Andrzej Wróblewski was born on 15 June 1927 in Vilnius, he was the son of Bronisław Wróblewski, Professor of Law and the president of Stanisław Batory University for many years, and Krystyna Wróblewska neé Hirschberg, a graphic artist mentored by Ludomir Śleńdziński and Jerzy Hoppen
In 1945, as a part of postwar repatriations, Wróblewski leaves Vilnius with his mother and older brother Jerzy and arrives in Kraków after a few months. In Kraków he begins his studies at two departments simultaneously: the history of art at the Jagiellonian University and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. He studies under Professors Zygmunt Radnicki, Zbigniew Pronaszko, Hanna Rudzka- Cybisowa and Jerzy Fedkowicz.
At first Wróblewski paints mainly still lifes in the Kapist (Colorist) style. Soon, however, he begins to criticize the Academy’s didactic program. In his article published in
the journal Wieś he describes the Kapist doctrine as “formalistic” and “decadent” and the working methods of the academy’s pedagogues as “asocial.”
His response to these issues and his attempt to fulfill his own postulates take the form of the Self-Educational Group that he organizes in 1948 with his friends from the Academy, bringing together members of the newly established Union of Polish Academic Youth. Membership fluctuates, with those involved including Andrzej Wajda, Witold Damasiewicz, Konrad Nałęcki, Andrzej Strumiłło and Przemysław Brykalski. The group employs collective methods of work inspired by works of the revolutionary Mexican artists who practiced the idea of art “for the masses” with a strong ideological overtone and involved in political changes, which were so close to Wróblewski’s heart, among other sources.
Around 1948, Wróblewski starts to create paintings that employ simplified geometric form in which he clearly refers both to the surrealistic paintings of Paul Klee and the tradition of Constructivism. In deliberations on absolute painting (“On the Spiritual in Art”) from that period, the artist highlights the connections between the language of geometrical abstraction and social revolution. At that time, he grows closer to the Young Artists Group around Mieczysław Porębski and Tadeusz Kantor who, in their manifesto, proclaimed that “abstractionism in painting shows the infallible path toward the new, intensified realism.” By the end of 1948, he takes part in the “1st Exhibition of Modern Art” organized by the group that was supposed to manifest avant-garde tendencies in Polish art. He exhibits the paintings Emotional Content of the Revolution [Treść uczuciowa rewolucji], Sunken City [ Zatopione miasto], Painting about the Horrors of War [Obraz na temat okropności wojennych], Earth [ Ziemia] and two abstract spatial models.
In his commentary for the exhibition, Wróblewski declares: “We want to paint a picture that would help distinguish good from evil.” Formulated for the first time in his program of “direct realism” is the voice of a newly initiated discussion, under the not so obvious postwar influences of the Soviet Union, about the so-called new realism.
“Traditional realism was intermediary because of the separation of the form and content of the painting. The possibility for a direct realism becomes apparent. It constitutes one of the foundations of modern art.” Wróblewski and Kantor quickly go their separate ways, with Wróblewski severing his relationship with the “moderns” while the exhibit was still ongoing. His faith in the revolutionary power of abstraction gives way to the conviction that art, in order to work, has to be “communicative, legible, themed and aiming for a wide social reception.”
The end of 1948 marks a turning point in Wróblewski’s work—a transition from the abstract toward figuration. In paintings completed over the next year, belonging to the Executions series [Rozstrzelania], the artist creates one of the most original formulas for figurative painting in postwar art. It consisted of a far-reaching deformation of the human figure, a purposeful primitivization, as well as vivid color symbolism. Mexican murals and graphics, along with Marc Chagall, whom Wróblewski anoints as the example of the “modern primitive” and whose paintings he saw during his 1947 stay in Amsterdam, are his inspiration.
He undertakes themes of war, death, the loss of loved ones and relationships between the living and the dead in a similar fashion in the paintings Walk of the Lovers [Spacer zakochanych], Mother with Dead Child [Matka z zabitym dzieckiem] and Wedding Photograph (Married Couple with a Bouquet) [Ślubna fotografia (Młoda para z bukietem)].
Around this time time, he creates works referring to the postwar reality, such as Train Station in the Recovered Territories [Dworzec na Ziemiach Odzyskanych] and Waiting Room – the Poor and the Rich [Poczekalnia – biedni i bogaci], Shopkeeper [Sklepikarz] and Two Married Women [Dwie mężatki], depicting “social contrasts.” Film becomes an important inspiration for the artist at this time—in particular the Italian current of neo-realism—both as regards social issues and the way in which they were depicted, and compositional solutions employed by artists.
Paintings and statements by Wróblewski from 1949 show another radical transition from the avant-garde, in its assumptions of “direct realism,” to the concept of “photographic painting” that was much closer to the requirements of socialist realism.
Wróblewski, together with other members of the Self-Educational Group, takes part in the interschool “Presentations of the Academies of Fine Arts” in Poznań in October of 1949, where he presents two paintings, Train Station in the Recovered Territories and his Execution (Poznań Execution) [Rozstrzelanie (Rozstrzelanie poznańskie)]. Entering the Poznań exhibition is supposed to be the final rehearsal before the next year’s antiwar exhibition prepared by the grouP. Their work, however, is met with harsh criticism, mostly because of the perceived clumsiness of execution and its “anti-aestheticism,” with the young artists earning the pejorative title “neo-barbarians.”
Wróblewski, as the main ideologue of the group, publishes a self-criticism a few months later in the Przegląd Artystyczny magazine, which cements his introduction to socialist realism. After 1950 he paints very little—mostly portraits, still lifes and academic nudes. Attempting to follow unclear socialist-realist doctrine, he paints various incompetent paintings such as Youth Rally in West Berlin [Zlot młodzieży w Berlinie Zachodnim] and Bloody Sunday 1905 [Krwawa niedziela 1905]. On the margins of his official work, he produces numerous drawings of mountains, as well as sketches documenting family life.
In 1955 Wróblewski takes part in the “Exhibition of Young Art” at the Arsenał in Warsaw, where artists of the younger generation manifest their opposition to socialist realism’s teaching methods. He presents Mothers [Matki], a painting in which he remains faithful to the poetics of realism and figuration, but his work is not awarded and remains unacknowledged by critics. During the cultural and political “thaw” period, Wróblewski creates oil paintings such as Waiting Room I (The Queue Continues) [Poczekalnia I (Kolejka trwa)], Laundry (Mother and Daughter) [Pranie (Matka i córka)] and Waiting Room II (Chairing I) [Poczekalnia II (Ukrzesłowienie I)]. However, he expresses himself mostly through gouaches and watercolors. These are works of a much more intimate character that concentrated on his personal experience, undertaking the theme of the disintegrated body. They are dominated by representations of man—objectified and also “organic,” or “botanical.” After a period of creative impasse, a weeks-long trip to Yugoslavia in 1956 with the young art critic Barbara Majewska serves as an important creative inspiration. Tombstones he admires in the Ethnography Museum in Belgrade will inspire a series of drawings, gouaches and a painting, Tombstone of a Womaniser [Nagrobek kobieciarza]. After his return to Poland he creates a series of 84 monotypes that include a wide variety of his iconography from that period: fish, horses, ships, chauffeurs, cities, heads and skulls, tombstones and shadows of Hiroshima.
On the 23 March 1957, Andrzej Wróblewski dies alone while on a hiking trip in the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland.