Temporary Exhibition: Amazing Slavdom. Sławomir Lewiński 1919–1999

Sławomir Lewiński influenced the iconosphere of post-war Szczecin more than many other artists. By building the institutional framework of the Polish cultural environment, in his art he expressed the spirit of the beginning of a new era.

It was widely believed that that construction was based on strong foundations that were rooted in the historical or even prehistorical past of the region – pagan and Piast times. Therefore, The “Amazing Slavdom” exhibition, borrowing its title from the book by Maria Janion, extracts the key theme of fascination with the native "antiquity" from the rich legacy of Lewiński. Its recall and processing became, on one hand, a tool of political propaganda visible in the slogan "we were, we are, we will be". On the other, following the trail of the creators of the international avant-garde, what was simple – archaic or primitive – allowed to include the mission of Polonization of Szczecin in a modernization project. Lewiński – a painter, a drawer and, above all, a sculptor – appears here not only as the author of the decor of the courtyard of the Pomeranian Dukes' Castle and Piastowski Boulevard, and mostly the creator of the Szczecin monument of Adam Mickiewicz – a romanticist who discovers sources of Slavic identity. The interest in those areas of Slavdom that are geographically more distant but inspire by direct contact with the legacy of the antiquity and the cradle of the Renaissance and the outstanding achievements of the Yugoslavian or Italian classics of modernity also seems vital for the artist’s crucial output.

Sławomir Lewiński was born on April 23rd, 1919 in Kiev. His father Stanisław Lewiński was a railwayman and later activist of Polish Socialist Party. Mother Jadwiga, maiden name Dąbrowska, came from the family of the administrator of the Potocki estate in Sobolówka in Podolia. She studied at Nikolai Murashko Kiev Drawing School, but devoted much of her activity to writing. After the tragic events of the 1917 Revolution and the end of World War I, his parents decided to move to Polish Radom.

There, in 1938, Sławomir graduated from Tytus Chałubiński Secondary School, and two years later he married Danuta Świecka. In 1939 he volunteered to defend Warsaw. During the occupation, he decided to study at the Academy of Fine Arts there, officially liquidated by the Germans, but continuing its mission as part of underground education. In the years 1940-1944 he attended the studios of avant-garde painter and set designer Jan Golus, animalist-sculptor Stanisław Komaszewski, a fresh graduate of the Municipal School of Decorative Arts and Painting Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz and a well-known author of monuments Zofia Trzcińska-Kamińska. Simultaneously, he studied at the secret Faculty of Architecture of the Municipal School of Building, taught by Lech Niemojewski and Bohdan Lachert. At that time he also met Jan Dymicz (Ivan Dimić), a Serbian painter who had been active in Pinsk, after having moved to the capital before the outbreak of the war. After the Warsaw Uprising, in which Lewiński took part, a young couple was deported to the Nazi work camp in Six (Seddiner See) near Potsdam. After its liberation, they managed to get through Legnica to Bydgoszcz, where the old Lewińskis also settled down.

In 1946, Danuta and Sławomir Lewiński decided to settle down in Szczecin. From the very beginning, after entering the studio at 1 Św. Wojciecha St., Sławomir actively participated in the consolidation of the local environment, co-organized the local branch of The Association of Polish Artists and Designers, and from the second exhibition of works of its members in December 1946, he regularly presented his works to the public. At first they were landscapes and scenes marked with patriotism, attracting with the ancient theme of the scene (Crypt with the ashes of the Piast dynasty members at the Szczecin Castle, 1946) maintained in the tradition of colour painting. In 1948, Lewiński was commissionned his first sculptural decorative order: the composition of a Fisher Woman for the post-German school building at Mariana Buczka Street (today Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego), rebuilt for the needs of the Social Insurance Institution. The authors of the remaining works were the creators who had cooperated with Lewsiński for several times on public orders: Henryk Karnia, Tadeusz Kluska, Emanuel Messer, Kazimierz Podsadecki and Marian Tomaszewski. At the turn of May and June 1949, at the Man and Work exhibition in the Museum of Western Pomerania, Lewiński presented small mosaics: Fishermen, Loading Horses and Red-Leading Cranes on the Odra River and a full-plastic cement bust of steelworker Władysław Janicki (now in the garden of the Maritime University of Szczecin). In all of them, the tendency to simplify and monumentalize the form revealed, causing divergent reflections of Stalinist criticism. A month later, when Lewiński took the second place in the national competition for the local Monument of Gratitude for the Soviet Army, the simplicity of the proposed eight-meter statue of the soldier, close to the style of Ernst Barlach, was defended in the local press by Messer. He distinguished the language of Lewiński from the procedures common to "the middle-class art of the so-called Modernists", although those (Xawery Dunikowski, Alberto Giacometti, Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy, Marino Marini) were in fact becoming an important point of reference for the artist with a great visual erudition.

