Henryk Berlewi 

Born 1894, Warsaw, Poland

Died 1967, Paris, France

 

Leading figure among constructivist artists in Poland in the 1920s.  

1904-1909   Studies at the Fine Arts Academy of Warsaw.

1909-1910   Continues his studies in Antwerp.

1911-1912   Studies in Paris. 

1913   Returns to Warsaw and attends the School of Design.

World War I:   Discovers Futurism and Dada.

1918   Meets the futurist Aleksander Wat and formist Anatol Stern.  Berlewi would later illustrate their Polish-language verse.  

1919-1921   Works with a group of poets and expressionist artists determined to create a new Jewish secular culture.

1920   Designs a poster for An-ski’s Dybbuk, gaining him significant recognition.  

Throughout the 1920s, Yiddish expressionist poets commission Berlewi for designs for their verse (i.e. 1923 cover of Albatros (no. 3) for Uri Tsevi Grinberg).  

1921   Meets El Lissitzky and follows him to Berlin.

1922   Works with the Novembergruppe in the major modernist art exhibit in Berlin.  Represents Jewish artists from Eastern Europe at the Congress of International Progressive Artists.

1922-1923   Abandons figurative art in favor of pure constructivist abstraction.

1923   Presents his first Mechano-Faktura compositions in the Novembergruppe section at the Grosse Berliner Kunstaustellung.    

November 1923   Returns to Warsaw.  Founds an avant-garde abstract group of artists in Poland, called Blok.  

March 1924   Publishes his theoretical tract, Mechano-faktura in Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm.  In it, Berlewi rejects the illusion of space in favor of two-dimensionality and reduces color to black, white, and red.  He instead focuses on the visual equivalents of images accompanied by a mechanical means using rhythmic arrangements of lines and simple geometrical forms.  To accompany the publication, he organizes an exhibition at the Austor-Daimler Automobile Salon in Warsaw.   

Summer 1924   One-man show at the Der Sturm exhibition in Berlin, emphasizing the principles of Mechano-faktura.  With Aleksander Wat and Stanislaw Brucz, creates Reklama-Mechano advertising agency.

1926   Returns to figurative art and portraits; begins working as a set designer.   

1927   Moves to Paris.

1928-1938   Travels through Belgium, creating portraits of political and literary individuals.

World War II   Takes refuge in Nice and enters the French Resistance.

1947   Begins painting again, focusing on still lifes inspired by 17th century French painters.

1957   Contributes to the major Paris show, “Precursors of Abstract Art in Poland,” following his rediscovery by a French Critic.  

1960s/70s   Berlewi’s rediscovery leads to a major appreciation of his works, with one-man shows in Berlin, Paris, Zurich, Warsaw, and New York.