There are numerous lists contains the best or most essential pieces of Polish culture. Some of them were settled from artistry point of view or traditional craftsmanship. Others were put together because of historical importance and factors building a national identity. I believe that the most important culture is the one that is still a presence, vibrant and very much alive. A pieces of art and culture, which still influences and encourages artists of the next generations. And with that perspective, I created my own list of 10 most important (and favourite) pieces of Polish culture. Let’s go!
Nocturnes, mazurkas and waltzes of Fryderyk Chopin
At that point, Frédéric Chopin is just another long-dead classical composer, who once changed the world in which he lived. He’s considered one of the most outstanding Romantic composers and one of the most famous Polish composers in history. He was one of the most acclaimed pianists of his time, often called a poet of the piano. An element characteristic of Chopin’s works is deepened expression and drawing on stylistic patterns of Polish folk music. Well yes, that’s one side of the picture. Another one is entirely different, where Chopin is well and very much alive. His major works include nocturnes, mazurkas and waltzes, which still influences the next generations of artists. Chopin’s accomplishment in music is a rare example of becoming a standard of virtuosity. It also became a trans-generational source of reinterpretation.
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Stanislaw Lem was a Science Fiction writer, philosopher and futurologist. He is the most frequently translated Polish writer. His books have been translated into more than 40 languages, with a total circulation of more than 30 million copies. Solaris is Lem’s most famous novel, classified as a classic of science fiction. Published in 1961, it presents an account of the unsuccessful contact between mankind and a different form of intelligence. Lem’s work deals with the development of science and technology, human nature and the place of man in the Universe. His primary contemplations contain references to the contemporary state of society, scientific and philosophical reflections on his subject. As well as criticism of both the socialist system and Western capitalism. And above all: the asteroid and the first Polish scientific satellite is named after him.
Shielding the Flame by Hanna Krall
Hanna Krall is a Polish writer, journalist and reporter. Next, to the Ryszard Kapuscinski, Krall is the most famous author of non-fiction literature in Poland. Her most influential work is the book” Shielding the Flame” (Zdążyć przed Panem Bogiem). It’s about a Polish Jewish cardiologist and social activist, Marek Edelman, one of the founders of Jewish Combat Organization. At that time, Edelman was the only living leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. ‘Shielding the Flame becomes a model of most Krall’s works. She mostly focuses on the relations between Jews, Poles and Germans during the Holocaust. Her “Chasing the King of Hearts” (Król kier znów na Wylie) has been translated into 17 languages. The book earned many awards including the German Würth Preis for European Literature 2012 and the Found in Translation Award.
Pan Tadeusz, Adam Mickiewicz
Adam Mickiewicz is the greatest poet of Polish Romanticism and one of the greatest on a European scale. Compared to Byron and Goethe, Mickiewicz is One of the most outstanding creators of Romantic drama, in Poland and Europe. Known primarily as the author of national epic, Pan Tadeusz. Up today, this epos is a permanent item on the Polish list of school lectures. In 2012, it was publicly read in a social campaign promoting knowledge of Polish literature. In 2014, it was included in the Polish National List of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. Literature researchers stress that this work contains elements of a heroic, satire, Walterskot’s novel, fairy tales and idylls. This epic poem considered to be the last great epic of ethical culture in European literature.
Ashes and Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda
Andrzej Wajda was an institution: in his youth active painter, activist and senator in years 1989-1991. But above all, he was an iconic film and theatre director. One of his early movies, Ashes and Diamonds (Popiół i Diament) initiated the so-called “Polish Film School”, in which he settled accounts with the times of World War II. He co-created the cinema of moral anxiety, within social themes, exposing the pathologies of the communist system in Poland. His work referred to Polish symbolism and romanticism and was an attempt at settling the myths of Polish national consciousness. He received numerous awards, including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Oscar for lifetime achievement.
Hunting beauty of Beksiński’s art
Zdzisław Beksiński was an engineer, architect, painter, sculptor, photographer and illustrator. He specialized in the field of dystopian surrealism. The first chapter of his work contains expressionistic colours, within a healthy style of “utopian realism”. His favourite theme was a surreal architecture, such as the doomsday scenario. The second part has more abstract style, with the main features of formalism. His photographic output of hundreds photographs is one of the most significant achievements of Polish photography of the 20th century. Since then Beksinski tried to exceed the existing canons in artistic photography. Eventually he becomes a precursor to body-art, conceptualism and photo-media art. With time, he also became an artist using computer graphics, which was not very popular among the creators. Today Beksinski is the most enigmatic Polish visual artist. He also influenced countless other creators from a variety of field of arts. His works are known worldwide. Mexican Oscar award winning director , Guillermo del Toro, declared his inspiration with the work of Beksinski in his productions.
