20th-century Polish art : the April 2016 Slavonic item(s) of the month

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Images from the three featured books

Polish book selection in the University Library focuses on the history and culture of Poland, with art a well-represented subject.  This month, we look at 3 recent arrivals, books on Tadeusz Peiper, Bruno Schulz, and Zygmunt Radnicki.

Our first item, ‘Papież awangardy’ (Pope of the avant-garde; S950.c.201.695) was published as a companion volume for the exhibition of the same name held in Warsaw in 2015.  The exhibition examined the role played by Tadeusz Peiper in European culture, particularly the Polish and Spanish avant-garde.  Peiper was a seriously influential figure in 1920s art and literature, chiefly in his native Poland but also in Spain – where he spent some years – and further afield.

The book contains contributions about various aspects of Peiper’s work and the areas in which his inspiration can be felt, and is very richly illustrated with art works and facsimiles.  Shown below, from left to right, are: the cover of a 1925 work by Peiper himself; a 1932 poster by Kazimierz Podsadecki; a 1918 painting by Henryk Hayden; and the cover of a 1923 poetry selection by Guillermo de Torre.


‘Księga obrazów’ (Book of drawings;  S950.c.201.700) contains nearly 500 drawings by the author and artist Bruno Schulz.  Ours is a copy of the 2015 second edition; the book first appeared in 2012, 70 years after Schulz’ murder at the hands of a Gestapo officer as he walked home to the Drohobycz Ghetto in November 1942.  Schulz was known mainly for his prose, but in ‘Księga obrazów’, we see the skill, perspicacity, and humour of his art.  The images – all black and white – include portraits (a self-portrait is shown in the selection below), book illustrations, and domestic and street scenes.

The book’s compiler, the writer Jerzy Ficowski (1924-2006), was a great Schulz expert.  The UL has Polish and English copies of the biography he wrote (Regiony wielkiej herezji (Regions of the great heresy)), the Polish original at 758:55.d.95.279 and 1999.7.1068 and the English translation at 758:55.c.200.58    Ficowski produced several editions and compilations of Schulz’s prose, correspondence, and art work, including an earlier book of reproductions of drawings, this time published in English (S404:27.b.9.48). 


Finally, ‘Radnicki’ (2015.12.290) is a catalogue produced for the 2015 exhibition at the Kraków National Museum and Academy of Fine Arts of works by Zygmunt Radnicki (1894-1969).  Radnicki studied in Poland and France and was known both as a painter and an art teacher – at one stage he was the director of the Academy in which this exhibition was shown.  The catalogue contains articles on Radnicki’s life and works followed by over 100 pages of reproductions of his works, of which a sample is shown below.

In the past, art catalogues from Eastern Europe often relied heavily on greyscale reproductions, with only a small number of colour prints provided on dedicated plates.  It is wonderful to see the quality of catalogues being published there now.  While the books might come with an occasionally eye-watering price tag, it is gratifying to know that our readers will have such superb visuals to enjoy and study for years to come.


Clockwise from top left: 1945, 1959, 1948, and 1964 pieces by Zygmunt Radnicki

Mel Bach

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