A Poster Lover’s Map Of Polish Cities
#photography & visual arts
default, A Poster Lover’s
Map Of Polish Cities, A wall covered in posters, 1977, photo: Janusz Fila/Forum, center, polskie_plakaty_afisze_fot_Janusz_Fila_FORUM_fija_42887_01-2.jpg
Join Culture.pl on a tour of Polish cities as represented in some of the finest examples of Polish poster art. From the heights of the mountainous Zakopane in the south, through the modernist architecture of Łódź, and all the way to the sunny beaches of Sopot!
Lublin by Witold Chomicz
Last year the city of Lublin in eastern Poland celebrated its 700th anniversary. Among the events planned for the occasion was an exhibition entitled Architektura i Widoki Lublina na Plakatach (Lublin’s Architecture and Views in Posters), held at the Lublin History Museum.
Interestingly, the museum is located in the very building depicted in the poster above. The 14th-century Brama Krakowska (Kraków Gate) which guards the passage to the Old Town, is one of the city’s most important landmarks and an immensely popular tourist attraction. This particular poster was created by Witold Chomicz, an artist that grew up in Lublin in the interwar period, and an author of a number of paintings of the Lublin cityscape. This is how the 1935 poster design, meant to promote the city, was described by the exhibition’s curator, Anna Syta:
Posters by Henryk Tomaszewski - Image Gallery
It’s the Kraków Gate in an almost fairy-tale scenery (…) with tourists rushing toward the Old Town and stands hidden beneath colourful umbrellas. We don’t know whether [the poster] was ever used.
Kurier Lubelski newspaper
Kraków by J. Broschowna & A. Stalony-Dobrzański
The southern city of Kraków, requires little or no introduction. It’s historical architecture is a magnet for tourists from around the globe, showcasing the richness of Polish culture and evoking the atmosphere of a place with longstanding artistic traditions (the local Academy of Fine Arts is the oldest school of its kind in Poland).
This 1938 poster is the work of Janina Broschowna and Adam Stalony-Dobrzański who both studied at the academy under the tutelage of Ludwik Gardowski. However, of the pair only Dobrzański went on to become a noted artist, best-remembered for his sacral works: stained glass windows and polychromies. Dobrzański is also known to have been keen on typography:
Pre-war Kraków: The Most Beautiful Photographs – Krzysztof Żyra
[He] is considered one of the founders of the Polish school of typography. He was an outstanding specialist, a creator of new script concepts. Typography to him wasn’t about the science of writing but about the plasticity of the composition of the letter-symbol.
From the article ‘Professor Adam Stalony-Dobrzański – The Master & Teacher of Jerzy Nowosielski’ by Jarosław Szmajda, published
Polish (Type)faces – Fonts from the Land of Vistula
The artist’s interest in typography is clearly visible in the elegant lettering of this poster. It also includes a number of stylized depictions of Kraków landmarks like the Wawel Royal Castle and St. Mary’s Tower.
Warsaw by Tadeusz Gronowski
Warsaw – the city at the heart of the country, Poland’s capital. The dynamic composition and oneiric colour scheme immediately catch one’s eye. The 1936 image is the work of the great Tadeusz Gronowski.
Tadeusz Lucjan Gronowski
His name has become a symbol, and his works legendary. Who can forget the (…) distinctive outline of a crane in flight, which appears on the tail of [LOT Polish Airline] aircrafts? (…) Gronowski took our native poster ‘into the big wide world’ and is considered the precursor of its modern form in interwar Poland.
Anna Agnieszka-Szabłowska, ‘Very Graphic: Polish Graphic Designers of the 20th Century’, published by the Adam Mickiewicz Instit
The poster depicts the sights of Warsaw’s Saxon Garden: its beautiful 19th-century fountain and the classicist Saxon Palace. Interestingly, the artist chose to draw only a very fine outline of the building – it looks almost as if it wasn’t there.
Today the palace is, indeed, no longer there. It was destroyed during World War II and never rebuilt (only a small piece remains standing and now serves as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). The palace is one of the Warsaw’s most important ‘missing buildings’ – approximately 85% of the city was destroyed, razed to the ground even, during the war. Curiously, the silhouette in the poster brings to mind the phantom-like nature of the memory of the palace today.
