Józef Peszka (1767-1831) – painter. He was born on 19 February 1767 in Krakow and died there on 9 September 1831. He studied at Nowodworski College in Krakow, where the first drawing lessons were taught by Dominik Estreicher. In 1786, he moved to Warsaw and began to work in the workshop of Pranciškus Smuglevičius (Franciszek Smuglewicz). In 1787, he together with the latter decorated with the Cathedral of Vilnius. During 1790-1792, he painted eleven portraits of prominent politicians and public figures. These official representative images were intended to decorate the halls of Warsaw City Hall. The artist received a lot of orders, so he travelled extensively. In 1793, Peška went to Grodno (Hrodna), later lived in Vilnius and Moscow. During 1800-1801, he together with Smuglewicz decorated In St. Petersburg the interior of the Mikhaylovsky Palace. For a longer time, he settled in Nesvizh (Belarus) and during 1807-1810 he worked there as a painter of the Radvilas (Radziwiłł) Palace. He visited Vilnius on a number of occasions (1794-1812). In 1809, he received the Master of Arts degree from Vilnius University and unsuccessfully competed for the office of the head of the Department of Drawing and Painting, which was vacant after Smuglewicz’s death. In 1813, he permanently returned to Krakow. He was quickly recognised and appreciated as a portrait artist. During 1816-1818, he taught art theory and delivered drawing lessons at the Jagiellonian University. In 1817, he received the professor’s title and since 1818 headed the Academy of Fine Arts together with Juozapas Brodovskis (Józef Brodowski). Peška was primarily a painter of portraits. A typical example is the classicistic and representative portrait of Franciszek Smuglewicz (National Museum of Poland). During the Warsaw period, which is believed to have been the best in his work, attempts were made to combine the rules of a formal palace portrait, composed on a developed background, with the still-strong old tradition of the so-called Sarmatic portrait. Both in style and in allegorical motifs and content of later works (“Founding of the Charity Society in Vilnius”), classicism trends became dominant. Subsequently, his portraits became more chamber-like and lost their decorative character, while realistic features became more prominent. He was one of the few painters of that period to have mastered the art of representative group portraits. Another important part of Peška’s creative work is historical painting. Following Smuglewicz’s example, he attempted to portray in paintings the most important events of Poland’s history. In addition, he painted allegorical compositions and created religious paintings of patriotic content. He was interested in landscaping (“Picnic in Antakalnis near the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul”, approx. 1798, Lithuanian Art Museum), he produced watercolours and painted architectural images and landscapes.
Reference: Lithuanian Integral Museum Information System (LIMIS).