Henryk Gotlib (10 January 1890 – 30 December 1966) was a Polish painter, draughtsman, printmaker, and writer, who settled in England during World War II and made a significant contribution to modern British art. He was profoundly influenced by Rembrandt, and the European Expressionist painters. Gotlib was a leading member of the Polish avant-garde 'Formist' movement in the interwar Poland.
Gotlib was born into a middle-class family in Kraków, where he gained his earliest artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow from 1908 to 1910. Due to pressure from his parents, he also read law at the university in Krakow during this period, although it was clear from an early age that he had a profound passion for art. His earliest portraits of his mother, in which he experimented with a variety of styles including that of Vuillard and late Cubism, date back to when he was just 16 years old.
He continued his artistic training at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna (1911–13) and later at the Munich Academy of Fine Art under Angelo Jank (1913–14). It was during this period that he was exposed to European Expressionist masters, falling under the influence of expressionists like Max Beckmann and Egon Schiele.
During his lifetime, Gotlib exhibited extensively throughout Europe with much success. His first one-man show – in Warsaw in 1918 – was organised by the Society of Polish Artists whom he joined at the end of World War I. The following year, Gotlib returned to Krakow and became a leading member of the Polish avant-garde 'Formist' movement, exhibiting in Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. In 1922, the Van Gogh Gallery in Amsterdam held a one-man exhibition of his work.
There was never any doubt of Gotlib's stature in the mainstream of 20th Century European painting.
—?C. M. Kauffmann, Director, Courtauld Institute of Art.
He lived in France, mainly in Paris, during the years 1923 through 1929, when he participated in exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Indépendants. In 1930, he joined the Group of Ten after returning to Poland, where he remained until 1933. He went travelling once more from 1933, spending long periods in Italy, Greece and Spain, and met his Scottish wife, Janet Blanche Mareham, in 1938 during a visit to London. With the outbreak of World War II shortly after this, Gotlib settled in England, where he remained until his death. During his first year in England, Gotlib was invited to join the London Group, which had no foreign members at that time. This was a great honour, indeed an indication of his prolific talent as a painter.
Gotlib was also a talented writer. During his years in Paris he was art correspondent to the Warsaw Times, and his book Polish Painting was published in 1942. It tells us of his contemporary Polish artists and Polish artists through the ages. Polish Painting also provides some information of the 'Formist' movement, and includes a detail of his painting Warsaw, September 1939 that he was moved to paint after the German army attacked Warsaw. In the same year that this book was published, Gotlib participated in several important exhibitions in Britain, including 'Exhibition of Works of Polish and Czechoslovak Artists', at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. He exhibited extensively in Britain from 1940 onwards and examples of his work can be found in many public collections (see heading 'public collections' below).