How Warsaw Came Close to Never Being Rebuilt
The world is a rotten place and if you don’t want to lose your mind you have to search for beauty in it. You have to look kindly at this or that and find those Hrabalian pearls. (…) The series ‘Polska’ is my story about a country that irritates and unsettles me, but which I like and is truly charming. It is a true story because in my series you won’t find a place I haven’t visited.
For several years now the highly-popular painter, set designer and graphic artist Ryszard Kaja has been working on a series of posters called PLAKAT-POLSKA (POSTER-POLAND), which presents Poland’s cities and regions. At the moment, the series already has well over a hundred designs.
The poster presented here, created in 2012, promotes the mid-western city of Poznań where the artist was born and studied at the local University of the Arts. One of the city’s most distinctive landmarks is depicted in the poster – the Okrąglak. The round building designed by Marek Leykam in 1955 is considered a pearl of Polish modernism.
Poznań – The Hipster Underdog
Łódź by GRA-FIKA
Here is another poster presenting the best of Poland’s modernist architecture, this time from the city of Łódź in central Poland. This blueprintesque poster depicts one of the buildings in the Śródmiejska Dzielnica Mieszkaniowa (Central Residential Neighbourhood) – a 1979 brutalist structure. Due to the large number of high-rises in the area, it is sometimes referred to as ‘Manhattan’.
DIY Brutalist Architecture
The image created in the early 2010s by the Łódź-based studio GRA-FIKA is part of their Archeo poster series presenting post-war modernist architecture in Poland. In an interview for the Polish architectural website Bryła, the studio’s Katarzyna Jasińska explains why they decided to create the series:
We want people to discover the upsides of 1960s and 1970s architecture, which is often underestimated, unwanted and unnecessarily modernised. In their original shape and with their surroundings created by city planners, these buildings had high aesthetic value – just take a look at photographs from that time.
9 Architectural Icons of Communist Poland
Sopot by Maciej Hibner
To the seaside! The author of this sunny poster, Maciej Hibner, is among the co-creators of the Polish Poster School, a phenomenon that thrived in Poland under the communist regime. Paradoxically, the system’s centrally planned economy, where a poster’s sheer advertising power wasn’t as much of a concern as in free-market economies, gave the designers quite a bit of artistic freedom in the creation of their posters:
6 Legends of the Polish Poster School
In the Polish People’s Republic, in its most ambitious examples, the poster began to function as a specific field of the arts, ruled by its own laws… Polish artists showed that the poster may be, in spite of its inherent limitations, an equally sensitive, aesthetic and deeply meaningful instrument expressing its designers attitude to the reality surrounding them, like every other discipline of art.
Zdzisław Schubert, from the introduction to ‘Polish Posters from 1970 to 1978’
A Short Guide to Design in the Baltics
In this promotional poster from 1963, you will find some of the port city of Sopot’s landmarks like the famous Grand Hotel or pier (known simply as the Molo), but what the author really seems have focused on is the atmosphere, the happiness, the ‘fun in the sun’ which one can enjoy by the Baltic coast.
Zakopane by Stefan Norblin
From the northernmost reaches of Poland let’s jump right to its southern fringes, the town of Zakopane picturesquely located in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains. This is the highest range in Poland, home to the Tatra National Park, and a major tourist attraction. Due to the mountains’ proximity, the town itself is also a popular tourist destination, although it wasn’t always so.
In the early 20th century, Zakopane was still a rather quaint place. It was a quiet town, which many Polish artists appreciated – it was the perfect escape from city life. Tourists only began to flock to it in the interwar period. One of the things that facilitated that change was promotion. The artist Stefan Norblin was commissioned by the Ministry of Transportation to create a whole series of posters promoting tourism to various regions of the country. In 1925, the artist created this poster promoting Zakopane. In the art-deco image you can see a highlander wearing a traditional folk costume with the Tatra mountains in the background.
Rediscovering Norblin: The Pole who Filled Indian Palaces with Art
But many of those who remembered the old Zakopane, the peaceful, tourist-less Zakopane, didn’t appreciate the change. The writer and painter Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz wrote in 1928:
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy)
I’m under the impression that Zakopane is getting filthier by the year and don’t see any way of changing that, given the general intellectual demise of our times. Dance parties, record-breaking sports, cinema, radio (…) deprive people of any deeper interests.
