Chopin Competition's Posters - Part I (1927-1955)

A brief history of the poster of the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

By The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

scenario: Łukasz Kaczmarowski, text: Aleksandra Lewandowska, translation to English: John Comber

Poster of the 5th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (1955) by Tadeusz TrepkowskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute


Nowadays, the poster functions more in museums and art galleries than on the street, where it originally existed. It appeared that in the public space the poster was perishing under a deluge of other visual stimuli and newer media. Yet the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition is still announced by posters, thereby emphasising not only the tradition of the Competition itself, promoted through the use of posters, but also the vibrancy and currency of this form of graphic communication.

The Chopin poster has become a separate sub-genre of music posters, forging its iconography with successive designs that offer a new way of seeing or refer to one another. It was the Competition that launched the tradition of Chopin posters and established the path for their evolution, which with time began to spread to other festivals and events associated with the Polish composer, both at home and abroad. 

Poster of the 1st International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (1926) by Ludwik GardowskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

1927 - 1st International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

The poster for the first edition of the Chopin Competition, in 1927, still bears the hallmarks of nineteenth-century bills. It was designed by Ludwik Gardowski (1890–1965), a graphic designer actively involved in the discussions over establishing a national typeface and attempts to create it after Poland regained independence in 1918. It was Gardowski who designed the first modern Polish typographic ornament, combining folk elements with a geometric form (1923).

His Chopin poster comprises mainly a Polish-French text, its form reminiscent of old commemorative plaques. Gardowski highlighted the serifs of some letters, which enhanced their decorative qualities.

At the top of the poster, he placed Chopin’s profile (after the familiar medallion by Jean-François-Antoine Bovy) within a geometric ornament, framing the whole design with a decorative border. 

The Competition took place in January 1927, although the poster carries the date 15 October 1926, originally planned for the unveiling of Wacław Szymanowski’s Chopin monument in the Royal Łazienki Park in Warsaw, when the Competition was also to have begun.  

Poster of the 2nd International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (1932) by Stanisław Ostoja-ChrostowskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

1932 - 2nd International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

The 1930s in Polish poster art were dominated by two Warsaw centres: the Polytechnic, where architecture students had additional lessons in poster design, and the School of Fine Arts (from 1932 the Academy of Fine Arts), with which Stanisław Ostoja-Chrostowski (1897–1947) was associated. And although Ostoja-Chrostowski was never so heavily involved in poster design as artists from the Polytechnic, he was still influential in this field. 

Like Gardowski, Ostoja-Chrostowski employed schematic designs, with the dates along the sides, a block of inscriptions at the bottom and Chopin at the top (also after Jean-François-Antoine Bovy’s medallion). He sprayed white paint on the composer’s profile and the medallion itself, which visually illuminated them.

His works were meticulously designed and technically refined; when designing posters, besides his knowledge of graphic art, he also drew on experience in other art forms. 

He was renowned as an outstanding designer and a professor of applied graphics, and after the Second World War he was vice-chancellor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. As one of the masters in his field, he was also well known abroad. 

Poster of the 3rd International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (1937) by Stanisław Ostoja-ChrostowskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

1937 - 3rd International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

The poster for the 3rd International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition may trigger the impression of déjà vu. It was designed, as five years earlier, by Stanisław Ostoja-Chrostowski. This poster is just as clean, disciplined and legible. The lettering is elongated and quite narrow, but highlighted with shading, which lends it a three-dimensional form.

Yet the designs differ in their colouring: the previous poster was in bright red, whereas this time the artist employed sky blue, which visually calmed the composition. Chopin’s profiled is also treated in a different way: in the previous design, Ostoja-Chrostowski imitated the bronze of the medallion; this time, the colours are flat, graphically treated, without the plasticity of a painting. 

The question arises as to why the artist repeated the form of his poster from the previous edition of the Competition. Perhaps there was a wish to preserve a coherent image to the Competition (‘visual identification’, as we would call it today). 

In his graphic designs, Ostoja-Chrostowski tended mainly towards the functional aspect, the revival of the tradition of his craft, and rendering everyday service to society.

Poster of the 4th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (1949) by Artist unknownThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

1949 - 4th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

The 4th Chopin Competition was held 12 years after the 3rd, in 1949. The poster for it is the first post-war design. And although we still see a rather typographic form in its composition, this is a design in which the amount of text is reduced. The visible block of inscriptions results mainly from the fact that the contents are in two languages.

The first post-war Competition was organised on the centenary of Fryderyk Chopin’s death. It might seem that the poster should have marked that date in some way, thereby distinguishing itself from its predecessors. 

Yet the exceptional character of this design is based on something completely different: this is the first poster in the Competition’s history by an unknown artist. We only have information about the place it was printed: the Styl graphic studio in Cracow. 

This anonymous poster is the least interesting of all the competition posters to date. Although it also displays a typographic form, its lettering does not stand out in any particular way, and it is also lacking a geometric border. The medallion had already been appearing occasionally in this form on the Chopin Year posters and in publications devoted to the composer.

Although this design contains less text, its character is distinctly more informative than pictorial. It may represent an attempt to maintain continuity with regard to previous designs and with the Competition itself, which was lost during the war.

Poster of the 5th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (1955) by Tadeusz TrepkowskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

1955 - 5th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition

Over the course of his all-too-brief life, Tadeusz Trepkowski (1914–1954) designed 80 posters for films, political campaigns and community initiatives. His poster for the 5th edition of the Chopin Competition in 1954, printed shortly before his death, in a way represents a synthesis of his entire graphic output. He designed it in the form of a metaphor, a visual equivalent to Chopin, which is why we have no need of the composer’s silhouette in order to recognise him. 

If we removed the piano keyboard in the foreground, we would be left with just the Mazovian lowland landscape; and if we took away the willows, we would have only a surrealistic illustration with piano keys at odds with the landscape. 

Yet together they form a recognisable whole, triggering specific associations in the viewer. It is about combining direct attributes of Chopin (elements of the piano) with those which became attached to him despite having no particular connection with musical iconography, such as the willows, associated with Mazovia and with the place of the composer’s birth. 

Tadeusz Trepkowski’s synthetic pictorial thinking was translated into an ascetic poetics, ‘sometimes to the point of exaggeration’, as Jan Lenica, one of the fathers of the Polish school of poster art, wrote in the catalogue to a posthumous exhibition of Trepkowski’s poster designs (1955). 

Precise signing and an ability to strip his designs of excessive pictographic content characterised the short, but intense creative period of this self-taught Warsaw graphic artist.

Credits: Story

Łukasz Kaczmarowski, Aleksandra Lewandowska

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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