Pole Position – Polish Art in Britain 1939–1989 – Museums Sheffield

A new exhibition opening at the Graves Gallery next January will see a remarkable collection of work by 20th century Polish artists go on public display for the very first time. Featuring paintings and drawings by Jankel Adler, Stanislaw Frenkiel, Josef Herman, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko and more, Pole Position: Polish Art in Britain 1939–1989 sheds light on a neglected chapter in the story of modern British art.

11 January – 28 June 2014

Created from the private collection of Matthew Bateson, Pole Position showcases 60 works by Polish artists forced to flee mainland Europe during the Second World War. Some of these artists journeyed through many countries before settling in the UK, while others were captured and imprisoned before finding their way to British shores. 

The artists’ transitory experiences are reflected in the subject of their work; from powerful depictions of their lost homeland and the horrors of war, to the landscapes and luminaries they encountered in their new lives in Britain. The striking works on show are a testament to the great adversity the artists faced, but also to the wealth of new ideas and approaches they brought with them across the channel.

Making its debut at the Graves Gallery, Pole Position provides an illuminating parallel to Sheffield’s significant collection of 20th century modern British art. Janina Baranowska became a student of David Bomberg, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko explored techniques similar to those of Frank Auerbach, while Stanislaw Frenkiel, who actually lived in Sheffield for several years, was strongly influenced by the work of Francis Bacon. However, while comparisons are evident, these émigré artists have often been overshadowed by their celebrated UK-born counterparts.

Amongst the highlights of Matthew Bateson’s collection included in the exhibition are Stanislaw Frenkiel’s Descent of the Winged Men, (1973), Josef Herman’s Head of a Bergundian Peasant, (1953), Henryk Gotlib’s Christ in Warsaw (c1939), Marian Bohusz-Szyszko’s Forest Clearing (1959-65) and Feliks Topolski’s celebration of British war time resistance, Old England (1945).

Matthew Bateson said: ‘These works were sourced from auctions or acquired directly from the artists over the past 30 years. I was attracted to dark and challenging imagery, aware that my passion for expressionist and narrative painting was unfashionable and outside the ephemeral art market and celebrity culture that dominates our times.

Sian Brown, Curatorial Services Manager at Museums Sheffield said: ‘We’re very grateful to Matthew Bateson for the opportunity to show these stunning works in Sheffield. The Graves Gallery is known for its strong collection of modern British art, so it’s fitting we should explore this largely untold part of its story here.’ 

Where: Museums Sheffield, Graves Gallery, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 1XZ.  Tel. 0114 278 2600.

When: Pole Position: Polish Art in Britain 1939–1989 opens at the Graves Gallery on Saturday 11 January and continues until Saturday 28 June – entry to the exhibition is free. Museums Sheffield: Graves Gallery is open Wednesday – Friday 10am – 3pm, Saturday 11am – 4pm

Web address: www.museums-sheffield.org.uk

Entry: Free

Artists featured in the exhibition include:

  • Jankel Adler (1895 – 1945)
  • Janina Baranowska (born 1925) 
  • Slovomir Blatton (born 1943)
  • Marian Bohusz-Szyszko (1901 – 1995)
  • Stanislaw Frenkiel (1918 – 2001)
  • Wladyslaw Fusek-Forosiewicz (1907-1983)
  • Henryk Gotlib (1890 – 1966)
  • Josef Herman (1911 – 2000)
  • Tadeusz Ilnicki (1906-1993)
  • Marian Kratochwil (1906 – 1997)
  • Andrzej Kuhn (born 1939)
  • Piotr Mleczko (1919 – 1995)
  • Halima Nalecz (1914-2008)
  • Zdzislaw Ruszkowski (1907 – 1991)
  • Franciszka Themerson (1907 – 1988)
  • Feliks Topolski (1907 – 1989)
  • Marek Zulawski (1908 – 1985
  • Aleksander Zyw (1905 – 1995)


Exhibition supported by the Polish Heritage Society (UK) – www.polishheritage.co.uk

Exhibition catalogue supported by the Polish Cultural Institute – www.polishculture.org.uk

Zdzislaw Ruszkowski, Potrait of Anna, 1954 © Courtesy of the artists daughter, Anna Peebles
Stanislaw Frenkiel, Descent of the Winged Men, 1973 © Courtesy of the artists son