Art in America, ‘Almost a Heaven’ Marek Bartelik
A trio of recent publications introduces English readers to Jozef Czapski, a Polish artist and writer who witnessed firsthand European twentieth-century turmoil. The Polish painter, memoirist, literary critic, and art writer Jozef Czapski (1896-1993) visited America in 1949-50 to lecture on his country's traumatic recent past. He addressed audiences composed primarily of Polish emigres and Polish-Americans on a variety of topics, including the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in 1940 and Joseph Stalin's ongoing religious persecutions…
The New Yorker, ‘Briefly Noted’
Almost Nothing, by Eric Karpeles (NYRB). This absorbing biography aims to rekindle interest in the Polish painter and writer Józef Czapski (1896-1993), whose career was for decades stymied by history’s tumult. As a Soviet prisoner of war, he gave lectures on Proust and wrote a history of French painting, and, in 1940, was one of only a few hundred survivors of the Katyn massacre, in which some twenty-two thousand Polish officers were killed. After the war, exiled in Paris, he advocated for a free Poland and wrote two searing memoirs, but only in old age was he able to devote himself to his paintings, which Karpeles analyzes with acuity and grace. Czapski called painting both “prayer” and “defeat,” after a lifelong “apprenticeship of looking.”
The New York Times, ‘Reading Proust in the Gulag’ Ayten Tartici
“Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp,” by the Polish painter, intellectual and writer Jozef Czapski, represents a unique contribution to this tradition of last books. Delivered to a group of P.O.W.s in a Russian labor camp where he was imprisoned in the winter of 1940-41, Czapski’s wide-ranging lectures on Proust provide a rare glimpse into what it means to turn to art and literature at a time when mortality is on your mind. Born in Prague in 1896 to an aristocratic family, Czapski, who was fluent in Polish, Russian, German and French…
New York Review of Books, ‘Time Regained’ Anka Muhlstein
Eric Karpeles, a painter and an impassioned reader of Proust—he is the author of Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time (2008)—had never even heard of Jozef Czapski until a friend sent him a slim volume in French, Proust contre la decheance, which he has now translated under the title Lost Time. It consists of five lectures on Proust that Czapski delivered in 1940–1941, during his captivity in a Soviet prison camp. Karpeles read it in a single sitting and became obsessed with its author.
The Times Literary Supplement, ‘Hard Time’ Stanley Bill
The Polish painter and writer Jozef Czapski lived through almost the entire twentieth century as an exception to the rule. A pacifist who became a Polish army officer before being deported to a Soviet prison camp in 1939, he was one of very few to survive the Katyn massacre perpetrated by Stalin’s secret police the following year. He was later released to flee with thousands of Polish refugees through Central Asia and the Middle East to the battlefields of Italy.
The Wall Street Journal, ‘Shouldering the Century’s Burden’ Cynthia Haven
Czapski (1896-1993) was a writer, an artist, a diplomat, a humanitarian whose life spanned almost the entire 20th century. He was tireless in the fight against totalitarianism, whether of the Nazi or Communist stamp. He left behind more than 270 notebooks, as well as hundreds of paintings and thousands of sketches. As his renown grows, more works surface. This gentle, tenacious, adamantine figure has been far too little known in the West—until now…