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Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw


Krakowskie Przedmieście 5
Warszawa, Poland

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The Academy of Fine Arts (ASP) in Warsaw was founded in 1904 as the School of Fine Arts (SSP) from an initiative of a group of people committed to the country's artistic life. Organizational work on the structure and profile of the then-private school continued past 1903.

The idea to found the Warsaw School of Fine Arts was  born in 1900. The first initiators, Dr Teodor Dunin, Count Krasiński, painter Kazimierz Stabrowski, and Count Maurycy Zamoyski, were driven by a sense of absolute necessity to develop and disseminate artistic culture in the country. Wholeheartedly supported and encouraged by the artistic colony and eminent members of society, they established the first organizational committee to draw up the law of the future Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The draft prepared approved by the minister of His Imperial Majesty's Court, Baron Frederiks on 12 September 1902. The school was accepted under the administration of the Imperial Court Ministry (references).

A list of faculty was prepared on 13 August 1903. The principal of the school was Kazimierz Stabrowski, a painter and graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy. Teachers of painting included Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Konrad Krzyżanowski and Karol Tichy. Sculpture was headed by Xawery Dunikowski. All of the artists were very young, from 28 to 34 years old. On 25 February 1904 the Imperial Court approved the faculty for the planned school, and the official opening took place on 17 March 1904.

The organization of this newly established institution was a complex structure, and threatened to cause many complications from the start. Primarily, it created dual authorities – on the one hand, the principal and the Teachers' Council thought themselves to be the only people competent to map out the school's development and to select further members of the teaching staff, and wanted to keep the care of the school's financial existence solely in the hands of the Tutelary Committee. On the other hand, as usually happens in this type of social body, the Committee either did not gather at all or very seldom, after a burst of enthusiasm its members stopped making the pledged payments, and light-heartedly handed over the problem of survival to the principal and the Teachers' Council, which of course was beyond their strength and caused their constant protest (references). 

Financial problems existed from the start, and Stabrowski did all he could to save the school from closing down. To improve the budget, lotteries and Warsaw Antiquities Exhibitions were held, selling postcards, vases and painted pots made during classes. The school also had problems with premises, as it did not have its own building, with classes held in several locations around Warsaw.

Growing financial difficulties and the conflict between Stabrowski and the Tutelary Committee ended in a few serious changes. Karol Tichy left in 1908, and Władysław Ślewiński was appointed in his place. On 28 September 1908 the Teachers' Council and the Tutelary Committee chose painter Stanisław Lentz as the new principal, and upon Count Zamoyski's demand, Stabrowski was dismissed. Despite support from his colleagues, Stabrowski was pushed away from running the school. Not everyone had been satisfied with his activity, because while he was  'worthy of the highest respect for his wonderful personality, he turned out to be completely unfit for a professor and teacher. At the same time, he was already beginning to immerse himself more and more in mysticism; the fashionable séances, communication with spirits, hypnotism etc. interested him more than anything else … for students, Stabrowski was apparently rather harmful'. (references)

From its inception, the Warsaw School of Fine Arts had a clear teaching profile. In accordance with the organizers' ideas, this was to be different from that of the Krakow and St. Petersburg academies. The goal was to incorporate art into life. Apart from the 'pure arts', applied arts were of equal importance. Initially there was insufficient space for workshops. Despite the difficulties, though, the following subjects were taught from the first years: ceramics, applied graphic arts, weaving, and furniture making. In January 1905 the school hired architect Tomasz Pajzderski, who became head of the first applied art studio. Edward Trojanowski joined the School of Fine Arts the following year.

The Warsaw school was the first institution of its kind to enrol women. It soon turned out that many women wanted to undertake artistic studies. Plein-air workshops were also organised. At first, these were held in Łazienki Park, in the districts of Solec, Saska Kępa, Włochy, and in Kazimierz on the Vistula. After a time, foreign trips started being organised. Students learned in master studios. They could choose from among painting, sculpture, and applied arts. As far as financial capacity permitted, a general education was also provided. Classes in art history, history of literature, philosophy, perspective, and anatomy were taught with some breaks caused by lack of funding.

Before World War I the faculty changed several times. Karol Tichy returned, and Józef Gałęzowski, Ignacy Pieńkowski and Niewiadomski joined the staff. Xawery Dunikowski left for Kraków in 1910. A year later, he was followed by Józef Gałęzowski. By 1914 only Stanisław Lentz and Edward Trojanowski were left. Despite the high faculty tunover, the academy produced outstanding students, including Henryk Berlewi, Eligiusz Niewiadomski, Stanisław Pękalski, Antoni SłonimskiHenryk Stażewski, Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Wacław Wąsowicz.

At this time, a competition was announced for the school building. The winning design was by architect Alfons Gravier. Construction on Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie Street began in 1911. The sponsor of the "School in Powisle", as the building was later dubbed, was Italy-based Eugenia Kierbedziowa. The building was ready when the war at the start of the war, and a hospital opened there in 1914.

