Katarzyna Kobro

Katarzyna Kobro

Born 26. leden 1898, Moskva
Působení Lodž
Died 21. únor 1951, Lodž

Jedna z klíčových, ale také tragických postav polské meziválečné avantgardy. Působila jako sochařka, malířka, typografka, scénografka a designérka, současně i teoretička umění, přičemž úzce spolupracovala především s malířem Władysławem Strzemińskim, autorem teorie unismu. Jen nemnoho z jejích děl se zachovalo – některé se ztratily již před vypuknutím druhé světové války, většina však byla zničena v jejím průběhu. Několik z nich bylo později rekonstruováno za pomoci fotografické dokumentace, většina je ale známa pouze z popisů, letmých zmínek v katalogových textech a dalších dokumentech. Mnoho let byla známa především jako manželka Strzemińského, pod jehož přímým vlivem také měla tvořit. Zásadní zlom nastal v průběhu osmdesátých let, kdy jí bylo věnováno několik přelomových výstav a monografií.
Katarzyna Kobro se podílela na aktivitách polských avantgardních skupin Praesens, Grupa a.r. (artyści rewolucyjni), také ale mezinárodní platformy Abstraction-Création. Spolupracovala s Henrykem Stażewským či Julianem Przybośem, vedle Jeana Arpa a Marcela Duchampa byla jednou ze signatářek Manifeste Dimensioniste (1936). Výrazně přispěla k založení Muzea sztuki v Łódźi.
(Maria Świerżewska-Franczak)

plastika, malba, typografie, scénografie, design, Not in map


Kobro’s father, Mikolaj von Kobro, came from a German family who settled in Russia in the 18th century, and her mother, Eugenia Rozanowa, was Russian. Her German-Russian parentage would later greatly affect her life. She spent her childhood in Riga and that is where she most probably was when the First World War started. In the summer of 1915, she moved with her mother and her siblings to Moscow where she attended an all-girl gymnasium until graduating in May 1916. Her talent manifested itself while she was at school earning her top marks in drawing.


In the fall of 1917, she entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (former Academy of Arts). In July 1918, she joined Moscow artists' union. The other members included young left-wing oriented artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin, who greatly influenced her work and her innovative approach to art.


After her third year of studies, Kobro moved to Smolensk where her future husband, Polish artist Władysław Strzemiński, already lived. She taught ceramics and designed posters. Together with Strzemiński they ran the Smolensk branch of UNOVIS (a school/group founded by Kazimir Malevich, who often visited them). Photographic documentation of three of her sculptures from that time exists: TOS 75 — Structure (presented at the State Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture of the Smolensk Governorate, 1920) and Suspended Constructions (1) and (2) which were reconstructed in the 1970s. Strzemiński described her work of that period as suprematist, he stressed its innovativeness and noted the parallels with Malevich’s work which were by no means of imitative nature. As the political situation in Soviet Russia continued to deteriorate, Kobro and Strzemiński had no choice but to leave Smolensk. It was probably at the turn of 1921/22 when they illegally crossed the border and entered Poland. After a short stay with Strzemiński’s mother in Vilnius, Kobro decided to leave to Riga where her family remained. Strzemiński stayed in Poland.


On March 8, a newly formed artistic group Blok (full name: Blok Kubistów, Suprematystów i Konstruktywistów) issued the first number of their eponymous journal. A week later the group’s first exhibition was opened in Laurin & Klement’s Automobile Salon in Warsaw. Henryk Berlewi, Vytautas Kairiūkštis, Katarzyna Kobro, Karol Kryński, Edmund Miller, Henryk Stażewski, Władysław Strzemiński, Mieczysław Szulc, Mieczysław Szczuka and Teresa Żarnowerówna constituted the core of the group. Władysław Strzemiński joined Kobro in Riga where she was completing passport formalities. In July they had a church wedding which was required for her to be allowed to stay in Poland. They eventually reached Poland in autumn and settled in Szczekociny, a small town in Silesian voivodship. Strzemiński had been hired there as a drawing teacher in a coeducational gymnasium run by painter Adam Nowiński. At the end of the year Kobro and Strzemiński left the Blok group. Kobro was unemployed at the time. She was learning Polish. Two significant works of her from that period are: Spatial Sculpture (1) and Spatial Composition (1).


