Marian Sigmund is among those Polish furniture designers.
Marian Sigmund, photo: private collection
Marian Sigmund is among those Polish furniture designers whose work has stood the test of time, not only as museum objects, but also as potential designs whose production could be reinitiated 50 or 70 years after their creation. His furniture continues to spark the interest of both art déco collectors and admirers of the design of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as those who favor neutral furniture not marked by excessive modernity, carefully designed and discreetly decorative.
Sigmund's participation in organizing the Ład Artists' Cooperative and his many years of work for the institution were of pivotal importance in the shaping of his style. He was an active member of the institution during its most creative period, the inter-war years, and in those directly following the war. Later, Sigmund's activities in Ład tapered off considerably, partly because he moved to Krakow, but chiefly because of changes to the association itself, which began to depart from the ideas it had originally propounded. We ought to explain what it meant to be an "exponent of Ład's ideas" if indeed this approach left its mark on the designer's entire furniture output. When they founded the association, the "Ład members" themselves tried to avoid defining their program too precisely. They intended to produce fabrics, furniture, ceramics and other home-furnishings, striving for "perfection of form, material and execution,"(1) while maintaining a large degree of freedom in interpreting these premises and in the development of the individual works of the various designers. The critics attempted to specify Ład's postulates. "Striving for perfection of form (i.e., using shapes stemming from an artistic premise, from a practical goal meant to serve the object, from the nature of the original material, and from the technique in which it is rendered) meets a striving for a perfection of materials (i.e. using real, unprocessed, solid materials) and is rounded off with a striving for perfection in execution (i.e. practicing good, honest, precise workmanship)."(2) Fidelity to these ideals is indeed visible in Sigmund's work from the inter-war period to the 1970s. It was easier to remain true to Ład's postulates when designing single objects or a limited series; but Sigmund's furniture designed for the Bent Furniture Factory in Jasienica is made with equal consideration and honesty.
Marian Sigmund, dining room furniture set and a chair from the same ensemble, made by the Ład Artists’ Cooperative, 1932, private collection, photo: Michał Korta
Marian Sigmund's creative path began as a furniture and interior designer in the mid-1920s. He took part in competitions for residential furniture. In the 1930s he designed many furniture sets for public facilities: he designed and reconstructed the interiors of the Warsaw University Library (1930), of the Ministry of Labor and Social Aid in Warsaw (1931), and of the LOT Polish Airlines offices in Okęcie, Warsaw (1937). From the mid-1930s onward he taught interior design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He was a participant in and commissioner for an important exhibition called "The Art of the Interior" at the Institute for the Promotion of Art in 1936.
Among his surviving pre-war projects, we ought to mention a dining room furniture set of 1932, which replicated (in different materials) furniture Sigmund had shown previously at the November Salon in 1930. The chair is particularly characteristic in this set. Its simplicity and massive dimensions contrast with the finesse and decorativeness of the lines and the attention to detail. The boat-shaped bend in the rear legs and the backrest, along with the scroll finishing of the back, serve as a distant allusion to the Biedermeier style. However, the combination of the simple shafts of the front legs and the folded plywood at the front of the seat makes for a profoundly transformed and geometrical version of historical furniture. The art déco style is expressed in both the shape of the chair and in the details – the decoratively laid veneer rendered in golden ash wood with black-stained pear-wood accents. The set was produced in a limited series.
Marian Sigmund, "B584" chair, produced by the Bifameg Bielsko Bent Furniture Factory in Jasienica, 1958, private collection, photo: Michał Korta
In 1947 he joined other Ład artists in designing furniture for the Warsaw district of Finnish homes, commissioned by the Production Aesthetics Supervision Bureau. In this project, the unpretentious beauty of the armchair catches the eye. Its soft shapes – the curve of the backrest, the rounded edges, the crooked lines of the armrests, the straw weave of the seat and back – all combine to create the impression of inviting furniture. In 1951 Sigmund received 3rd prize in a dayroom furniture competition organized by the Industrial Design Institute.