Even before the war ended, efforts were made to revive the school. It reopened on 16 November 1915. Lentz was again appointed principal. He occupied the position until his death in 1920. The school's status did not change, and it was still an institution that relied on donations from private individuals. Five studios were organised at first, headed by Stanisław Lentz, Miłosz Kotarbiński, Edward Wittig, Wojciech Kossak and Trojanowski. The school tried to maintain the profile defined by Stabrowski in 1904, and the course included classes in the 'pure' and applied arts. Students had to attend three years of an introductory course and two years of studies in master's studios. These latter classes were supplemented with lectures on theory.

After Poland regained its independence in 1918, a decision was made to nationalize the school. On 19 April 1919 Franciszek Lilpop, president of the Tutelary Committee, sent the Ministry of Culture and Art a letter with a draft of a new statute granting the SSP the status of an Academy. At the same time, Eugenia Kierbedziowa donated the building in Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie Street, together with the land, to the state. From 1 July 1920, the school was closed before being transferred into the management of the ministry.

In the time of the Kingdom [of Poland], there existed an Academy of Painting based on private donations, founded and endowed by Mrs. Kierbedziowa. When the Polish state was established, Polish society withdrew its donations for public purposes, and the academy had to be transferred to the state. Then, instead of starting a new life, it ceased to exist and did not operate for the second year running. The building was not heated in winter, and wherever necessary, pipes from heaters were carried through the ceilings. Emptiness howled from the deteriorating walls, from this building abandoned by artistic life (references). 

The decision on nationalization did not bring the expected results. For three years, there were constant government reshuffles. Hence, no decision was reached on reorganizing the SSP. It was not until the end of 1922 that selection of the faculty began. Karol Tichy became the school's principal as of 1 January 1923, and the official opening took place on 11 March 1923.

For many years, efforts were made to obtain 'Academy' status. The Warsaw school did not want to lag behind Krakow's academy. It finally received the title of 'Academy' on 18 March 1932. A lot of work went into the new organizational structure, and various proposals were put forward. In 1930 Władysław Skoczylas presented his idea to set up four faculties: painting, sculpture, interior design, and graphic arts. Students were to take a two-year general course followed by two years of specialisation.

The 'muzzle law' came into effect in March 1933, and both schools (in Krakow and Warsaw) were forced to reorganize their structures. One faculty was established, incorporating four specialisations: painting (Tichy, Pruszkowski), sculpture (Breyer), graphic arts (Skoczylas), and decorative arts (Czajkowski). This structure remained unchanged until 1939, and the school continued trying to maintain a balance between classes in the pure arts and applied arts.

The twenty inter-war years were a time when numerous artistic groups emerged. One of them was the BLOK group, founded in 1921 by ASP students: Mieczysław Szczuka, Henryk Stażewski, Edmund Miller, Aleksander Rafałowski. The following groups came into being in connection with Pruszkowski's painting studio:  Brotherhood of St. Luke in 1923, Warsaw School in 1929, and Masonic Lodge in 1932. Students of Kowarski founded the Prism group in 1933. Professors undertook joint initiatives as well. The Lad Cooperative of artists practising applied arts was formed in 1926. The graphic arts studio of Skoczylas yielded the groups Rythm and Engraving.

The graduates of this period included Janusz Bogucki, Michał Bylina, Halina Jastrzębowska, Bronisław Linke, Andrzej Mierzejewski, Juliusz Studnicki, Wacław Taranczewski, Marian Wnuk, Jan Wodyński, Jacek Żuławski, Marek Żuławski and Władysław Wincze. In the inter-war period, the Warsaw school's faculty comprised Edmund Bartłomiejczyk, Tadeusz Breyer, Józef Czajkowski, Romuald Gutt, Felicjan Kowarski, Leonard Pękalski, Karol Tichy, Michał Walicki, Leon Wyczółkowski, Władysław Skoczylas, Tadeusz Pruszkowski, Wojciech Jastrzębowski, Henryk Kuna, Jan Szczepkowski, Karol Stryjeński and Bohdan Treter.

The years of World War II closed the second stage in the school's development. After the Warsaw Uprising, it was decided that the academy would be re-established. Stanisław Ostoja-Chrostowski was made the appointed rector on 1 March 1945. The time of reconstruction began. The first post-war faculty comprised Tadeusz Breyer, Edmund Bartłomiejczyk, Romuald Gutt, Bohdan Pniewski and Michał Walicki.

None of the professors in 1945 though about an exact re-creation of the school's old system; on the contrary, they were very critical of it. They realized that in terms of 'pure art', and mainly painting, the pre-war academy had not taken advantage of the possibilities offered by the staff of the time. Thus, they agreed that the first task was to expand and strengthen the fundamental disciplines, primarily painting. They disagreed, however, when discussing the details of the school's reorganised structure (references).

The school received the building at 5 Krakowskie Przedmieście Street in 1947. The school's new organizational structure was created in the same year. Three faculties were set up: painting, sculpture, and graphic arts. To maintain the continuity of the school's tradition, the curriculum included specialisations in ceramics, weaving, interior design, stage design, and art conservation. In 1950, the Academy of Fine Arts was merged with the Kamil Cyprian Norwid Higher School of Visual Arts. The resultant school was called the Academy of Visual Arts.

