Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz
1885 - 1939
Jozef Jan Glogowski
1893 - 1969
Stanisław Witkiewicz made many self-portraits throughout his life in order to capture and express inner psychic states. Witkiewicz’s involvement in Formist theatre, a precursor to absurdist theatre, seems to have given a particular intensity to the way in which he depicted himself and others through photography.
Witkiewicz was born in Warsaw into a cultured Polish family who moved to Zakopane in 1890. It was here that he began writing theatrical productions and held his first exhibition of landscape paintings. In 1903 he completed the first of many texts titled ‘Dreams of an unproductive man/a metaphysical consideration’. Between 1912 and 1913 he abandoned landscape painting, taking a series of ‘metaphysical’ photographic portraits and self-portraits. Witkiewicz travelled widely including an expedition to Australia via Ceylon with the anthropologist Bronisław Malinowsk in 1914 where he served as photographer and draftsman. At the outbreak of World War 1, Witkiewicz returned to Europe to enroll in the officers' training school in St Petersburg. Though he never reached the expedition's primary destination, New Guinea, this trip would impact his aesthetic philosophy.
After returning to Zakopane, Witkiewicz became an active member of the avant-garde painters’ group, the Formists. This period was a most productive and fertile time in terms of the artist’s creativity. It was under his initiative that the Formist Theatre was founded in Zakopane in 1925. It was during the latter part of his life that he took a series of staged photographs of himself in collaboration with Józef Jan Głogowski. Their joint photographic sessions were to produce a notable body of work. Głogowski was a non-professional photographer who had produced many portraits of his family and friends, however his photographic collaborations with Witkiewicz after 1931 are considered his best work.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
A madman's dismay
gelatin silver photograph
11.1 x 8.2 cm image; 11.3 x 8.5 cm sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by Penelope Seidler, Josef and Jeanne Lebovic, Graham and Mary Beirman, Michael Carr, Barbara Flynn and William Grounds, Paul and Becky Urla, Roslyn and Tony Oxley, The Freedman Foundation, Rhonda Rose and the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2001
Not on display
Shown in 4 exhibitions
What's in a face? aspects of portrait photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Sep 2011–05 Feb 2012
Selfie, Dubbo Regional Art Gallery, Dubbo, 05 Apr 2014–08 Jun 2014
Modernists: selections from the European collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 07 Nov 2015–25 Apr 2016
Hold still: the photographic performance, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 May 2018–29 Jul 2018
Referenced in 3 publications
Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The photograph and portraiture', pg.15-31, Sydney, 2007, 30 (illus.).
Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939): photographs, 2003, 11 (illus.).
Against Nothingness: Stanislawa Ignacy Witkiewicz's Photographs, Poland, 1986, (illus.). plate 296