One of the finest poster and graphic artists in the world, an illustrator and teacher, pioneer of the Polish poster school. Born June, 10, 1914, in Warsaw; died September 11, 2005, in Warsaw.
The strength of his graphic works lies in a simple and intelligent translation of messages and symbols from literary, theatrical, film, music and social themes into a visual language. He himself admitted 'a lifetime search for such signs which would be comprehensible to everyone'.
In 1934, Tomaszewski graduated from the School of Graphic Artists (where he specialised in drawing and lithography) and went on to continue his education at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts under Professor Mieczyslaw Kotarbiński from 1934-39. He took an interest in poster art in 1936 and began contributing to Szpilka, the satirical weekly. He lived in Warsaw under the Nazi occupation and had his drawings printed in the Lublin-based satirical weekly, Stańczyk in 1944. He moved to Łódź in 1945 and resumed contributing to Szpilka. He returned to Warsaw in 1950 and began designing sets for the Syrena Theatre. Two years later, he was appointed Professor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, heading its Poster Studio until 1985, educating dozens of up-and-coming graphic and poster artists of considerable renown. Indeed, his Studio attracted young trainees from all over the world and Tomaszewski invariably encouraged his disciples to do things their own way.
Tomaszewski received a number of art prizes and honours in various countries, including five first awards at the 1948 International Film Poster Exhibition in Vienna. His cartoons were printed in various literary reviews, including Przegląd Kulturalny and Literatura. His drawings were published in the volume, Książka zażaleń (
A Book of Complaints, 1961). He designed a number of books and exhibitions, and was a member of many international art societies, including the prestigious Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI). The Royal Society of Arts in London conferred upon him the award 'Honorary Royal Designer for Industry' in 1976.
Tomaszewski, whose debut took place in the second half of the 1930s, brought to the Polish poster the vigour of youth, a freedom in shaping the picture, and a rich imagination. His technique was close to painting. His works, first noticed at the 1939 World Exhibition in New York, used colour spots and synthetic drawing. After World War II, he embarked upon a provocative play with the viewer's imagination, using sophisticated poetic devices and a minimalist form. His superbly designed graphic signs, letters, symbols and metaphors made expressive and apt comments on theatre and opera performances, exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events. He used mental shortcuts and exquisitely synthesised ideas in the form of graphic or painted signs to convey succinct yet sophisticated messages in posters, illustrations and book covers. His works are unique for their simplicity, intellectual precision, extraordinary sense of humour and easy, laconic drawing. They convey general and profound truths by commenting on events that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, and their allusions and understatements invite a creative reception.
Many of Tomaszewski's works have become world poster classics, such as the theatre posters Król Edyp (Oedipus The King, 1961), Hamlet (1962), Hadrian VII (1969), Witkacy (1972), De la marionnette (1978), Amadeusz (Amadeus, 1981), Historia (A Story, 1983), Manekiny (Mannequins, 1985), Edward II (1986); the film posters Symfonia pastoralna (Symphonie pastorale, 1947), Obywatel Kane (Citizen Kane, 1948), Rewizor (The Inspector General, 1953), and the exhibition posters Moore (1959), Wzornictwo przemysłowe Wielkiej Brytanii (Industrial Design of The United Kingdom, 1963), Teresa Pągowska (1986), Henryk Tomaszewski - Love (1991).
Author: Jerzy Brukwicki, June 2004, updated: September 2010