Above is The Poznan Execution, a piece depicting the brutality of occupying Nazi forces following Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, by Andrzej Wroblewski, quite likely the best Polish figurative painter you’ve never heard of.
I was delighted to cross paths with these six works in the Gallery of 20th Century Polish Art at the National Museum in Krakow two years ago, posted here as a modest tribute to the artist who would have celebrated his 89th birthday today.
Just 29 when a mountaineering accident took his life in 1957, Wroblewski was already well on his way to becoming one of the most important and independent Polish painters of the 20th century, certainly of the immediate post-war period. Considering the barriers thrown in his way by Communist authorities during that turbulent era, that was no small feat. It was a fine line he learned to walk.
Beyond that, I knew little of the painter. A museum volunteer helped fill in a few blanks that I happily scribbled into my notebook.
Born in Wilno (present day Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1927, he relocated with his family to Krakow when Polish borders were redrawn and Vilnius returned to Lithuanian rule as part of the USSR after the end of World War II. It would be home for the rest of his days.
During his remarkable short-lived career that spanned less than a decade, she explained, Wroblewski experimented with and blended the abstract with the figurative, and borrowed from surrealism, social realism and a few other early 20th century styles to create a unique figurative voice and become the most original of Polish painters of his period.
“That was not at all easy in the 1950s,” she said.
The Poznan Execution is from Rozstrzelania / Executions, his most celebrated series, which depict in brutal, brooding detail the most violent aspects of the German occupation of Poland and its aftermath. Birthed in the late 1940s, the series began with documentary scenes like the Poznan Execution and evolved into more intimate but no less intense portraits depicting unimaginable loss, like Syn i zabita matka / Son and His Killed Mother below.
From my limited experience with his work it appears that his color palate varied considerably over his career; most appealing to me were the oranges and reds that figure prominently in five of the six works here, all created during the last two years of his life.
His work has been “rediscovered” over the past decade; late last year Madrid’s Reina Sofia hosted the first Wroblewski retrospective outside of Poland. If you cross paths with a Wroblewski exhibit, don’t pass it up.
For the Wroblewski-curious, a few choice links:
- Wroblewski bio – Culture.pl
- More about the Executions series – Culture.pl
- Wróblewski or the Unwillingness to Reconcile Contradictions: An Interview with Éric de Chassey – Culture.pl
- Wikipedia bio
And once more, The Poznan Executions, uncropped.
Photos taken with a Samsung Galaxy 3; given the camera’s limitations you shouldn’t consider these colors to be entirely accurate. But they’re fairly close. 21 June 2014.