and began to return to painting, without neglecting his duties related to securing financial resources for the Instytut Literacki publishing house and writing articles for Kultura. Up until 1957 he was actively involved as an editor.
At the same time he made new acquaintances with people such as Jeanne Hersch, Philippe Ariès, E.M. Cioran, Michel de Ghelderode, Manès Speber, Mary McCarthy and Georges Bernanos
The book Na nieludzkiej ziemi (Inhuman Land; Czech translation published by Academia in 2020) was published by the Institute of Literature in Paris. The publisher Calman-Levy rejected its French edition, pointing out that it writes too unfavourably about Stalin and Russia. They advised Czapski to edit the text. The author refused. The book was eventually published in France the same year in a translation by Marie Adela Bohomolec, made in collaboration with the author, and with a foreword by Daniel Halévy, published by the small Parisian publishing house Les Îles d’Or-Éditions Self. Le Monde subsequently published a review by Pierre Boutang.
Czapski established contacts with the French diplomat Jean Laloy.
For the first time since the end of the war, he presented his works at an exhibition in Paris. He wrote the following lines to his friend Ludwig Hering about it:
“I had a small exhibition arranged by Degas’s best editor [i.e., Daniel Halevy] – eight canvases on three walls, and on the fourth wall Berthe Morisot – charming notes written in pencil, so am in great company.”
Journey to North America. In New York, he gave a series of lectures on the Katyn massacre and raised funds to support the magazine Kultura, published in France by the Institut Literacki.
At the invitation of James Burnham, together with Jerzy Giedroyc, he attended the founding conference of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Berlin.
In Paris, he took part as a witness in the trial of Les Lettres Françaises newspaper against David Rousset.
For the first time, he met François Bondy, a French writer and journalist who served as Secretary of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
First post-war solo exhibition at the Motte Gallery in Geneva.
Exhibition at the Bénézit Gallery in Paris.
Joint exhibition with Jean Colin,again in Paris.
He testified before the Madden Commission on the matter of murdered Polish prisoners of war imprisoned in Soviet camps. When asked, “Who do you think committed the murders of the prisoners of the Starobielsk, Kozelsk, and Ostashkov camps?”, he responded, “Firstly, I have absolutely no doubt that these people were murdered by the Soviets. Secondly, I would like to point out that we should not forget that Soviet Russia is the most centralized state (as far as the giving of orders is concerned). Therefore, it is not some sadist from the NKVD who is responsible for individual murders, but Beria and Stalin.”
Before the commission, chaired by Ray Madden, the Americans questioned a number of prominent politicians and intelligence officers, as well as experts who had participated in the exhumations at Katyn in 1943, when the Germans found the remains of thousands of Polish citizens. Those who testified before the commission included, among others, Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk and former Polish ambassador to the USSR Tadeusz Romer.
Stalin died on 5 March.
Czapski returned to painting for good; his letter to Ludwik Hering reads: “I have not painted as much since I returned to work. […] It’s just the way it is now, that when I work, I have no room for anything else all day. […] For perhaps a hundred years, over and over and over again, I have been digging at the canvas.”
When he wasn’t painting, he wrote “with a palette in his hand” and went to London or Brussels to arrange exhibitions. However, he was unable to organise an exhibition in London.
He published, among other things, an article on the art of Raoul Dufa, a memoir of Remizov, and translated from French a text by Jean Colin on an exhibition of drawings by German schools of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that took place at the Louvre.
Thanks to the support of Józef Czapski’s friends (French diplomats and aristocrats) and the legal assistance of French diplomats, the Instytut Literacki publishing house was able to purchase a house on the border of Maisons-Laffitte and Mesnil-le-Roi at 91 Avenue Poissy (in Mesnil-le-Roi). The house became the headquarters of the Polish exile magazine Kultura and the publishing house of Instytut Literacki. At the same time, it was used for living quarters – Józef Czapski, his sister Maria, Jerzy and Henryk Giedroyc and also Zofia and Zygmunt Hertz moved in.
Czapski’s first solo exhibition was held at the M. Bénézit Gallery in Paris.
In a letter to Ludwig Hering he wrote: “The exhibition went well. There were twenty canvases and seventy drawings. It was my first post-war exhibition. The Paris press reported that I was the painter of the ‘tragedy of our time’, although my ‘blind men’ and beggars could be from any era. Another magazine linked me to Soutine and said that I could communicate the essentials of the most ordinary things, like ‘an empty chair’, ‘an empty window’.”
Exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
Journey to South America (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela). There he met the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz and his brother Stanislaw and his family.
He has presented his works in exhibitions at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro.
Joint exhibition with Jean Colin in Amiens at the gallery in Rue Duserel.
Exhibition at the Grabowski Gallery in London.
