Traces of Poles from Chicago to Tbilisi
The POLONIKA Institute invites you into the magical world of Tytus Brzozowski, architect and watercolour artist. His work has already featured many Polish towns, with his home town of Warsaw always closest to his heart. Brzozowski’s fantastic panoramas showcase ancient and modern architecture transplanted into a dreamlike world, dotted with small scenes of city life and colourful, slightly mysterious characters.Our proposal was to create images of twelve world cities, from Chicago to Tbilisi – cities whose history is inextricably linked to the history of Poland and Poles – and Brzozowski rose to the challenge with interest and curiosity. Working together on it proved to be a wonderful though demanding experience. How should one portray a city in which only certain places are linked to Polish culture, and how should one approach a city that for centuries was closely tied to the Polish Commonwealth? Which cities should be selected? How can one portray a city to make it instantly recognisable but at the same time bring out the buildings, works of art and monuments dispersed across it that have a Polish background? How can one show what’s hidden inside certain buildings? Each of these cities that is close to the hearts of Poles has its own rhythm, climate, atmosphere. You’ll see for yourselves if the artist was able to capture them in his unrealistic portraits. Together with Tytus Brzozowski, we invite you on a journey to the Polish corners of the world. Dorota Janiszewska-Jakubiak, Director of the POLONIKA Institute
This series of paintings for the Institute was a very important voyage for me. I love discovering and getting to know cities, their atmospheres and unique natures. This time I was able to travel the world and get to know places that are significant for me in a completely new way. Uncovering the Polish stories was incredibly satisfying and I learnt a great deal. Each painting took a long time to create. Apart from understanding the city itself and searching for its soul, I also worked on the hidden Polish aspects within it. Everything started with discussions with the Institute’s team. During our hours-long meetings, I learned about the essential facts but also the entertaining or intriguing anecdotes that pervade our history. It was fascinating to study the tumultuous friendship of Mickiewicz and Pushkin, and I had great fun hearing about the Turkish attack on an ostrich during the Battle of Vienna… It was particularly important for me that the idea behind each painting reflected the city’s character, harmoniously intertwined with the sites that matter to Poles. I was looking for the impressions a place can make on us, and I travelled through a range of emotions, from wonder at the scale of a big city, to surprise or nostalgia.
Chicago. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
Chicago – workers and skyscrapers of steel and glass
Towards the end of the 19th century, when successive waves of Polish emigrants arrived in the United States, Chicago was one of the most modern cities in the world. The first ever “sky-scraper” was built here; the ten-storey Home Insurance Building with its steel skeleton was constructed in 1885. Other skyscrapers were later built in New York and Philadelphia and the steel used in their construction was provided by Chicago’s steelworks, among others. The development of Chicago and other American metropolises in the late 19th and early 20th centuries meant the equally dynamic development of industry and a growing need for workers. Ever since sailboats were replaced by steamships in the 1880s, the journey over the Atlantic became much faster, easier and cheaper. By the time of the Great Depression in the 1920s, steamers had brought about 25 million people from Europe to the USA – Germans, Irish, Poles, Greeks and Russians.Polish emigrants settled in the west of the city in the West Town neighbourhood. At its heart was the so-called Polonia Triangle, between Milwaukee Avenue, Ashland Avenue and Division Street. Poles’ social lives focused around churches, and the first Polish parish was the Church of Stanisław Kostka. It was built on the outskirts of Chicago, with the foundation stone laid in 1864. At the time only around thirty Polish families lived in the neighbourhood. By 1877, five hundred children of Polish descent were attending the parish school.
London. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
London – a Viking from the house of Piast and fighter squadrons
In multicultural London, Poles constitute the second largest national minority after Indians. A search for Polish traces in the capital of the United Kingdom can take one far back in history, to the times of the Viking conquests and invasions. King Canute the Great (circa 966-1035) – a Viking from the Piast dynasty – was the grandson of Mieszko I [, ruler of Poland]. Canute was King of Denmark and Norway and he conquered England, being recognised as its ruler in 1017. He built his royal residence in London on the bank of the Thames at the site of the current Palace of Westminster, built in the 18th century. Canute the Great’s Palace was the royal home until the 16th century and the site of the English parliament.Among the characteristic blue circular plaques found across London on buildings connected to the lives of famous individuals, there are two that mention Frédéric Chopin. One indicates the venue of his first concert in London. The second states that “from this house in 1848, Frédéric Chopin went to the Guildhall to give his last public performance”. On 16 November 1848, the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland organised a charitable concert at which an already very ill and weak Chopin performed. Soon after, the composer returned to Paris where he died a year later. After his concert in London he never again performed in front of an audience.
Paris. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– patriots, poets, Chopin and a Nobel laureate
Saint Genevieve, guardian and patron saint of Paris, protects a young girl while watching the Seine from one of the city’s oldest bridges, the Pont de la Tournelle. The artist behind this monumental statue (which measures over five metres!) is Paul Landowski – the son of a Polish emigrant and insurrectionist in the January Uprising (1863-1864), and who was born in Paris in 1875.In the nineteenth century, Paris provided shelter for two generations of refugees from Poland – participants in the November (1830-31) and January Uprisings – and was also a sanctuary for artists and scientists. This was where the milieu of the Great Emigration established their informal government and a patriotic centre that gathered together the most eminent Poles. Parisian artistic bohemia of the fin de siècle and the École de Paris drew artists from across the world, and at the turn of the nineteenth century, a stay in Paris – whether studying at the Academy or in a master’s workshop – was an obvious and essential step for Poles as well.
