A portrait by Witkacy of the Polish-born philosopher Casimir Lewy (1919-1991) is kept in Trinity College, Cambridge.
During 1938 the nineteen year old Lewy spent the Long Vacation in Poland. While he was there he visited the artist, writer and philosopher Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939), commonly known as Witkacy, in Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains to have his portrait painted.
Witkacy painted the portrait of anybody who would pay him. His clientele included famous country artists, scientists, politicians, as well as the philosophers: Alfred Tarski, Tadeusz Kotarbiński, Roman Ingarden and Władysław Tatarkiewicz.
Witkacy’s often painted while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or going through withdrawal. Witkacy was interested in the effect that taking substances had on his work and he added the information about his actual state of mind or what substances he had been taken to the portraits (e.g. NP1 meant “not smoking for one day” etc.). He reflected that this affected the way that he saw objects and then how he presented them in his paintings.
On Lewy’s portrait by Witkacy are the annotations: (T.B) [P] + czeskie wino, which means: portrait Type B (more characteristic), [P] –smoking, + [drinking] Czech wine.
After the Long Vacation Lewy returned to Cambridge to complete his degree. However, the outbreak of World War II the following year meant that he was unable to return to Poland. Instead, he stayed on at Cambridge to complete his PhD. He married Eleanor Ford in 1945 and settled in the UK. Lewy’s visit to have his portrait done was to be the last significant time that he spent in his home country again.
Witkacy committed suicide on 18 September 1939 after hearing the news of the Soviet invasion of Poland the previous day.
A collection of Witkacy’s works are available here.