Our father was an extraordinary man who loved life and overcame obstacles through sheer determination, fulfilling his goals by imagining a future beyond most people's dreams. His charm was much more than the twinkle in his eye. It was an intelligence rooted in a genuine appreciation of history and an endless appetite for learning. He was a self-made business man whose interest in life extended far beyond economics; these interests included world affairs, science, culture, and art. Those who knew him well understood that these aspects of Henryk were inextricably linked. For example, his inherent ability to see subtle threads between world politics and economies allowed him to spot opportunities to create wealth, while this same intelligence and innate ability to draw connections between events and people made him a fascinating conversationalist and a highly sought after dinner guest. As just about anyone who has spent time with Henryk in a casual environment can probably attest, he was a master storyteller who captivated his audience with natural ease.
At the outset of World War II, as the youngest sibling of seven, Henryk bravely defended his country disengaging tanks with homemade bombs during the brutal invasion of Poland. After being captured by the Russian army and sent to prison in Siberia, he managed to escape, hiding beneath a train across Asia. This extraordinary story of courage and survival formed the basis for the character Able in Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel. Afterward, while en route to England, The Empress of Canada was torpedoed off Sierra Leone and because of the shark infested waters few survived. He barely made it to England before uniting with his elder brothers for the last time, as they, and most of their Polish squadron did not survive the Battle of Britain. Without any family remaining, he also flew for the Royal Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1947. Although penniless after the War, he worked in a factory at night, in order to live and continue his studies. He graduated with a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering.
Henryk went on to serve under the Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, during the partition of India. He studied humanities in a Himalayan monastery, where his teacher urged him to travel the world. Following that advice, he eventually came to know many countries and their cultures firsthand, and met numerous dignitaries and business leaders, forging many relationships that would last for decades. He tried his hand at sculpture while in Italy, designed helicopters with Igor Sikorsky, and made his first fortune by brokering the sale of an unprecedented number of commercial airplanes while playing backgammon with the Shah of Iran. During the next phase of his life, he took up the sport of polo and played with the Maharajah of Jaipur atop elephants and discussed equestrian bloodlines with the Queen of England.
I had the great pleasure of accompanying my father to numerous art auctions, where I marveled at much at my father's exhilaration and insights as I did at the beautiful works of art themselves. Often, he would arrive just as an auction was commencing, walking down the center aisle with his elegant cane and, not infrequently, causing somewhat of a stir. As a sentimental connoisseur who favored the Impressionists, he had an eye for beautiful things. "The quality of life depends on the quality of light," he once told me, implying that the Impressionist painters generally possessed a brighter view of history. As my father grew older, he still favored many of the same artists. However, he appreciated their mature years. He particularly admired Monet's Massif de Chrysanthemums, (see lot 2, in Christie's, New York, 3 November 2004 evening sale) which he believed depicted the flowers and the artist at their peak, combining peace and tranquility with passion and a lust for life.
Conrad de Kwiatkowski
On behalf of the de Kwiatkowski Family
Property from the Henryk de Kwiatkowski Family Collection