Rapperswil. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– the castle of Polish mementoes
Rapperswil is a quiet little town on the edge of Lake Zurich in Switzerland, famed for its exceptionally beautiful rose gardens. In 1870, the emigrant and patriotic activist Count Władysław Plater leased the ruined 13th-century castle for a period of 99 years. His fortune had earlier been confiscated for his participation in the November Uprising. He’d left for France where he was an active participant in the community of the Great Emigration in Paris, before finally settling in Switzerland.
Roma. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– pilgrims and art
During the early modern period, when Rome was the artistic and religious capital of the world, it attracted many artists and pilgrims. There are signs of the Polish presence from this time in the city, but we see evidence of art and particularly architecture inspired by the Eternal City in Poland as well. Roman temples were a model for many architects working in Poland in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Roman Academy of St Luke trained the best Polish painters of the baroque and classicism periods.
Padua. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– garden of science
Between the 16th and 17th centuries, citizens of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were the third-largest group at the Padua University. Over the years, around two thousand students belonged to the society of the Natio Regni Poloniae et Magni Ducatus Lithuaniae (literally the “company of students from the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania”). Padua University’s oldest building and its historic seat is the Palazzo del Bo. It contains students’ painted and carved coats of arms, including those belonging to the Polish nation.
Vienna. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– mementoes of Jan III Sobieski and coffee
A walk through imperial Vienna sooner or later brings us to places connected to the Relief of Vienna of 1683. To St Stephen’s Cathedral, for instance – one of the biggest gothic churches in Europe, which took over a hundred years to build. It is the symbol of Vienna and the burial site of the Empire’s rulers. There are twenty-two bells in its towers. The most famous is the ‘Pummerin’, which was cast from Turkish cannons conquered by the cooperating Polish-Hapsburg armies under the leadership of John III Sobieski. The battle, which took place on 12 September 1683, is known across Europe as the Battle of Vienna or the Relief of Vienna. The Polish camp was in the Vienna Woods on the Kahlenberg hill.
Dresden. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– second capital of the Polish Commonwealth
In the 18th century, Poland and Dresden were united by the great politics of European courts. Historians recall that the Elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus, that is, King Augustus II the Strong, secured his election to the Polish throne through bribing the nobility and with the support of Tsar Peter I. With the coronation of Augustus II, Dresden became the royal residential city and one of the two capitals of the Polish-Saxon union. The other was Warsaw.
Vilnius. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– city of kings and patriots
Some historians explain Sigismund III Vasa’s decision to move the royal seat from Kraków to Warsaw by… its distance to Vilnius. Indeed, that is where the king’s residence was, it was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and also the place where the diets met. But for the king, travelling to Vilnius was difficult. It was easier to rule over that part of the Commonwealth of Two Nations from Warsaw. Legend has it that Napoleon was so impressed by the delicate beauty of Vilnius’ gothic Church of St. Anne that he longed to take the church back to Paris. Another legend claims that the builder who constructed the walls of the church was so jealous of the work of his son-in-law, who had built its elaborate façade, that he killed him by pushing him off the scaffolding. The Church of St. Anne is one of the oldest churches in Vilnius, and is still considered one of the most beautiful. Its construction was funded by King Casimir Jagiellon, and its architect was brought especially from Gdańsk.
Lviv. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– churches of four rites and rococo master sculptors
For seven hundred years, regardless of the borders of kingdoms and states, Lviv welcomed inhabitants of different nationalities, religions and languages. It was the crossing point between former trading routes between the Black Sea and the Baltic, and it became home for Rusyns, Poles, Germans, Armenians, Italians, Hungarians, Russians, Jews, Tatars and Karaites. In the early modern period, Lviv was the only city in the world to have cathedrals of three Christian rites: Armenian, Catholic and Greek Catholic. There were also Orthodox churches and synagogues. For hundreds of years, amid the urban mosaic of nationalities and religions, residents of Polish descent constituted the largest group. Lviv was the third-largest city of the Second Republic.
Saint Petersburg. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
Petersburg – a refuge for engineers and artists
Poles had settled in St Petersburg ever since the city was founded by Peter the Great in the early 18th century. The city guaranteed its residents religious freedoms. When it became the capital of the Russian Empire, it attracted aristocrats and emigrants, businessmen, artists and scientists. It was here that the last king of the Commonwealth of Two Nations, Stanisław August Poniatowski, spent his final months after abdication. Poles were also imprisoned in St Petersburg for patriotic activities, from Tadeusz Kościuszko, to participants in the November and January Uprisings, to activists of the Polish Socialist Party established at the end of the 19th century. Following in the prisoners’ footsteps, their families came to plead for milder sentences and the return of confiscated wealth, increasing the circle of Polish the community.
Tbilisi. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
– Georgian hospitality and the builders of the new city
Like St Petersburg, in the nineteenth century Tbilisi became a refuge for Polish exiles and fugitives escaping Tsarist repression in their homeland. Military men serving in the Tsarist army also settled here. The first major wave of emigration reached Georgia around 1832, after the November Uprising. Mutual affection between the two nations, arising from a similar sense of patriotism and experience of the fight against the Russian empire, meant that by the end of the nineteenth century there were around twenty thousand Poles living in Tbilisi. Among them was a sizeable circle of architects, engineers and artists who came there to make the most of Georgia’s dynamic growth at that time and helped build the new Tbilisi.
Text: Anna Ekielska
Translation: Zosia Krasodomska-Jones
© Tytus Brzozowski
© National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad POLONIKA
Supervisory Institution: Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Republic of Poland