Hidden behind the opulence of Lublin’s former Zamoyski residence lies the largest collection of Communist art in Poland
Set in the grounds of one of the best-preserved aristocratic residences in eastern Poland, lies one of the country’s most unique, unusual and surprising galleries - one devoted entirely to Communist-era art.
Immortalised in the opening scene of Andrzej Wajda’s internationally acclaimed film ‘Man of Marble’, the Gallery of Socrealism at the Zamoyski Museum in Kozłówka Palace on the outskirts of Lublin, is nonetheless not widely known.
Opened in 1994 as the first gallery in Poland and Europe to exclusively display art made under the Communist regime, it has a permanent collection of around 300 works from 1944-1988, with a focus on Socialist Realism between 1944-1954.
Included are sculptures, paintings, Communist party propaganda posters, sketches and banknotes, but also several hundred more with a total depository of around 2,600 works, the largest collection of Communist art in Poland.
Socialist Realism was an artistic movement developed in the Soviet Union under Stalin in 1932 and came to be the dominant artistic form allowed by the Communists. It saw art as a political and propaganda tool of the Communist party with dominant themes of idealised workers and loyalty to its ideology.
Artists were officially instructed to “bring up working class in the spirit of communism and infinite faith in the party.”
Consequently, many artworks in the gallery can be found showing portraits of fulfilled workers in their overalls, smiling or working at their trade as well as idealised impressions of party leaders.
One from 1952 by Irena Brand-Omiecińska entitled ‘The Portrait of a Work Leader’, depicts a worker with gnarled hands holding a piece of chalk and demonstrating a mathematical formula on a blackboard, perhaps intended to convey the equal academic intelligence of manual labourers and clearly intended to set them up as an example to emulate.
After WWII, and with Poland under Communist rule, Socialist Realism was imposed as the only form of art allowed in literature and fine arts in an announcement made at the Katowice Congress of 1949 and soon a huge production of paintings, sculptures and engravings began.
Sławomir Grzechnik, manager of the collection at the Gallery of Socrealism told TFN: “Artists during this period were treated the same as agricultural and industrial workers and art was simply another form of production, with artists assessed on their yearly output at special exhibitions. Artists received good pay for producing socialist realist art and ironically, on the whole, artists were probably never better paid than at that point in time.”
Artists’ output was submitted and assessed at four All-Polish Exhibitions of Fine Arts between 1950-1954, however Socialist Realism didn’t last for long in Poland and after the death of Stalin, artists broke with the doctrine.
But although unlike in the USSR and other countries of the Communist bloc socialist realism did not leave deeper roots in the Polish consciousness, propaganda was still present in artworks with the gallery also displaying official art of the Polish People’s Republic from 1956-1988 which doesn’t depart far from socrealistic ideals or its ideological continuation.
Grzechnik told TFN: “There are many dominant themes in art of this period. Male workers of course feature heavily, but also female workers. Many paintings show women at work. Much like in England during and after WWII, when it was realised that women would have to take on more duties from men, as many had died at war, so too in the Soviet Union, women were being encouraged to take on more duties.
“One painting for example shows all women collecting hay and the hay pile is enormous in comparison to them, seeking to demonstrate the kind of productivity levels which women were encouraged to achieve.
“Children were also a popular topic in art as the Communist regime sought to ‘rebuild’ the family and children as loyal Communist subjects and also fight illiteracy, so many paintings show children reading and smiling while they read.
“The maternal theme was also prevalent and we have several sculptures of the period which show pregnant women, or women holding children, whilst there is one sculpture which is instructively entitled ‘The Bad Mother’. This woman is shown holding a foetus in her hand, a symbol of abortion.
“The Communists also wanted to show romantic situations between workers, but these had to show them united by higher ideals of a love for their work. So we can see a couple on a scaffolding who are looking ahead, their love being connected by higher Communist ideals.”
The gallery also includes a number of propaganda posters with the likeness of Stalin or promoting the Polish United Workers Party (PZPR) and encouraging faith in its Six Year Plan (1950-1955), a centralised plan focused on increasing the heavy industry sector in Poland.
Of particular note are the number of original likenesses of the Communist party’s main leaders Lenin and Stalin, both in the form of paintings and sculptures, and an outdoor area with their sculptures which were formerly displayed in public spaces during the period, such as an imposing statue of Lenin from 1949 by Dmitri Shwartz once on display in the town of Poronin.
Far from being a hermitic collection, the gallery’s vast archive is a living collection, which has been almost entirely digitised and is continually being expanded with new acquisitions.
Next year, the gallery will also be expanded, with the opening of an adjacent building which will house a display of around 100 additional works.