Otwock by an unknown artist
The Peak of Artistry: Painters from Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains
Read about the Tatra area's pre-war history and Polish artists inspired by its landscapes and folklore.
About halfway between Sopot and Zakopane, close to Warsaw, lies the city of Otwock. Located on the Świder river and close to beautiful woods of pine, the town enjoyed the status of a health resort from the end of the 19th century to the 1960s due to its beneficial microclimate. With air pollution on the rise, the local climate has changed in town, but one can still feel the old atmosphere thanks to the architecture. Otwock is home to a few hundred houses built in the ‘Świdermajer’ style, a unique architectural aesthetic invented locally in its early days as a health resort.
Local architects transported styles from across the world to the town of Otwock near the Świder river. They looked up to the beautiful, decorated residencies in the Swiss Alps, as well as the cottages of Tsarist Russia. And thus, towards the end of the 19th century, the pine woods by the Świder river began to see ornate houses being built, whose distinct style was once monikered by poet Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński ‘Świdermajer’, alluding to the 19th-century Biedermeier period.
In this delightful interwar poster promoting Otwock, one will find the pine trees whose influence was once considered so beneficial, but unfortunately, no Świdermajer houses. Instead, in the distance you can see the neo-classicist Casino building from 1933, a famous Otwock landmark. Today it houses the Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński high school.
The Vices and Virtues of Versemaker Gałczyński
Rzeszów by Niemapa
What we have here is a digital-style poster showing the south-eastern city of Rzeszów. It was created in 2016 by the Niemapa group, who took it upon themselves to make unconventional family-oriented guides to Polish cities (unfortunately English versions don’t appear to be available). What’s so unconventional about them? They highlight places that aren’t necessarily touristy but are great for spending quality time with one’s family.
Poland with Children: Top 10 Things to Do with Kids
The Rzeszów guide, rather than a typical list of museums and monuments, provides information about the city’s best rollerblading spots or the picturesque Pod Kasztanami Avenue (Chestnut Avenue), a nice place for a stroll. The guide includes the graphic design from the poster, which shows the Willa pod Sową (The Owl Villa) from the year 1900, and behind it what looks like the city’s cherished nature reserve of Lisia Góra (Fox Hill).
A Foreigner’s Guide To Natural Wonders In Poland – Interactive Map
In case you’re curious where The Owl Villa got its name, you can find a short explanation on the official website of the City of Rzeszów:
A building with a diverse solid and roof shape. The ornamented façade has been preserved, with, among others, a sculpted owl in a cartouche adorned with symbols of an architect’s profession as well as a sun clock.
Wrocław by Jan Kallwejt
Last, but surely not least, is a poster representing the south-western city of Wrocław. This poster was created by the contemporary Polish graphic designer and illustrator Jan Kallwejt, whose works have appeared in The Guardian and in the programmes of Milan’s La Scala.
Kallwejt’s 2016 poster is chock-full of Wrocław’s famous landmarks: the Gothic Old Town Hall, the early 20th-century Grunwald Bridge or one of the characteristic modernist high-rises from the 1970s designed by Jadwiga Grabowska-Hawrylak. There is so much going on, it is hard to catch them all.
The Bridges of Wrocław: A Virtual Walk Across the Venice of the North
Although my works are often complex and full of details, simple shapes are always the base of each composition. I like to spice things up with a dose of abstraction and humour.
The light-hearted poster also includes several of Wrocław’s famous gnomes. These small sculptures have been steadily added to the city since the 2000s in a spontaneous socio-artistic movement commemorating the subversive Orange Alternative. At the moment there are well over three hundred of them all over the city and they’ve become one of Wrocław’s major symbols.
The Orange Alternative: There Is No Freedom without Dwarfs
And with that, we end our guided tour. Until next time!
Editor’s note: The best place to learn more about Polish poster art is the Poster Museum at Wilanów. A division of the National Museum of Warsaw – founded in 1996, with the launch of the International Poster Biennale – it preserves and presents works which have been collected since before the Second World War. The museum offers about 10 exhibitions per year in Wilanów, a beautiful district in the south of the Polish capital, as well as numerous resources available online – and is the oldest poster museum in the world! Check out their website here.
polish poster school
stanisław ignacy witkiewicz
konstanty ildefons gałczyński
polish poster art
Written by Marek Kępa, Aug 2018, updated by LD, Jun 2020