Rosemary’s Baby and Astigmatic, by Krzysztof Komeda
Krzysztof “Komeda” Trzciński Polish composer and jazz pianist, creator of world-famous jazz and film music standards. Pioneer of modern jazz in Poland. He most often performed with his own sextet. He wrote music to 65 films, among which the most outstanding is his collaboration with Roman Polański. In 1968 he wrote the soundtrack to the legendary movie Rosemary’s Baby, with the famous “Lullaby” as the leading theme. Komeda’s album Astigmatic from 1965 is one of the most influential European jazz albums. Critics described the album as “marking a shift away from the dominant American approach with the emergence of a specific European aesthetic”. Komeda had a significant influence on the formation of the original style, defined as the Polish school of jazz. After his tragic death, it influenced the development of the international jazz scene, especially the avant-garde of the 1970s.
The Racławice Panorama, Jan Styka, Wojciech Kossak
The Racławice Panorama, Jan Styka, Wojciech Kossak
Personally, I’m not very fond of sculptural arts. But even such ignorant as I, cannot pass indifferently by such fantastic work as The Racławice Panorama. Located in Wrocław, the painting is one of only a few preserved relics of a genre of 19th-century mass culture and the oldest in Poland. This magnificent, cycloramic painting depicted the critical moment during the Kościuszko Uprising in XVIII century – The Battle of Racławice. The Panorama stands circularly and, with the viewer in the centre, presents different scenes at various viewing angles. A special kind of perspective used in the painting and additional effects(such as lighting and artificial terrain) create a feeling of reality. The technicality of art itself is beyond impressive: The canvas used to paint the painting is 120 meters long and 15 meters long. Of which the painting space is 114 meters long and 15 meters high, i.e. 1800 square meters of fabric. 750 kg of paint was used to primer the canvas. Since 1985 the Panorama is present at the rotunda in Wrocław, still inspiring modern-day artists to dream big. If You are interested in Wroclaw see other amazing places in this city.
The Sigismund Column (Kolumna Zygmunta)
Even such ignorant as I, cannot pass indifferently by The Racławice Panorama. The painting is a rare example of relics of a genre of 19th-century mass culture and the oldest in Poland. This magnificent, cycloramic painting depicted important XVIII-century Battle of Racławice. The Panorama stands circularly and, with the viewer in the centre, presents different scenes at various viewing angles. A special kind of perspective used in the painting and additional effects create a feeling of reality. The technicality of art itself is beyond impressive. The canvas used to paint the painting is 120 meters long and 15 meters long. Of which the painting space is 114 meters long and 15 meters high, i.e. 1800 square meters of fabric. 750 kg of paint was used to primer the canvas. Since 1985 the Panorama is present at the rotunda in Wrocław, still inspiring modern-day artists to dream big. You can take a look at other amazing places in Warsaw.
The Sigismund Column is a monument erected in 1644, located in the city centre, on the Castle Square. It is the oldest public monument in Warsaw. Its concept was created by the Italian urban planner Augustyn Locci and the Italian architect Constantino Tencalla. It was the first modern monument in Europe to depict a layperson on a column when the construction was completed in 1644. Since then it has completely grown into a panorama of Warsaw and is one of the most recognizable symbols of the city.
Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski
It’s easy to say that Polański belongs to the list of most movie acclaimed directors in history. From an aesthetic point of view, his filmography is a trademark. Everything started in 1962 when Polanski’s debuted with his feature-length film, Knife in the Water (Nóż w wodzie). It was the first Polish motion picture to receive such recognition, as a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1963 Academy Awards. That watermarked the beginning of the director’s international career. In Poland, however, the film was rejected by film critics at the time and officially condemned by the authorities. Nowadays, Knife in the Water has a reputation as one of the best Polish films. The film has also been included in lists of the best debut feature films and was ranked number 61 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema”.