The end of World War II marked the beginning of a new period in the development of Polish poster art. Building sites throughout Poland were enclosed with wooden fences which were quickly covered with posters. These fences became the substitutes for the absent museums and galleries, and posters became the art of the street. During this time, at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, poster design flourished. A new branch of art emerged – the Polish School of Posters.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, the Polish School of Posters successfully married the experiences and ambitions of painting with the succinctness and easily grasped metaphor of the poster. The distinction between designer and artist disappeared. The Polish poster became a national tradition and became recognized as the best in contemporary poster art, comparable to France’s La Belle Époque of the 1890s.
The political system in Poland after World War II greatly influenced the development of Polish poster design.
In the 1960s, Poland achieved relative political autonomy from the U.S.S.R., and culture increasingly became the center of public life. The state as both patron and controller of the arts gave recognition to posters as an art form. While the state’s patronage supported the poster, the state’s encouragement created its success. This encouragement took many forms including establishing education in poster design at Polish colleges of art and organizing national poster competitions throughout Poland. During this period, poster design became a well-recognized profession, attracting artists from various disciplines: print-making, photography, illustration, sculpture, and painting; all of which contributed to the art of the poster.
The 1970s witnessed a lessening of direct state supervision of the media resulting in state-owned publishers exerting less and less influence over poster content. The political turmoil of the 1970s and 1980s further removed posters from governmental restraints. In this atmosphere of greater artistic freedom, poster design flourished; it became more dynamic, more expressive and more artistic. Posters also became more intellectual and challenging as artists smuggled their own ideas into works still supported by the state.
In 1989 the introduction of a free market economy in Poland dramatically changed the role of the poster. Posters as advertisements began replacing posters as art – commercialism began replacing creativity. The trademark originality of Polish posters began to disappear. Their artistic level declined. Their future became cloudy and still remains uncertain. The fall of Communism brought with it the end of an era – the end of the golden age of the Polish School of Posters.
The artists of the golden age of the Polish School (1950s-1980s) possessed a genius not seen in one country since France at the end of the 19th century. These award-winning artists are divided into three periods: (note – artists are listed in alphabetical order within generation.)
• The First Generation (post-World War II)
The founders of the Polish School of Posters were Eryk Lipinski, Jozef Mroszczak, Henryk Tomaszewski and Tadeusz Trepkowski. Each contributed to its unique style: a painter’s palette, the quick sketch style – full of humor and unexpected associations, a strong feeling of color, surrealistic metaphors, concise composition & use of symbolism.
• The Second Generation (the 1950s and 1960s)
These artists (born in the 1920s and 1930s) include Roman Cieslewicz, Wiktor Gorka, Hubert Hilscher, Jan Lenica, Jan Mlodozeniec, Marian Stachurski, Franciszek Starowieyski, Waldemar Swierzy and Maciej Urbaniec. They continued the work of the First Generation but in a more restrained, intellectual style. Some artists of the second generation drew upon the fantastic and surreal while others favored abstraction. They popularized Polish poster art outside of Poland.
• The Third Generation (the 1960s-1980s)
Born during and after World War II, artists include Jerzy Czerniawski, Stasys Eidrigevicius, Marek Freudenreich, Mieczyslaw Gorowski, Lech Majewski, Rafal Olbinski, Andrzej Pagowski, Wiktor Sadowski, Jan Sawka and Wieslaw Walkuski. They introduced more aggressive designs intended to surprise, provoke or disturb the viewers’ beliefs and values, often through camouflaged political and/or social messages. This generation firmly established the Polish School of Posters’ recognition throughout the international art community.
During the golden era of the Polish School of Posters the most recognized subject and the most highly-acclaimed posters were CYRK (circus) posters. In their more than twenty years of design supremacy, CYRK achieved a remarkable artistic quality and a degree of popularity not matched by the any other genre of the Polish School of Posters. They became known for their mastery of specific artistic qualities: painterly gestures, vibrant colors, hand-lettering and humor as well as their camouflaged messages. For example - Mona Lisa, by Maciej Urbaniec [in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC and honored in Poland with a postage stamp of its image] through color, design and metaphors conveys the concept that an ideal life would combine the sophistication of Leonardo da Vinci’s art with the exuberance of the circus.
Jazz, following a brief re-emergence after World War II, was officially
The 1960s through the 1980s witnessed the development and growth of a vibrant jazz scene – jazz bands formed, clubs opened, foreign musicians visited and festivals such as Jazz Jamboree  Jazz on Odra River  and the International Jazz Pianist Festival Kalisz  were instituted. Along with the rise in jazz’s popularity, came artists’ commissions to create posters for jazz performances and events. Interpretative portraits of jazz musicians also became voguish with Waldemar Swierzy initiating his Jazz Greats series honoring American jazz artists e.g. Duke Ellington .In the late 1980s, the further loosening of restraints, followed by the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, resulted in more jazz – more musicians, recordings, performances, clubs, etc. but many fewer artistic jazz posters.
In addition to commissions to create posters to promote CYRK and jazz,
Other posters, which the Communist regime employed artists to design, embraced a range of topics. Some were social and political as well as promotional e.g. leisure, sports and commerce—while many more were for the additional aspects of the government-run cultural media:
Theater posters – because the theater in its various forms - comedies, tragedies, musicals, operas, ballet etc. - was a crucial arena for the expression of opinions and emotions, theater posters as the visual representations of this trend became a very important artistic force.
Film posters – with the movie industry's revival early in the post-war period, film posters became one of the pioneers of the Polish School of Posters, developing a style of encapsulating the film's quintessence via an artistic image rather than the traditional depiction of a single scene.
Exhibit posters – exhibitions, especially of classical and contemporary art, were frequent and geographically widespread, leading to the creations of numerous exhibit posters which graphically captured the essence of the individual presentations.
• All posters are original artistic designs created by Polish artists.
• Most posters contain the artist’s name in the design.
• All posters are offset lithography as are most contemporary posters.
• All posters are printed on plain paper. Intended to last only a few months, mainly on outdoor billboards, most posters are printed on low-grade paper and are very fragile.
• Size of most posters is approximately 27” x 39” (69cm x 99cm). However, some posters are smaller: 22”x33” (55cm x 83cm). Size is the dimension of paper before linen-backing.
• All posters are in Condition A - very fine, mint [unless otherwise indicated].
• All posters are linen-backed as are all fine antique vintage posters. Linen-backing is an expensive process which maintains the fine condition of the poster. Linen-backing is a $75+ value.
• All posters are available in limited quantities. Some posters are very rare and are one-of-a-kind.
• Date is publication date(s) of poster.
Other posters by artists of the Polish School of Posters
Other contemporary vintage Polish posters by artists of the Polish School of Posters
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