Wróblewski interpreted the style of socialist realism post-1949 in his own way with legible art, that which would respond to the problems of reality. His response to the emerging postulates was, among others, the Executions series.
Rozstrzelania / Executions is series of eight paintings from 1949 illustrating the terrors of the German occupation in Poland. At the time Andrzej Wróblewski was working at the Self-Educating Group – a unit of the Association of Polish Academic Youth at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. He wrote of the movement that,
Assuming that the first preparatory phase of building socialist culture is that art must be legible, thematic and estimated for a wide range of social reception, we postulated an artistic form possibly devoid of transformations, objective, photographic, most compatible with a vernacular vision and imagination of the mass audience.
Today's numeration of the individual paintings was not established by the artist. Their order was incorrectly appointed by his mother Krystna Wróblewska while preparing his posthumous exhibition. The first canvas was created in January, 1949 Rozstrzelanie z gestapowcem (Rozstrzelanie VI) / Execution with a Gestapo Man (Execution VI), and the last one was featured at the end of July of the same year Rozstrzelanie 'poznańskie' (Rozstrzelanie II) / The Poznań Execution (Execution II) which Wróblewski presented at the Inter-school Displays of Artistic Academies in Poznań in 1949.
At the time, the most realistic image of the whole series met with disapproval– an unknown perpetrator damaged the canvas by stabbing it twice with a knife at the point which beard the figure of an old Jewish woman. Wróblewski's art was not well received by the assessment of the emerging doctrine. For a long time he couldn't convince the critics as well. The drawing simplifications, deformations, a certain primitivism of the form and a brutal way of painting faces caused to categorize this sort of art form as 'new brutalism'.
The Executions series actually came to existence not until 1958, after the tragic death of the artist at the age of 29. Originally the paintings were to be shown in spring or autumn of 1950 at Wróblewski's exhibition devoted to World War II and the first postwar years, but eventually it didn't take place. The works from 1949 were viewed in his studio by his friends from the Self-Educating Group, including Andrzej Wajda.
Eight of Wróblewski's paintings were devoted to the subject of execution. This was a popular topic in art, at least from the times of Francisco Goya. However, Wróblewski learned about the horrors of the war as a young boy which influenced his Executions. A figure of a child appeared in the Rozstrzelaniu I (Rozstrzeliwaniu zakładników) / Execution I (Execution of Hostages): on the left side of the canvas a boy is being hugged by a male adult, while in the lower right corner the same boy is leaning over a dead body. Death is presented in subsequent phases.
In these paintings death is equated with the color blue. Andrzej Wajda once recalled that the painter
was a very ironic man. Everything that was a real secret of his doings, he turned into a joke. He was very reluctant to reveal his true face, he did not like confessions and personal revelations. When I asked him: 'Why do you paint all the dead characters in blue?', he answered: "I have a large tube of Prussian blue, and as you know, this paint is very efficient". I knew that all of the dead (figures) came to him. He couldn't free himself away from them, because death constantly accompanied him. - A dead body is a body immersed in a cool blue color.
Jarosław Modzelewski, a painter, who made his debuta few decades after Wróblewski's death, wrote
The way to a corpse is a blue path, although the form, besides the color, remains very concrete, with no turbidity: departing from this world, indeed, the torso diverted upside down, knees bent in the opposite direction, no longer casting a shadow, the pants are in place while the jacket is fastened by three buttons and it is also blue.
The transition from life to death is associated with the transition from warm to cold colors, just as the body loses its temperature at the moment of death. A dead body is at last a dismembered body - a separate stiff corpse dressed in a suit, separated legs, a separate head thrown on a pile, like parts of a broken mannequin. The dead are accompanied by the living, being witnesses of their death. On other paintings they are presented as those who remember and feel desiderated. In 1949 Wróblewski also made such paintings as Spacer zakochanych / The Walk of the Lovers, Dziecko z zabitą matką / Child with a Dead Mother, Matka z zabitym synem / Mother with a Dead Child. All of them present a seemingly natural, even sort of idyllic scene; a young couple holding hands, going out for a walk, the mother is holding a child. One of the figures is also painted in blue, being a ghost, a memory of a person who already passed away.
Therefore Wróblewski managed to work out (due to its simplicity) a visual metaphor for death. The most famous Rozstrzelanie VIII (surrealistyczne) / Execution VIII (Surrealist Execution) ostensibly presents a group of men, however it actually shows a man in successive stages of dying – from a deforming paroxysm, to the loss of color and finally the dismemberment of the body. 'Not only the man is subjected to fragmentation, destruction. – notes Hanna Wróblewska – But his shadow does too'.
The aforementioned process is most directly presented in the Rozstrzelanie IV (Rozstrzelanie na ścianie) / Execution IV (Execution Against a Wall). The artist painted two men against a brick wall. The first figure on the left side is presented realistically and colorfully, however the other man on the right side is the same person, but in a fatal spasm, already on the blue side. The men in Rozstrzelaniu VII / Execution VII are similarly presented, from the left side of the painting to the right, they gradually immerse into the blue gloom and shadow zone.
The executioner appears on only one of the canvases - (an SS man facing backwards with a characteristic gun holster) Rozstrzelanie VI / Execution VI which was the first painting of the whole series. In the other works, as critic Andrzej Kostołowski remarks:
the viewer is somewhat placed in the position of the executioner. This way the maximum condensation is obtained, establishing an aggressive dialogue with the viewer and generating an impression of the condemned man's hopeless anticipation.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2009.
- Andrzej Wróblewski
Rozstrzelania (cykl ośmiu obrazów) / Executions (a series of eight paintings)
- Rozstrzelanie I (Rozstrzeliwanie zakładników) / Execution I (Execution of Hostages), 1949, oil painting, 128 x 200 cm, in the collection of the Regional Museum in Toruń;
- Rozstrzelanie II (Rozstrzelanie 'poznańskie') / Execution II (The Poznań Execution), 1949, oil painting, 200 x 275 cm, in the collections of the National Museum in Kraków;
- Rozstrzelanie III (Rozstrzelanie rodziny) / Execution III (The Family Execution), 1949, oil painting, 120 x 89 cm, property of the artist's family, stored in the National Museum in Poznań;
- Rozstrzelanie IV (Rozstrzelanie na ścianie) / Execution IV (Execution Against a Wall), 1949, oil painting, 120 x 90 cm, in the collections of the Polish Army Museum;
- Rozstrzelanie V (Rozstrzelanie z chłopczykiem) / Execution V (Execution with a Boy), 1949, oil painting, 120 x 90,5 cm, in the collections of the National Museum in Poznań;
- Rozstrzelanie VI (Rozstrzelanie z gestapowcem, Rozstrzelany) / Execution VI (Execution with a Gestapo Man, Executed), 1949, oil painting, 118 x 89 cm, private collection
- Rozstrzelanie VII / Execution VII, 1949, oil painting, 120 x 90 cm, private collection;
- Rozstrzelanie VIII (Rozstrzelanie surrealistyczne) / Execution VIII (Surrealistic Execution), 1949, oil painitng, 130 x 199 cm, in the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw.