The quality, creativity and variety of graphic design in Polish Posters is exceptional.
Originating in the 1940s, the movement that created what is known as the ‘Polish School’ of poster design, drew on a rich Central European tradition in graphic arts. One man – Henryk Tomaszewski (pronounced tom-a-SHEV-ski) – one of the Grandfathers of Polish Poster design – created animated and witty posters for cinema, circus and theatre which led to the distinctive style that characterized the Polish Poster School.
There are over 400 known designers and about 10,000 titles were produced from the early 50s to the late 80s.
The work of these poster artists all had one thing in common: they each projected a distinctly personal gesture into their posters in one form or another. This characteristic is unique to the posters of Poland.
The images are striking, unique, surreal, often with expressionist tendencies, with bold colours and satirical humour. Essentially they embody an artistic, idiosyncratic approach to the job of making an immediately recognisable summary of a film’s major themes in a single image [with the occasional political message thrown in too]. The contrast between these and the ‘usual’ approach [to film poster design] that crams as many famous faces, sexy bodies and dramatic backdrops into a single frame couldn’t be sharper.
Incorporated within the design of many of the posters are political messages and subversive themes. The strict censorship policy maintained by the government at the time went hand in hand with encouraging quality of design and often turned a blind eye to the critical commentaries contained within.
They have unsurprisingly attracted international attention and admiration, with many in galleries and private collections worldwide.
The paradox of how this unique art form flourished within a Communist State is intriguing to say the least. They are of an era of almost no advertising, where the streetscape was grey, grey with a dash more grey – the posters became known as the flowers of the streets.
Production thrived because of a combination of circumstances:
• Poles as people were eager to watch foreign films;
• The communist government recognized the power and role of the poster, and as such commissioned artists to design the posters as part of the state monopoly on the distribution of all print media – rejecting the foreign designed posters;
• The existence of a pool of skilled and eager artists ready to create them – free from commercial pressure and able to follow their own original styles.
With the collapse of communism in 1989 came the collapse of the Polish School of poster design [film distribution was privatised] – though plenty of notable works have been produced since and continue to be so.
The posters were mainly printed using the offset technique [others, mainly earlier prints using rotogravure, color lithography, serigraphy or silkscreen] on matte paper – giving them a ‘feel’ and atmosphere which adds greatly to their appeal as historical graphic art.
In the late 80s gloss paper was introduced.
Most posters contain the artist’s signature and date [printed somewhere within the design], the Central Wynajmu Filmow – CWF logo [Communist Government Film Distribution Department] is also typically randomly located on the poster. This logo was replaced by the Poltel logo in the 80s.
Circulation numbers are generally printed on the bottom of the poster [normally in the range of 4000-8000 copies]. Typically only a few copies of the earlier and rarer posters survive, and only a handful of the more common – generally held in private collections and galleries.
In addition to the Film Posters, Circus [Cyrk], Theatre [Teatre], Propaganda, Health and Safety and others were also of note.
The posters survive only thanks to individuals and institutions who recognised their quality from the very beginning – acquiring them from the cinemas and kiosks where they originally hung.
Vintage Polish Posters are unquestionably engaging and unique illustrative pieces of artwork. They are highly collectible, and increasingly rare. Start collecting today, and even better – frame them, and get them on your wall!
Bit about prices: The rarest and most sought posters fetch around £2000-£3000. The more typical range being £100 – £400 for posters from the ‘Golden Age’ [50s – 70s], going down to as little as £40 for some of the more common examples.