In the People’s Republic of Poland, the liberalisation process began in October and the communist terror was eased.
Thanks to the so-called thaw, the possibility of a solo exhibition of Józef Czapski in communist Poland opened up, namely:
in the National Museum in Poznan;
in the gallery at the House of the Association of Polish Artists in Krakow.
As Wojciech Duch wrote:
“It is hard to pinpoint a single moment when the October thaw began in the People’s Republic of Poland. The period that preceded it was an era of mass terror, persecution, personality cults, harsh suppression of the Catholic Church and the promotion of socialist realism in culture and art.”
The thawing period was a long-term process, initiated primarily by Stalin’s death in 1953 and the subsequent criticism of the cult of personality in the USSR. In Poland, however, government policy hardened shortly after Stalin’s death. It was only in 1955 that the first signs of a relaxation of the repressive regime and a liberalisation of social life appeared. The death of Bolesław Bierut and the mutual rivalry between the two factions within the Polish United Workers’ Party contributed to further changes. One of them sought to reform and de-Stalinise Poland without renouncing the Marxist-Leninist doctrine.
The changes were accelerated by the first strike in the Polish People’s Republic, the so-called Poznan June 1956. It was followed by the rise to power of Władysław Gomułka, who in the first months, also known as the “Gomułka Thaw”, significantly liberalised party policy towards society. However, from 1957, when Gomułka consolidated his position at the top of the power ladder, a gradual return to the old order began.
Czapski did not attend the openings of his exhibitions. For political reasons he was not allowed to visit Poland. As a soldier in Anders’ army, a survivor of the Soviet camps and a man who blamed Stalin and Beria for the Katyn massacre, he was not allowed to enter communist Poland after the war.
In connection with the thaw, he began to think about going to Poland, but as he wrote to Ludwig Hering: “I do not see the possibility of returning and resolving to keep silent about so many things. Yet I have pretty much been given a choice: either return completely or not return at all – no tourism is out of the question!” Jerzy Giedroyc did not want Czapski to visit Poland as a contributor to the exile magazine Kultura. He was afraid that the communists would use it for propaganda purposes. Therefore, he forbade him to go on “tourism”. Moreover, Czapski did not want to leave his sister Maria in France, so he finally decided not to go.
On 6 June, an exhibition of paintings and drawings was held at the M. Bénezit Gallery in Paris.
“My exhibition in Paris was, it seems, better than the previous one.”
In Milly-la-Foret he met Jean Cocteau. He also visited André Malraux: “He seemed to me to resemble my drawing immensely […] he ran away from Gallimard to de Gaulle.”
Exhibition at the Grabowski Gallery in London.
A collection of Czapski’s essays on art was published under the title The Eye (Instytut Literacki, Paris).
Exhibition at the Grabowski Gallery in London.
Exhibitions of paintings at the M. Bénézit Gallery in Paris
Exhibition at Sagittarius Gallery in New York
Exhibitions at the Galerie de Marignan in Paris
Exhibition in Toronto
Exhibitions of drawings at the Aurelia Gallery in Paris
Exhibition at the Bénézit Gallery in Paris
Exhibition at the Grabowski Gallery in London
He met Anna Akhmatova in Paris.
Exhibition at the Jacques Desbrière Gallery in Paris
Exhibition at the M. Motte Gallery in Geneva.
Exhibition at the Galerie Jacques Desbrière in Paris.
He painted the image of Madeleine Renaud in Marguerite Duras’s drama Des Journées. He kept in touch with the actress for many years, and they had friendly meetings in Parisian cafés and restaurants. The actress and her husband, Jean-Louis Barrault, subsequently invited Czapski to theatrical performances at the Odeon theatre, during which he sketched many drawings. These later became the basis for paintings.
Czapski published the text “Wystrzał wśród nocy”(A Shot in the Middle of the Night; Kultura 1968, 253) in a special issue of Kultura in Paris.
Exhibition at the Grabowski Gallery in London.
Czapski published an essay entitled “Šíma i Cremonini”(Šíma and Cremonini) in the Paris-based Kultura, in which he described his enthusiasm for the work of the aforementioned Czech painter. (Kultura 1969, 1/256-2/25)
Exhibitions at the Grabowski Gallery in London and the Galerie Jacques Desbrière in Paris. He met Murielle Gagnebin, who was so impressed by his work that she began to write a monograph on his work (Czapski, la main et l’espace, 1974).
Retrospective exhibition at the M. Motte Gallery in Geneva.
He received the Literary Award of the Godlewski Foundation in Zurich.
Retrospective exhibition at the M. Motte Gallery in Geneva.
He met the painter Pierre Lesieur, and thus began his long friendship with him and his period of fascination with the artist’s work.