From 1950–1956 Sigmund headed a team of interior designers working for Nowa Huta (just outside Krakow). The beginning of the 1950s saw the start of construction on a district (today inscribed in Krakow's register of Protected Monuments) that bore all the signs of a social-realist aesthetic, with long facades of apartment blocks and the typical layout of streets and squares inside building complexes. The first floors of the buildings held shops, services and restaurants. In the Nowa Huta Design monograph Marian Sigmund is named as interior and furniture designer of a fish restaurant, whose walls were covered with seascape color mosaics, the first district post office (opened in 1951), and the designer of the interior and furnishings of Gigant restaurant. "The fullest and most faithful rendering of Sigmund's original interior design was executed at the HiL [Lenin Steelworks] Administrative Center in Building 'Z' and, in part, in Building 'S.' These interiors, alongside the Marszałkowska Residence District and the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, are considered to be prime examples of Polish social-realism in architecture. (…) The walls and ceilings of the rooms had stucco ornaments, capped off by grand candelabras, hand-wrought gratings, balustrades, and decorative radiator covers. The offices, conference halls and corridors had leather sofas and furniture sets designed by Marian Sigmund and his team."(3)
Marian Sigmund, bent armchair, produced by the Bifameg Bielsko Bent Furniture Factory in Jasienica, 1958, collections of the National Museum in Warsaw, photo: Michał Korta
An important aspect of Sigmund's creative work is represented by those pieces that testify to his successful cooperation with industry. In his résumé of 1983, the designer wrote under 1959: "On the initiative of the Ministry of Forestry and the Lumber Industry I was hired by the Bent Furniture Factory in Jasienica to develop new chair and armchair models for export. I produced around 40 industrial-type models for mass production." Five types of chairs and armchairs produced in Jasienica survive at the house of the artist's family, and a few others are known from archival photographs. This furniture strikes us as exceptionally well designed. The Thonet tradition (a tradition in the Jasienica factory reaching back to the 19th century) combined with the then-fashionable slanted leg dynamic, and sometimes with two-tone finishing, rendered an effect of balanced modernity without overstatement, while maintaining high attention to detail.
In 1963 Sigmund designed (and executed in 1964) the interiors of the State Art Collections of Wawel Castle: the reading room, the lecture and cinema halls, the bibliographic study and the smoking room. The show interior of the Wawel Ministers' Council Office, created in 1967, included a range of suites, guests' rooms, dining rooms, salons, halls and cloakrooms. He designed the interior for the Pediatric Hospital in Prokocim (Krakow) and the Cardiology Clinic in Zabrze. He also designed many interiors and a great deal of furniture for private commission.
Marian Sigmund, upholstered bent armchair, produced by the Bifameg Bielsko Bent Furniture Factory in Jasienica, 1959, private collection, photo: Michał Korta
Marian Sigmund took part in all the most important interior exhibitions in Poland. One towards the end of his career was the International Furniture Triennial in Poznań in 1980. He displayed a few chairs, highly structural, with their profiles reduced to a minimum, which he regarded as a major achievement.(4) In the last years of his life he mainly worked in painting and drawing, but interior and furniture design should be considered his most important work.
Marian Sigmund (1902–1993) was an interior and set designer, furniture designer, painter and graphic artist. He was a participant in the defensive wars of 1919–1920 and 1939, and in the Warsaw Uprising. He studied architecture at the Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) Technical Academy, interior design at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw (diploma in 1933), and from 1934–1936, he studied set design at the Institute of Theatrical Arts (with Leon Schiller). He began working as a teacher at the Institute of Theatrical Arts in Warsaw in 1934. He was active in many creative associations, including the Ład Artists' Cooperative, acting as its director from 1931–1935, and in Blok, serving as its chairman from 1936–1937. He began teaching in the Interior Design Department of the State Visual Arts School, and later at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Alongside his work at the academy he designed and executed interiors and furniture. He was awarded numerous and diverse distinctions, including the First Class Award of the Ministry of Culture and Art in 1960, recognition for lifetime achievement in the arts in 1968, and the Polonia Restituta Officer's Cross in 1987.
Author: Anna Maga
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.
For more information on the book, see: www.karakter.pl
(1) Quoted from: Anna Frąckiewicz, Krytycy o "Ładzie" [in:] Spółdzielnia Artystów "Ład"1926–1996, Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Warsaw 1998, vol. I, p. 39
(2) Kazimierz Warchałowski, "Ład". Wytwórnia artystyczna, "Sztuka i Praca" 1928, no. 17/20, pp. 38–39
(3) Leszek J. Sibila, Nowohucki design. Historia wnętrz i ich twórcy w latach 1949–1959, Historical Museum of the City Krakow, Krakow, 2007, pp. 13-14
(4) Marian Sigmund, letter of 17. 01.1984, manuscript at the Modern Design Center Archive of the National Museum in Warsaw.