Karol Kryński was a painter, designer of interiors, furniture and graphics, a soldier and commander of the Polish State Battalions who was one of the representatives of the Polish constructivist avant-garde. He was a member of Warsaw’s new art groups – Blok and Praesens. He was born on 13th April 1900 in Warsaw, where he also died on 5th August 1944.
Kryński was born into a middle-class family. At the age of 16, he joined the Polish Military Organisation and a year later he started studying at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts. He studied painting and, at the same, was the commander of the cavalry scouts. For his heroism during the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, he was awarded the Cross of Valour. His patriotic attitude went hand in hand with his left-wing views.
During his studies, he was friends with Mieczysław Szczuka, Teresa Żarnower and Henryk Stażewski. Together with them, Władysław Strzemiński and Witold Kajruksztis he participated in the first exhibition-manifesto of the Polish constructivist avant-garde – the New Art Exhibition in Vilnius in 1923. He presented two works: Fair, called a ‘spatial construction’, and Portrait, a ‘flat construction’. However, in a review published in Zwrotnica (1923, no. 6), Strzemiński stressed that Kryński’s works reveal elements close to the Italian avant-garde rather than constructivism:
Kryński – 'Fair – a spatial construction' – originates from a period separating impressionism from futurism. Forms painted as if they were dancing in a work by Severini [the Italian futurist Gin Severini, editorial note], but the ingenuity lies in the dynamism which occupies several planes and is therefore thrown into space ahead (several painted planes at different angles).
The term ‘construction’, with which Kryński supplemented his works, was still a rather imprecise concept in Poland at that time. In Kryński’s view, this term contained ideas like the synthesis of rationalism and functionalism, and the inseparability of artistic and social issues – ideas which override constructivism. Already at that time he wanted to create socially engaged art – he spoke as follows about the objectives of new art in a short manifesto titled Revolution in Art, printed in the catalogue of the Vilnius exhibition:
Today, the most prominent objective of art in the face of backwardness, and the eventual lack of prospect for further development […], lies not in the purposeless fight against old art, but in the consistent effort to take hold of the positions which it already gave up:
Architecture of modern cities
Living space, cinematograph, theatre
Culture of collective life
In this manifesto, Kryński has clearly separated himself from the avant-garde experiments in the visual arts, like those of Kazimierz Malewicz, who postulated moving away from old art and focus on exploring the objectless world. The Warsaw-based artist was primarily interested in art that influenced the social masses and co-created the culture of collective life. In this respect, he was closer to Mieczysław Szczuka and Teresa Żarnower than to Władysław Strzemiński and Henryk Stażewski, who created mainly under the influence of new concepts of abstract art.
Kryński, together with the four artists mentioned above, co-founded the avant-garde group Blok in 1924. He exhibited at the group’s first show held on 15th March, 1924, at the Laurin-Clement Autosalon in Warsaw. His works were also reproduced in a magazine published by the group, which also shared its name.
Kryński’s works published in Blok showed a synergic world of machines and people. They were maintained in a puristic style close to the art of Fernando Leger and Russian constructivism. The concept of the geometrisation of the whole composition was important for his works at that time.
In the following years, Blok broke up: Szczuka and Żarnower, members of the Polish Communist Party, began to create propaganda art, and most of the other artists from the group, including Kryński, joined the new Warsaw group Praesens in 1926. Under the banner of Praesens, Kryński took part in the first International Exhibition of Modern Architecture in Warsaw, which took place at Zachęta in 1926. He presented the interior design for a study.
Between 1926 and 1930 Kryński was involved in interior design and applied arts. In the first issue of Praesens magazine (1926), he presented another interior design – The Interior of the Hall, and in the second issue (1930) his furniture designs appeared, including an avant-garde armchair. This furniture showed an interesting kind of synthesis of typography (the letters L, F and S) with applied art.
In 1929 Kryński and Praesens prepared several projects for the Polish General Exhibition in Poznań. He displayed his Be careful! Protect your eyes poster which was commissioned by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. Kryński, engaging in the propaganda of success of the Second Republic of Poland, also created a large-size photomontage for the PGE, depicting graphs showing the turnover and storage of liquors in the Rectified Spirit Monopoly department.
The participation of Praesens’ artists in the Polish General Exhibition ultimately led to the Warsaw-based group’s break-up. In the 1930s Kryński was still exhibiting at the Institute of Art Propaganda, in 1933 he took part in the exhibition of the Group of Modern Visual Artists, and also took up graphic design for the Institute of Social Affairs, established in 1931. He also went to Brazil for several years, where he taught Polish and drawing.
Although after the publication of the Revolution in Art manifesto in 1923, Kryński’s programme seemed to be the closest to Mieczysław Szczuka’s left-wing utilitarianism, in the end, it did not follow his path of combining art with communist ideology and propaganda. Like other Praesens artists, he was involved in creating official state art. In 1937 he was awarded the Independence Medal and in 1938 he painted a representative portrait of Edward Rydz-Śmigły in the uniform of the Honorary Commander Officer of the Yacht Club of the Republic of Poland.
20th century avant-garde
During World War II Kryński became the commander of a company in the 1st infantry regiment. Then he fought under the pseudonym Captain Waga. From 1942 he commanded the 3rd Battalion of Military Units of the Socialist Insurgent Rescue. On 3rd August, 1944, he was fatally wounded during the defence of a barricade at the intersection of Wolska and Młynarska Streets. Kryński died on 5th August, 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari ‘for his exceptional personal courage and positive influence on his surroundings during the fighting’. During World War II almost all his works were destroyed.
Originally written in Polish by Przemysław Strożek, October 2018