The drastic shift from 19th to 20th Century Polish art and how its representation of trauma relates to my practice.

Whilst doing my dissertation research I’ve realised how the events of late 19th Century and of the 20th Century shaped the timeline of Polish art., and how that was impacted [and reflects] the drastic trauma of the long period.

This is just a quick note to remember that.



[there were obviously more events but I treat these as ‘milestones’ or significant points in Poland’s history – these are the ones that every Pole knows by heart – but it has more to do with the theory of Post-Memory rather than this argument]

[also, the ones set to the right are ones I’ve heard of but have very little knowledge on – I just thought it would be good to put into perspective the amount of conflicts and uprisings that Poland took part in, and experienced first hand in such a short amount of time]

1772 – First Partition of Poland

1793 – Second Partition of Poland

1795 – Third Partition of Poland

[And yes I know these are from the 18th Century, but they are very relevant!]

1830-31 – (29th November ’30 – 21st October ’31) November Uprising

1863 – (22nd January) January Uprising

[1818-19 – Polish–Ukrainian War]

1918 – (11th November) Poland regains independence

[1918-19 – Greater Poland Uprising]
[1919 – Polish–Czechoslovak War]
[1919 – First Silesian Uprising]

1919 – (14th February ’19 – 18 October ’20) Polish-Soviet War

[1920 – Second Silesian Uprising]
[1921 – Third Silesian Uprising]

1939 – (1st September) German Invasion of Poland

1939 – (17th September) Soviet Invasion of Poland

1939 – (18th September) The Fall of Warsaw

1939 – Poland completely occupied

1940 – The Katyń Massacre

1943 – Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

1944 – Warsaw Uprising

1945 – Polish People’s Party (PPP) forms – Communist takeover (result of Potsdam Conference)

1989 – Round Table Agreement – PPP becomes the Republic of Poland



A trend that is clearly visible is the realist and romantic tendencies of the artist of the 19th Century – a lot of the art used this approach to depict rural life, the uprisings and elements of bourgeois life.

The 20th Century – from what it seems to me – saw a drastic shift in the approach – unlike other European countries (particularly of the West) – with very little exploration of movements such as Impressionism or Cubism – these were only introduced post-war – with a high saturation of cubism and abstraction to depict the trauma they themselves experienced both individually and collectively

Impressionism seems to have been undertaken by only a handful of Polish artists -who most likely migrated the country, to places like France

This trend seems to have continued until late 20th Century meaning that movements such as Abstract Expressionism etc. were absent from our culture through all this time – instead the whole century turned into a long period filled with trauma and attempts to try to deal with it

While at the same time still struggling to carry on and accept these memories as ‘fact’ due to the additional presence of the Soviets in Poland – what I can assume happened as a result is ambiguity in identity formation

Since memories were not only naturally repressed by the citizens of the country but also by the people in power – who forced the entire collective to move forward into progress without the space to deal with the trauma.



The issues of memory and identity are very much linked to the events and history of Poland.


Whether that is geographical (which happened due to the constant shift of and disappearance of geographical borders, and so I would assume that people struggled to define themselves)

or psychological displacement – which happened as a result of that – loss and ambiguity of identity and nationality – displacement of memories to cope with the events

TRAUMA reflected in the art of the time – a lot of flux and constant shifting – a focus on movement – symbolism of death and loss – dramatic – a lot of dark and earthly tones


By no means am I comparing my experience to the ones of war and post-war migration, however I have been finding links between my own work and the one made during this long period and it’s interesting to think that it might have something to do with trauma

either trauma of living in a new place – of trying to adjust – feeling displaced, like you don’t belong anywhere that you find yourself geographically – feeling disconnected (from yourself and/or your surroundings) – lacking a sense of belonging – searching for something that you could attach yourself to

In that respect looking at how trauma influenced people’s minds, reflected in their work, is useful in my research – can help me analyse my own work and how a type of trauma is actually hidden in there

But trauma now seems like quite a big part of my ideas about myself and my practice – so it’s good to see how other people approach it.



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