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.
Collage of 12 citiies (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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?
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. 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
Artist's journey. Tytus Brzozowski
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 – workers and skyscrapers of steel and glas
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.
Chicago. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
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.
The importance of the role of the churches in the life of the Polish community abroad (Polonia) is reflected in the common names for the neighbourhoods, which were taken from religious patron saints: Jackowo (from the Bazylika Swiętego Jacka [the Basilica of St Hyacinth]); Michałowo (from the St Michael the Archangel Church); Trójcowo (from the Holy Trinity Church) or Stanisławowo (from the Church of St Stanisław Kostka). These parishes, with which the Poles identified so strongly, upheld traditions and customs, forming the culture of this particular community.
A picturesque symbol of the presence of Polonia in Chicago is the Copernicus Centre. Previously a cinema, it was converted in the 1980s into a centre for Polish culture abroad, and decorated with a replica of the baroque Clock Tower of Warsaw’s Royal Castle, which was named the Solidarity Tower. The very clear symbolism of the name and architecture are proof of the strong and vibrant ties between the local Polonia and their homeland.
At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, four air traffic control towers ensure the safety of planes and passengers. One of them was recently named after Roman Puciński, a US-born descendent of Polish emigrants. Puciński was a long-time advocate for Polonia matters in the United States’ Chamber of Representatives. He was also the originator of the idea to fit black boxes in civil aeroplanes and lobbied for such a requirement for many years.
London – a Viking from the house of Piast and fighter squadrons
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.
London. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
Walking along the Thames between the Palace of Westminster and the City, on the Victoria Embankment we find a monument commemorating the Battle of Britain. It was dedicated to all pilots who fought for Britain – among the 2936 pilots from 14 countries who are listed on the monument, there are 145 Polish names (28 of whom died in combat).
In the British capital there are also works by the Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj: “Centurione I”, “Centauro” and “Testa Addormentata”, now in the Canary Wharf business district.
In the years 1940-1943, the headquarters of the Polish Prime Minister in exile and also Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, General Władysław Sikorski, were close to Buckingham Palace. Today on the wall of the Rubens Hotel at 39 Buckingham Palace Road there is a plaque dedicated to General Sikorski. The General is also commemorated by a statue, unveiled in 2000, not far from the Polish embassy in London.
Near the Royal Air Force base in Northolt, west London, there is a memorial to the Polish Air Force that was erected in 1948. During World War Two, Polish air squadrons were stationed at this base: bomb squadrons 300 and 301, and fighter squadrons 302 and 303.
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 – patriots, poets, Chopin and a Nobel laureate
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. It was where the Polish Library and the Polish School at Batignolles were founded. 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.
Paris. 12 cities (2020) by Tytus BrzozowskiPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad
One of the oldest Polish traces in Paris is probably the tomb of King John II Casimir Vasa in the church of St-Germain-des-Prés. John Casimir came here after his abdication in 1668, when after twenty years on the Polish throne, having repelled the Khmelnytsky uprising and Swedish Deluge, he moved to Paris. He became abbot of the Benedictine monastery and was buried at church of St-Germain-des-Prés.
It is said that the establishment of a Polish patriotic house in the Hôtel Lambert was directly influenced by the renowned French painter, Eugene Delacroix. He was apparently the one who told Frédéric Chopin about a building for sale on the Île Saint-Louis. The composer told Prince Adam Czartoryski, who bought the building in 1843.
The patriotic faction around Czartoryski had its headquarters here. It was also a centre for Polish life for the next hundred years and an independent diplomatic representation of Poland (for instance, during the January Uprising it housed the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the insurgent authorities). The Hôtel Lambert was a refuge for great Poles, providing lodging for, among others, Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Frédéric Chopin and Juliusz Kossak.
Not far from the Pantheon and the oldest buildings of the Sorbonne, at number one on the street which today bears the name of Pierre and Marie Curie, stands the building of the Radium Institute. It was built in 1914. Maria Skłodowska-Curie had her laboratory there in the years 1914-1934. The Radium Institute in Paris was established thanks to her efforts, when in 1911 she was awarded a second Nobel Prize for her discovery of polonium and radium The Institute carried out research in chemistry, physics and medicine. Apart from Maria Skłodowska, four Nobel laureates worked there. Today it houses the Musée Curie.
In 1995, the remains of Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie were moved to the Pantheon – a former church that after the Revolution was transformed into a mausoleum for the most renowned French citizens. The Polish scientist was the first woman to be buried there.
Frédéric Chopin spent eighteen years in Paris – almost half his life. He arrived in autumn 1831 and lived in Montmartre. Soon after, the composer gave his first public concert – according to the most recent research, this took place on 30 December 1832 in the Hôtel de Monaco – the then Austrian embassy and since 1936 the site of the Polish embassy in France. Chopin’s final apartment in Paris was at number 12, Place Vendôme. On his doctor’s advice, the already severely ill composer took a spacious, sunlit apartment. Chopin died there on 17 October 1849. The funeral ceremony took place on 30 October in the Madeleine Church, and Mozart’s "Requiem" was played during the service.