Marian Kratochwil crack
Marian Kratochwil (1906-1997) was an artist of considerable distinction and reputation, whose artistic importance has grown as the years have passed and who is seen to have had a distinct artistic voice in a period of ‘isms’. His work is in a number of leading galleries and private collections around the world and he is internationally recognized. After his death, much of Kratochwil’s collection (presumably his wife kept some?) passed to his pupil and fellow artist Robert Knight, and this sale from Knight’s estate offers a selection of Kratochwil’s work from throughout his career, as well as works owned by him. It is a unique opportunity to acquire works by him and his mentor Dame Ethel Walker, as well as sketchbooks and studio effects. It is unlikely that such a collection will ever come together again to be sold at auction.
Kratochwil was born in Kosow, Poland in 1906 and he was representative of a number of artists who came to Britain from Poland due to conflict and political upheavals. Their artistic output represented an interface between two distinct cultures during a period of unparalled change and their work is an important artistic oeuvre in its own right, which reveals a distinct response to their situation in their former and new homes.
Kratochwil’s early work brings to light the Polish landscape and people of a bygone age. He visited forgotten hamlets, sketched shepherds, country women, decrepit homesteads, farm poultry, oxen at work; everything that he felt was worth remarking upon. Many of the communities living in those lands disappeared soon afterwards, while the landscape changed and vanished over the following years.. Kratochwil’s work is an invaluable document to those people and places, full of the characters and rich landscape of a past civilization, which lives on through his work. Drawings in this sale, from this period of his life, include sketches of Polish peasants and musicians and some of his early oil paintings depicting the Polish landscape.
Following formal art studies, Kratochwil joined the Polish army, but, following the outbreak of war, was forced to flee his home country. He travelled across Europe, ending up in a Polish military camp in Scotland. . Fascinated by the Scottish weather, he took up his paint brush again, and, freed from the demands of academic training and production, found a new, freer language of expression to deal with the new realities of his life. By 1941 his work was included in an exhibition of works by Polish artists in the Royal Scottish Academy and he had settled in Edinburgh. It was there he met one of women who would influence his life, the prestigious artist, Dame Ethel Walker.
Walker was already in her eighties and she could not fully aid his artistic career as far as she would wish. Nevertheless, the handling of his brush work, particularly in his portraits (see Kratochwil’s Portrait of Andre Previn), reveals a glimpse of the tonal quality she was known for. However, her lasting legacy to Kratochwil was the large quantity of canvases she bequeathed to the artist when she died in 1951, in the hope that by selling them he could procure time to paint. A number of figure studies and portraits of women, for which she became famous, with their subtle glimpses into unknown private lives, still remain in his collection and will be sold alongside Kratochwil’s work, as well as a drawing of Walker by Kratochwil (one of Walker by Kratcochwil is in the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh).
Kratochwil moved to London, where he met the New Zealand-born painter and art teacher Kathleen Browne, who eventually became his wife, After the dark tones of war (influenced by an early encounter with Goya’s work) and his wash drawings of London, Kratochwil was inspired to use a warmer palette, largely due to a hedonistic encounter with Spain, where he travelled, first in 1953 in search of ‘the new Jerusalem of the imagination, the rich source of fresh inspiration, the new field of battle for the survival of the soul’. Kratochwil fell instinctively, like David Bomberg two decades before him, for the barren countryside of Spain, creating a poetic vision of the land.
If one examines works such as Spanish Grazalema, Ronda or Toledo by Kratochwil, one can see how the brush strokes exert an instinctive beat of the landscape, approaching what Bomberg called ‘Spirit in the Mass’ – an ability to draw out the heartbeat of the landscape through the medium of paint; its feeling, strength and reality. Yet, what Kratochwil created, although drawing inspiration from the old masters, particularly El Greco, reveals a unique interpretation and relationship with the landscape and most importantly the people. Unlike Bomberg, who concentrated heavily on depicting the landscape, Kratochwil spent time with the people, capturing scenes and glimpses of ordinary Spanish life, which would have otherwise gone unnoticed, Man Ploughing with two horses or The Old Peasant being two examples. His relationship with this ancient land was not one-sided and his talent was recognized. A considerable number of his works were bought by eminent figures and institutions in Spain, and large permanent collections of his work can now be found in the Museums of Santa Cruz in Toledo and Granada.
Between the 1950s and 1970s, Kratochwil and Browne lived in Avenue Studios, Chelsea, where they lived, worked, taught and exhibited their work. When they closed the art school in the 1970s (by which time they were both in their 70s), they “retired” to Hampstead. During the latter part of his life, Kratochwil worked on a series of allegorical subjects, particularly drawing on Cervantes’ Don Quixote - a number of studies for these works are to be sold in this sale. Perhaps due to his increasing age and experiences he only then felt ready and able to address some deep felt anxieties, which saw him creating work directly addressing anxieties from the past and a possible future apocalypse brought on by the world’s major powers. This ‘Bard of the Beauty of Life’ died on 3rd December 1997 in his 91st year, and left behind him a wealth of art and a poetic vision of the landscape for us all to appreciate.
During his lifetime, Kratochwil’s art, like that of so many exiles, fell outside the artistic norms and the classifying ‘isms’ of the early to mid 20th Century, Those who knew him, however, particularly those he and Kathleen Brown taught at their art school, were deeply influenced and touched by his talents and vision. His art is now being reassessed and accorded the attention it merits and can be found in a number of the leading galleries and museums around the world; in 2008 a chapter was dedicated to Kratochwil in Douglas Hall’s Polish Artists in Post-War Britain, which accompanied an exhibition of the same name at the Boundary Gallery in London.
The sale in Cheltenham on 8th April will be supported by a further collection of 20th Century British art and other Paintings, including works by Mary Fedden, Robert Lenkiewicz, Paul Lucien Mace, Lucien Pissarro, Douglas Portway, L S Lowry, Alfred Wolmark and Fred Yates. The sale also includes works by Sir John James Stuart/Steuart of Allanbank, in the collections of F. Egerton, before passing to Kratochwil.
For further information / enquiries about this sale please contact 20th Century British Art and Paintings Specialist Philip Smith on:
01242 235712 or
The catalogue will be available in late March.
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