Andrzej Wróblewski

Abstract composition no. 1504/ Laundry

1950s

Not on display

Artist
Andrzej Wróblewski 1927 – 1957
Medium
Watercolour and gouache on paper. Verso: watercolour and gouache on paper
Dimensions
Support: 419 x 296 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2018
Reference
T14948

Summary

Abstract Composition No. 1504/ Laundry is an undated gouache on paper, most probably executed by Wróblewski in the first half of the 1950s. The work is double-sided, hence the dual title. One side depicts a vertical abstract composition, in which the pale background is divided into irregular rectangular fields with black lines that seem to spiral inwards. The geometric shapes are painted in pale shades of grey and red, with a black horizontal rectangle in the upper part of the work and another smaller, vertical one just above centre. The other side of the work, oriented horizontally, shows a figurative scene featuring a simplified depiction of laundry (blue trousers, a black blouse, checked blanket) hanging on a thin washing line painted with a single brushstroke. The background of the image is beige and white. The bottom of the composition has a black stripe schematically defining the ground. The work is framed and glazed in a way that enables it to be seen from both sides. It can be displayed hanging flat on the wall with just one image visible (as it was in the artist’s retrospective at the Manggha Museum in Krakow in 2015), perpendicularly to the wall or in an H-frame in the centre of the room (as it was in the solo exhibition Recto / Verso at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw in 2015).

Andrzej Wróblewski was a major figure in post-war Polish art. A prolific painter and theoretician, he developed a distinctive formal language linking the legacy of the pre-war avant-gardes with artistic concerns around realism and the limitations of representation after the Second World War. Oscillating between abstraction and figuration his paintings reflect tensions between bold formal experiments, which were a continuation of modernism, and social realism, which Wróblewski followed voluntarily for a short period of time in the early 1950s. His considerations on the social role of art and realism as a means of reaching broader audiences shared a voice with many artists of his generation, who entered the post-war era traumatised by recent experiences but also full of hope for a better future.

This work on paper encapsulates key aspects of the artist’s practice, most obviously this constant shift between abstraction and figuration. Wróblewski’s early paintings and drawings, influenced by artists such as Paul Klee (1879–1940), Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) and the constructivist tradition, were geometric abstractions, at times representing everyday objects or landscapes. Abstract Composition No.1504 is reminiscent of his most iconic paintings from that period, such as Geometrical Abstraction in Grey (Muzeum Slaskie, Katowice) , Geometrical Abstraction (Starak Family Collection) and Tram (Starmach Gallery, Krakow), all 1948. Around the time these works were created, Wróblewski published several texts highlighting the connections between the language of geometric abstraction and social revolution, revealing his preoccupation with politics and the role of art in post-war society. At this point, he also established a close relationship with the Young Artists Group in Krakow. Its manifesto proclaimed that ‘abstractionism in painting shows the infallible path toward the new, intensified realism’ (quoted in Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw 2015, p.279).

1949 was a transformative year for the artist, marking a transition from abstraction towards figuration. In subsequent years Wróblewski created his most emotive figurative works, such as the series of Executions 1949, but also numerous depictions of everyday life. Later sketches and paintings often feature ordinary scenes from his private life and Laundry is an example of such work. This scene recurs frequently in Wróblewski’s paintings, most notably in the large-scale Laundry (Mother and Daughter) 1956 (National Museum, Warsaw), one of the most iconic works from the last year of the artist’s life.

Throughout his career Wróblewski created a large number of double-sided paintings and works on paper, a practice analysed in depth in the retrospective exhibition Andrzej Wróblewski: Recto / Verso’, held at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and Museo Nacional, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid in 2015. The decision to use both sides of the support was neither accidental nor a response to economic hardship. It was a conscious strategy adopted by the artist to express his fundamental concerns and the dichotomy at the heart of his work: the devotion to the modernist tradition and artistic experimentation, combined with a desire to create art that was socially relevant and that positioned the artist as an active participant in a political reality. The double-sidedness of Wróblewski’s works stands as a fitting symbol of his entire practice. The two sides complement and complete each other, reflecting the complexity of his intention.

The art historian and curator Éric de Chassey commented in his introduction to the catalogue for the Recto / Verso exhibition:

We can only conjecture about the reasons for this program, but its effects are clear, if we consider the double-sided works as a whole and not necessarily one by one. First, it enables the artist and his public to keep track of what has been done, because the artist is engaged in a long-term exploration of the possibilities of art to raise questions and propose temporary solutions. Second, it leads us, as viewers, to favor [sic.] one of the sides or the other, while acknowledging the co-presence of two images, which are both two problems and two solutions. Third, it symbolizes the complex nature of Wróblewski’s enterprise, not in a cryptic way but openly, for all to see.
(Éric de Chassey, Introduction, in ibid., p.62.)

Further reading
Wojciech Grzybala and Magdalena Ziólkowska (eds.), Avoiding Intermediary States: Andrzej Wróblewski (1927–1957), Warsaw and Berlin 2014.
Ulrich Loock (ed.), DE. FI. CIEN. CY : Andrzej Wróblewski, René Daniëls, Luc Tuymans, exhibition catalogue, Art Stations Foundation, Poznan, 27 November 201428 February 2015, Drawing Room, London, 21 May11 July 2015.
Éric de Chassey and Marta Dziewanska (eds.), Andrzej Wróblewski: Recto / Verso, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw 2015.

Kasia Redzisz
April 2017

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