Simple spatial works, as well as Lewiński's paintings, were, however, admitted to presentation at all National Art Exhibitions of socialist realism (1950-1954), and the first plaster version of Communard's head (1952, another 1958 in the NMS collection) appeared on a permanent exhibition of contemporary art in Szczecin Museum at 27 Janisławy St. (now Staromłyńska St.). In the same year, the artist made sgraffito decorations for the Children's Town in Podgrodzie (Nowe Warpno). The revolutionary theme was revealed in the sculpture of Marat's Head (1954), inspired by the painting of Jacques-Louis David, and Against the War (1954), to which a Korean student from the Szczecin Navigational and Naval Technical School posed. During the thaw, the first freestanding sculptures in the city space began to appear: the bust of Juliusz Słowacki (1955) and the statue of Madonna with the Child in Stargard (1958), a statue of Mieszko I in Mieszkowice (1957), of Soviet Sailors in Międzyzdroje (1957) and of Adam Mickiewicz in Szczecin (1960), as well as, linking the abstract figures with the figurative statue of the Polish Mother, foundings of the cemetery of soldiers of the 1st Polish Army in Siekierki nad Odrą (1960-1961). In the figure of Mickiewicz, the blockiness of the monumental Parisian monument to Honoré Balzac (Auguste Rodin, 1892-1897) was borrowed, already taken over by Dunikowski and visible in the monument of the Polish bard Bazyli Wojtowicz in Poznań, which was being built simultaneously with the Szczecin statue. In 1960, Lewiński, in cooperation with Messer, decorated the facade of Szczecin's Kosmos cinema with a mosaic; he also helped his mother at mosaics.

Since the beginning of the decade, fascination with archeology has been gaining strength, noticeable already a few years earlier in the bas-relief "Sumerian" decoration of the RSW "Press" kiosk at 6 Aleja Piastów in Szczecin (rebuilt). This time, the motifs of Pomeranian antiquity were permanently present in Lewiński's repertoire, visible in the totemic heads of the Piasts, Slavic women and Światowid figures (including the ones in NMS collection). These rounded granite and sandstone blocks with the sum of physiognomy features also decorated the courtyard elevations of the Pomeranian Dukes' Castle in Szczecin and they formed the Szczecin Maritime Chronicle at Bulwar Piastowski (1968). In addition to work in hard, smooth-surfaced material, Lewiński created small statuettes modeled in clay and chamotte. The new material made it possible to obtain a different texture, slenderness of proportions, openwork and an abstract ornament (Twilight of Kings, a sculptural group, 1962, NMS collection). Smaller works were created since 1958 in the remnants of the Gothic St. Mary's Church, adapted to the workshop, often with the participation of son Jakub son (born in 1947), future sculptor and interior architect. The largest monuments were sculpted in the artist's previous workshop, occupying an unbuilt, temporarily roofed part of the Palace under the Heads, the façades of which were after some time decorated with a detail made by his father (portraits of Szczecin's people of culture), and whose interiors, for the needs of the Contemporary Art Gallery (branch of NMS) were designed by his descendant. In the 1970s, the achievements of the Lewinski's studio were enriched by more monuments, fountains and so-called welcome signs (including ones for Chojna, Gryfino, Międzyzdroje, Myślibórz, Stargard, Szczecin and Trzebiatów and on the state border in Kołbaskowo), as well as small forms of brownery. The latter dominated the last period of Sławomir's work. The artist took part in numerous national and international exhibitions, including: Arhus, Arezzo, Barcelona, ​​Oslo, Ravenna, Rostock, Ystad.

He died in Szczecin,on September 14th, 1999.

(by Dr. Szymon Piotr Kubiak)

Amazing Slavdom.Sławomir Lewiński 1919–1999
On the centerary of the artist's birth and the twentieth anniversary of his death

April 18th–September 29th, 2019
vernissage: April 17th, 2019 (Wednesday), 6.00 P.M.
The National Museum in Szczecin, 3 Wały Chrobrego St.
Curator: Dr. Szymon Piotr Kubiak