The school's new rector appointed in late 1951 was Marian Wnuk, a sculptor linked to the 'Sopot school'. He immediately began reorganizing the structures. During his term, four faculties were set up: painting, sculpture, graphic arts and architecture, and special studies  art conservation, textiles and stage design. The changes also involved the staff, and as a result many of the teachers left. As was the case in Kraków, Poznań and Gdańsk, the faculty was dominated by colourists. The leading studios of this time included those headed by Jan Cybis, Eugeniusz Eibisch and Artur Nacht-Samborski. The teachers of sculpture included students of Tadeusz Breyer: Franciszek Strynkiewicz, Ludwika Nitschowa, Marian Wnuk and Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz.

The 'Polish Poster School' emerged in 1950-1960, comprising graduates of Warsaw's ASP: Henryk Tomaszewski, Eryk Lipiński, Roman Cieślewicz, Józef Mroszczak, Waldemar Świerzy, and later - Jan Młodożeniec, Franciszek Starowieyski and Maciej Urbaniec. They designed mainly film posters in the 1950's and 1960's.

Straight after the war the academy's teachers joined in the effort to rebuild ruined Warsaw. Reconstruction of the Old and New Town began in 1953. A team of specialists was formed to decorate the tenement houses of the Old Town. This group included Zofia and Roman Artymowski, Edmund Burke, Krystyna Kozłowska, Jacek Sempoliński, Hanna and Jacek Żuławski, Witold Miller, and many others. There was a Conservation School at the academy from 1945, later renamed the Faculty of Art Conservation and Restoration. The KAM (standing for Stone and Monumental Architecture or Conservation of Monumental Architecture) Masonry Studio was founded straight after the war. Its members restored historical monuments in Warsaw and around Poland.

The opening of an exhibition at Warsaw's Arsenal in 1955 was a breakthrough moment. It featured the works of young artists from all over Poland. This was a rebellion against the officially imposed artistic trend of socialist realism. The 'Arsenal Group':

...avoided 'constructive' themes like tractors in the fields, smelting of steel, or the construction of new housing. What appeared at the Arsenal were memories of the not-so-distant war experience (undergone personally) and simple but genuine images of people; still-lifes made up not of beautiful and precious objects, but ones that were signs of everyday life; unspectacular suburban landscapes. (references)

In 1965, two students of painting  Jan Dobkowski and Jerzy 'Jurry' Zieliński - formed the NEO-NEO-NEO group. They were students in the studio of Jan Cybis. They continued the colourist tradition, seeking new formal solutions for themselves. The first exhibition of works by NEO-NEO-NEO was held at the Medyk club in 1967.

From the 1950's, when the ASP Art and Research Unit was established, leading architects taught at the school. They prepared designs for Warsaw, but also for exhibitions abroad. Teachers at this unit included Jerzy Sołtan and Zbigniew Ignatowicz. In the 1970's the faculty included Oskar Hansen  the originator of the Open Form theory, a student of Fernand Léger. They supported integration of different disciplines: painting, architecture, and sculpture.

The early 1980's saw the emergence of GRUPPA, coinciding with the imposition of martial law in Poland. The end of GRUPPA'S activity came at the time of the Solidarity governments. The group was founded by students of painting: Ryszard Grzyb, Pawel Kowalewski, Jaroslaw Modzelewski, Wlodzimierz Pawlak, Marek Sobczyk, Ryszard Wozniak. Their work invoked the 'new expressionism' trend that developed in the West in the late 1970s / early 1980s. They exhibited their works mainly at Pracownia Dziekanka which, beside the Repassage Gallery, was the second venue connected with the academy's activity. A different group of painters was centred around the studio of Ryszard Winiarski. They discussed and presented their works in the Studio of Painting Problems in Architecture headed by Winiarski.

The academy's  faculty has expanded further to includes the painters Leon Tarasewicz, Marek Sapetto, and Jarosław Modzelewski, and the sculptors Stanisław Słonina and Mieczysław Kozłowski. In the numerous group of recent graduates of Warsaw's ASP, the most famous include Paweł Althamer, Józef Robakowski, Przemysław Kwiek, Zofia Kulik, Mirosław Bałka, Katarzyna Kozyra, Bogna Burska, Krzysztof Wodiczko. Their artistic output has an impact on art in Poland and abroad. Today the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw comprises nine faculties: Painting, Sculpture, Graphic Arts, Art Conservation and Restoration, General Design, Interior Design, State Design, Stage Design, and Visual Culture.

Compiled from:

  • Ksawery Piwocki (1965),  A History of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, 1904-1964, Wrocław-Warszawa-Kraków
  • National Museum in Warsaw (1980),  75 Years of Warsaw's Academy of Fine Arts 1904-1979, Teachers' Creative Trends, Exhibition Catalogue
Sabina Steckiewicz
December 2006

Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw
Krakowskie Przedmieście 5
00-068 Warszawa
Phone: (+48 22) 32 00 200
Fax: (+48 22) 320 02 14


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