Sektion 11: Gastsektion Polen
Donnerstag, 24. März 2022, 17:00–17:30 Uhr, K2, Hörsaal 17.02
Patryk Tomaszewski, New York

“Form and Content”: Felicjan Szczęsny-Kowarski and the Evolution of Polish Socialist Realism

This paper investigates the evolution of Polish Socialist Realism during the Stalinist period by using the case study of early post-war work by Felicjan Szczęsny-Kowarski. Kowarski’s distinctly figurative oeuvre – hailed by the officials as a paradigm of “humanism” – was to serve as an example for new art, one which would privilege social engagement and promote the notions of ideological and physical reconstruction in war-decimated Poland.

My case study focuses on Kowarski’s famous painting titled “Pstrowski Coal Miner” from 1949. I investigate the question of “form and content” – two characteristics of Socialist Realism as outlined by the Soviets – to think more expansively about what that doctrine entailed outside of the USSR at the time it was being imposed in Soviet satellite states. While the work ostensibly glorified the proletariat, the work’s propagandistic potential was in fact oblique. Detached from the act of labor, Pstrowski exuded a sense of social and cultural refinement that seemed to contradict the Socialist Realist engagement with class struggle. In other words, the painting remained a work of fiction.

I suggest that much like many Socialist Realist paintings that were to follow, Pstrowski’s portrait introduced multiple realities – the lived reality and the fictitious reality – which were to guide contemporary viewers into the idealized vision of new Poland that the state apparatus was hoping to transmit.
Kurzbiografie Patryk Tomaszewski
2011–2014B.A. (hons), Art History and German, Fordham University
2014–2016M.A., Art History and Archaeology, The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
since 2016Adjunct Lecturer in Art History, Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York
Ph.D. Candidate, The Graduate Center, City University of New York (“Socialist Realism on View: State-Sponsored Exhibitions of Art in Poland, 1949–1959”)
Forschungs- bzw. Arbeitsschwerpunkte Western modern art; Eastern European and Russian modern art; Socialist Realism; European art under totalitarian regimes
  • Wojciech Fangor’s Movement in the Early 1960s, in: Wojciech Fangor: The Early 1960s, Ausst.-Kat. Heather James Fine Art, New York 2018, S. 4–11.
  • The Many Lives of El Lissitzky’s Proun 19D (1920 or 1921), in: post. Notes on Modern and Contemporary Art Around the Globe 2019 (
  • Chains and Crosses: The Political Iconography of Xawery Wolski’s Dark Series (1988–1992), in: Vincenza Russo (Hg.): Xawery Wolski, Mailand 2020, S. 29–43.
  • Henryk Stażewski’s Path to Reliefs, 1950–1959, in: Henryk Stażewski. Constructing Reliefs, Ausst.-Kat. The Kościuszko Foundation, New York 2021, S. 12–28.