July 28, 2021

Just after the war

“It is a difficult subject, which, however, one should understand. The argument that the artists in Kraków cut themselves off from the current imposed by the authorities and stopped painting does not convince me. Above all, it was the time when people wanted to live and living meant doing something, creating, acting. The post-war enthusiasm was like a drug. It is enough to look (…) at the sketch of Aleksander Kobzdej's painting: “Pass he brick" from 1950. Is it, despite of the subject that was politically imposed, a bad panting? The figure on the right breaks down the wall made of German bricks; symbolically – we get rid of everything old, we build the new home".

Stanisław Seufried in: Gabriela Pewińska, Szkoła sopocka. Mieli mnóstwo, siebie i sztukę. Rozmowa z kuratorem wystawy ‘Szkoła sopocka. Między sztuką a polityką' Stanisławem Seyfriedem, "Dziennik Bałtycki", 22 June 2015.


Educated in the interwar period on the ideas of colorism, the founders of the Sopot school spent the war in the country but their fates were different. Juliusz Studnicki was sent to the camp in Auschwitz, Jacek Żuławskki was active in the resistance movement, Janusz Strzałecki collaborated with the underground Committee to Aid Jews (due to this activity he was awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations" medal). Artur Nacht was in Lviv ghetto in 1941-42, then in Kraków and later in Warsaw. When hiding in the capital city, he assumed a name Stefan Samborski. After the war he officially used a surname Nacht-Samborski.

“Most of the professors of the Sopot school were engaged in the war. Bohdan Borowski fought in the AK (the Home Army). Professor Józefa Wnukowa took part in the Warsaw Uprising. Maria Papa Rostkowska, still little-known in Poland, went through hell of the war. (…) Many, both professors and students, experienced the nightmare of an extermination camp: Juliusz Studnicki, Zygmunt Karolak, Roman Ursewicz and also less-known Alojzy Trendel"

Stanisław Seyfried. In: Gabriela Pewińska, Szkoła sopocka. Mieli mnóstwo, siebie i sztukę. Rozmowa z kuratorem wystawy ‘Szkoła sopocka. Między sztuką a polityką' Stanisławem Seyfriedem, "Dzienik Bałtycki", 22  June 2015.

Wielka Zbrojownia przed odbudową, Gdańsk, lata 40., fot. Kazimierz Lelewicz / Archiwum Zbrojowni Sztuki

In 1945 the artists who came to the Coast and could start living, acting and creating were full of enthusiasm. Due to food shortages the professors had to fish from the pier and went to villages where they traded. The after-war euphoria of the lecturers of the new State Art College, was still present in the end of 1940s, when the authorities introduced the doctrine of Socialist realism. Naturally, Colorism as a movement considered to be avant-garde and bourgeois, was eradicated. “It's not the abstractionists, not the ‘Unists' who are the worst, but the Kapists are equally, if not more harmful, they are petit-bourgeois nihilists" – wrote Mieczysław Porębski in 1950. The colorists, who, due to their interwar output had an influence on the profile of the majority of Polish art academies, were the most serious force to overcome for the social-realists. They were attacked and marginalized not only by the representatives of the authorities but also by politically engaged students.

Stanisław Teisseyre i Teresa Pągowska na rusztowaniu, lata 1950., fot. Archiwum Zbrojowni Sztuki

Due to the coherent attitude of the artistic circles, the Coast created an independent phenomenon which, in a sense, survived due to the lack of coherence in the doctrine of Socialist realism. The consolidation of attitudes and the lack of inner conflicts let keep some kind of continuity and the artists' work on rebuilding the Gdańsk old town gave them a positive tone on a national scale. As a result an incomprehensible (from today's point of view) compromise was created: a marriage of Kapism and Socialist realism. New accents were added to landscapes – the Colorists' favorite form of reception of nature: grazing cows, haystacks, agricultural machines. Petty bourgeois still lifes turned into craft workshops, garden tools, soldiers' equipment. It allowed the artists from Sopot to take part in social life during the entire period of Social realism which resulted in e.g. the creation of a flagship work of Socialist realism: “The Manifestation of May 1st in 1905" by Krystyna Łada-Studnicka, Teresa Pągowska, Julisz Studnicki, Stanisław Teisseyre, Józefa Wnukowa, Jan Wodyński, Hanna and Jacek Żuławscy.