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Modern Chamber Sculpture

Porcelain New Look figurines have been arousing great interest among collectors of Polish design since the 1950s. The selection of the upcoming "Polish Design" auction includes more than fifty figurines produced by the largest Polish porcelain and porcelite factories. These items, which appear very rare on the art market, are always accompanied by heated bidding.


The figurine "Squab," designed by Henryk Jędrasiak, will be auctioned for the second time at DESA Unicum. Last year, its price, including the auction fee, amounted to PLN 72,000 (EUR 15,376). The "Gazelle" will appear on the Polish auction market for the first time.

Figurines designed at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s at the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw can be referred to as small chamber sculptures. The projects created in the Institute had a synthetic and simplified form, which expresses a strong inclination towards modernity. The Institute of Glass and Ceramics of the Institute of Industrial Design, established in the 1950s, was run by artists who did not want to implement social realism doctrine in art. Working on the figurines allowed them to develop artistically without causing conflict with the government, what was mentioned by Lubomir Tomaszewski, one of the most outstanding Polish designers:

"At that time, large sculpture forms at the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw were reserved for the 'idols of communists,' and I did not intend to serve them in any way. So I 'escaped' into chamber sculpture-into designs of porcelain figurines, treating them with all the seriousness due to this form of expression. Ideas are around us and inside us, inspiration comes from the world around us."

- excerpt from Lubomir Tomaszewski's conversation with Michał Cessanis from 2015, [in:] https://www.national-geographic.pl/traveler/artykul/zwowa-z-lubomirskim-roboczy.

Designer Wincenty Potacki while working on porcelain figurines in the porcelain factory in Ćmielów, 1975, source: National Digital Archive

The task of gathering qualified staff for the new factory was given to Henryk Jędrasiak, who invited young graduates of the Faculty of Sculpture of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts to cooperate. This is how Lubomir Tomaszewski described the beginnings of his work at the Institute:

"One of my friends, […] Jędrasiak (a very talented man, a bit older than the rest of the group), got a job at the Institute of Industrial Design, and they said that they would like to have one more person who would design porcelain figurines. I was on the bread line at that time, with two children, so I perceived it as salvation for me. In fact, it was a salvation. And after... basically, Jędrasiak and I lived very harmoniously, and we shared a lot, so to speak; later other people joined us. We were the leaders."

- excerpt from Lubomir Tomaszewski's conversation with Jan Radziukiewicz of December 9, 2013, [in:] https://www.1944.pl/archiwum-historii-mowonej/lubomir-tomaszewski,3108.html

Mieczysław Naruszewicz, Lubomir Tomaszewski, and Hanna Orthwein at work, 1950s source: Archives of the Institute of Industrial Design

In addition to Lubomir Tomaszewski, the newly established factory employed Mieczysław Naruszewicz and Hanna Orthwein. The main task of the team was to create innovative designs of ceramic chamber sculptures that would match small contemporary interiors. The artists' manifesto published in the "Bulletin of the Institute of Industrial Design" says as follows:

"We demand simplicity of expression, plastic legibility, and atmosphere from the interiors. Objectivity, emphasizing the item's function, the use of material effects, and conscious handling of solids and planes are an inseparable part of the composition. Thus, the form and content of artistic objects must emphasize the values of modern interiors. These compositional values ought to be found in chamber sculptures if they are supposed to be modern."

- Henryk Jędrasiak, Lubomir Tomaszewski, "Rozwijamy rzeźbę ceramiczną," [in:] "Biuletyn IWP", 1957, No. 1, p. 1.

The staff working under the leadership of Henryk Jędrasiak created a total of over one hundred and thirty sculptures, which delight with their original forms to this day. The author of the largest number of projects was Mieczysław Naruszewicz; he created over forty of them. Of the four, only Naruszewicz had experience in working with ceramics, the other designers had to learn how to use this material. The process of creating chamber porcelain sculptures was therefore a great experiment, which ultimately became a spectacular success. Porcelain figurines became one of the most recognizable works created in the Institute.

Figures of domestic, exotic, and wild animals were the most popular motifs. The designers creating for the Institute had an extraordinary ability to observe and extract the characteristic features of a given animal. Looking at, for example, the figurine "Squab" designed by Henryk Jędrasiak, one can notice that the concise head is accompanied by an emphasized breast. The design of this chamber sculpture was based on the triangle, clearly the favorite figure of Henryk Jędrasiak. The triangular form was also taken by other projects by the artist, such as "Marabou" or "Scalare." Designers clearly sought to simplify the forms as much as possible, which, while maximizing the geometry of shapes, had to remain legible.

The designed figures most often took static poses; the expression and dynamics of animals were shown only through a twist of the head or a turn of the torso. Most often they stood on three supports. The painting decoration was also supposed to emphasize the modernity of the designed forms. Individual pieces could be made using different painting techniques, so the method of decoration also affects the value of a given figurine. Porcelain sculptures were most often given a layer of enamel paint, but airbrushing was also used. This technique gave the opportunity to imitate a pelage or plumage. In addition to animal figurines, projects depicting human silhouettes were also created in the Institute. Lubomir Tomaszewski specialised in the design of human forms.

Ceramic figurines were created in factories in Ćmielów, Chodzież, Wałbrzych, Jaworzyna Śląska, Bogucice, and Tułowice. They enjoyed great popularity, so they began to be produced on a larger scale in the 1960s. Designers working in the Institute perfectly carried out the task of creating modern forms that blended well with the contemporary residential interiors and, at the same time, pleased many recipients.