A new artistic group — Praesens — was formed by some of the former Blok members joined by architects such as Bohdan Lachert and Józef Szanajca. In September they held an exhibition at the Zachęta art gallery in Warsaw where they presented paintings as well as architectural, interior and scenic designs. Kobro presented a few of her pieces but the critics had little understanding for her work. Her experiments with space — the unusually shaped sculptures — were dismissed as lacking plan or purpose. In mid-year Kobro and Strzemiński left Szczekociny and moved to Brzeziny (near Łódź) where Strzemiński again found a job as teacher in a gymnasium. A year later they settled in Koluszki where they both taught classes at an all-female school of industry and commerce and worked together on architectural and typographical designs and on developing their theory of art. In June 1927, a few of Kobro’s sculptures were presented at the 1st Architecture Salon organized by the Association of Polish Architects.


Nine Kobro’s works were presented as the Modernists’ Salon exhibition organized in the premises of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (Związek Polskich Artystów Plastyków, ZPAP) on March 10. On November 4, the Praesens group launched their exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. Also in November the 2nd Exhibition of the Praesens Group was opened in Poznań at the salon of the Graphic Artists’ Union of Greater Poland.


Increasing ideological friction between Praesens members (most of whom where functionalist architects) led to Kobro, Strzemiński and later Henryk Stażewski leaving the group in June. At the end of the year, a new artistic group “a.r.” was formed by those who dissented from Praesens: Katarzyna Kobro, Henryk Stażewski and Władysław Strzemiński. They were later joined by avant-garde poets Julian Przyboś and Jan Brzękowski. One of the group’s aims was to build an international collection of modern art and they worked intensively on launching the Museum of History and Art in Łódź (Muzeum Historii i Sztuki im. Juliana i Kazimierza Bartoszewiczów) where they would deposit what the group collected. In February 1931, Kobro and Strzemiński published a book they had been working on for several years (Kompozycja przestrzeni. Obliczenia rytmu czasoprzestrzennego) in which many Kobro’s works were reproduced. In the second half of the year, they left Koluszki and moved to Łódź where Kobro taught interior aesthetics at two local schools up to 1937. They joined the local branch of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (Zrzeszenie Artystów Plastyków, later renamed to Związek Zawodowy Artystów Polskich, ZZPAP) and quickly became one of its most active members. Until 1937, Kobro regularly presented her works at the association’s exhibitions. She took part in 11 group shows, mainly in Łódź but also in Warsaw, Lviv and Lublin.


The “a.r.”’s collection of art was attracting the attention of many foreign artists. This surely helped to develop Strzemiński’s and Kobro’s international connections. Additionally, a 1932 catalogue helped to spread awareness of initiatives undertaken in Łódź among contemporary artists and critics. Kobro and Strzemiński received and accepted an invitation to join an international association of artists Abstraction-Création.


Kobro joined the editorial board of ZZPAP’s journal “Forma”.


Kobro was the only Polish artist to sign the Dimensionist manifesto (published by a Hungarian poet Charles Sirato) along with Hans Arp, Marcel Duchamp and László Moholy-Nagy. In November the only child of Kobro and Strzemiński was born — a daughter named Nika. The baby was premature and chronically ill throughout her early childhood. Kobro devoted herself exclusively to caring for her and abandoned her didactic and artistic work for many years.


As the Second World War broke out, the family moved east to Wilejka, where Strzemiński’s relatives lived. That part of Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union. They spent nine months there struggling with hardship and fearing forced migration (as punishment for leaving Russia illegally in the early 1920s). In May 1940, they managed to return to Łódź. They found their flat occupied by a German family who threw away most of their works (mainly Kobro’s metal sculptures). Kobro managed to save some of Strzemiński’s pieces and found some of her own at a local landfill. Kobro’s foreign parentage meant that she had to declare her nationality by signing a nationality list. She refused to sign the German Volksliste but she did sign the so-called Russian list which meant protection for Strzemiński as well. This decision proved fateful for their relationship as he never forgave her for doing that. Their once happy and harmonious marriage turned in time into a tragedy full of hatred. As the war was drawing to an end, she sacrificed her wooden sculptures for her daughter’s sake and burned them to heat their flat when she had no money to buy any other fuel. After the war she donated nearly all of her remaining works to the art museum in Łódź.


The marital conflict escalated and led to separation


Kobro’s condition improved in every aspect. She got custody of her daughter and got involved in working for the reopening of the museum in Łódź (which took place in June). Five of her Spatial Compositions were presented in De Stijl Room designed by Strzemiński. After a 10-year hiatus she returned to sculpting. Four Nudes cast in plaster are known from that period.


As a consequence of signing the Russian nationality list during the war, Kobro was charged with defection from the Polish nation and sentenced to serve 6 months in prison. She appealed against the conviction and was ultimately acquitted but the whole case took a toll on her mental state. The difficult situation she found herself in badly affected her health. In June 1950, she was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour which eventually led to her death in February 1951.

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