A monograph on Józef Czapski’s painting Czapski, la main et l’espace, by Murielle Werner-Gagnebin, was published in Lausanne. It is one of the first such publications devoted to the work of this Polish artist. The Józef Czapski archive, managed by the National Museum in Kraków, preserves a copy in which the painter made notes based on his careful reading of the book.
Exhibitions at Lambert Gallery in Paris, Grabowski Gallery in London and M. Motte Gallery in Geneva.
In October, together with Jerzy Giedroyc, they met Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Zurich.
Exhibition at the Librairie-Galerie Galaxie in Paris.
In the communist People’s Republic of Poland, the Central Office for the Control of the Press, Publications, and Theatre and Television Production drew up Information Directive No. 9, which provided instructions for censors. The document also contained a list of banned authors. Among them were Józef and Maria Czapski. “As regards the writers, scientists and publicists listed below who live and work in exile (in most cases they are collaborators of hostile publishing houses and mass media spreading anti-Polish propaganda), the attitude of unconditional elimination of their names and references to their work – except for critical ones – from the press, radio, television programmes and non-periodical publications that are not academic (i.e., fiction, journalism, essays).”
Exhibitions at the Melisa Gallery in Lausanne and the Plexus Gallery of Barbara and Richard Aeschlimann in Chexbres.
Exhibitions at the Dédale Gallery in Geneva and the Librairie-Galerie Galaxie in Paris.
Exhibition in the salon of the Galerie Jacques Desbrière. Exhibition at Richard Aeschlimann’s Plexus gallery in Chexbres, Switzerland.
Exhibition at Richard Aeschlimann’s Plexus Gallery in Chexbres.
The painter’s sister Maria Czapska died.
Instytut Literacki published a volume of Czapski’s essays on art and literature entitled Tumult i widma (Tumultand Spectres).
Exhibition at the Briance Gallery in Paris.
A book of essays, Patrząc (Looking), edited by Joanna Pollakówna, was published by the Kraków-based Znak publishing house, where Jacek Woźniakowski, the husband of Czapski’s niece, worked as a manager. The texts were published by an exile publishing house in France under the title The Eye.
Exhibition at the Briance Gallery in Paris.
He was the oldest artist to participate in the Paris Biennale (Biennale de Paris, Grande Halle de La Villette), where he exhibited ten paintings in a hall dedicated solely to his work.
Exhibition in the Archdiocesan Museum in Warsaw.
Exhibition at Richard Aeschlimann’s Plexus gallery in Chexbres, Switzerland.
Director Agnieszka Holland makes a film about Józef Czapski.
The exhibition Czapski. Peintures récentes et anciennes (Czapski: Paintings Old and New) at Richard Aeschlimann’s Plexus Gallery in Chexbres, Switzerland.
On the occasion of the publication of the books Proust contre la dechéance and Souvenirs de Starobielsk by Noir sur Blanc, an author’s evening with Józef Czapski took place at the Libella publishing house in house number 12 on rue Saint-Louis-en-l`Isle in Paris.
Exhibition at Richard Aeschlimann’s Plexus gallery in Chexbres, Switzerland.
The exhibition Czapski. Toiles anciennes et nouvelles at Richard Aeschlimann’s Plexus gallery in Chexbres, Switzerland.
The Czytelnik publishing house published the first official edition of Na nieludzkiej ziemi (Inhuman Land) in Poland.
Two exhibitions at the Musée Jenisch in Vevey, Switzerland (one of which is a retrospective).
Czapski’s essays were published by the Kraków publishing house Znak under the title Czytając (Reading), edited by Jan Zieliński.
The exhibition Dziennik Józefa Czapskiego (Józef Czapski’s Diary) at the National Museum in Poznań.
The exhibition Józef Czapski. Malarstwo ze zbiorów szwajcarskich (Józef Czapski: Paintings from Swiss collections) in the National Museums in Kraków, Warsaw, and Poznań.
Czapski was appointed honorary professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. He was presented with his diploma by its rector, Professor Stanisław Rodziński, at the headquarters of the Parisian magazine Kultura.
Józef Czapski dies on 12 January in his room in house number 91 in Avenue de Poissy in Le Mesnil-le-Roi. He is buried in the cemetery in Mesnil-le-Roi.
On the occasion of the centenary of Józef Czapski’s birth, UNESCO declared 1996 the Year of Józef Czapski.
In January 1996, the National Museum in Kraków organized an exhibition entitled Józef Czapski: Painting and Literary Works in the New Town Hall in Prague. It featured sixty oil paintings on loan from Swiss collections and a large collection of Czapski’s books and publications about him.
The calendar was prepared by Elżbieta Skoczková on the basis of archival documents and documents collected by Joanna Pollakówna, Piotr Kłoczowski, and Janusz Nowak.