Chapter 3 – Between the lines

1920s –1930s

In the 1930s, Polish artists and designers were divided – there were those who continued their mission to find a Polish ‘national style’, and those, who ran towards modernity. Although, seemingly, so different from each other, these styles co-existed and even, from time to time, crossed paths. At the time, Polish design wasn’t associated with household or brand names. But that didn’t mean design from Poland wasn’t known across Europe. Rather, it was the products that were making a name for themselves. Porcelain and ceramics from Silesia, wool from Bielsko-Biała, silk from Milanówek, and metalworks from Warsaw manufacturers – the fact that they were made in Poland was a symbol of quality and good design. Often, Polish products were more well-known outside of Poland’s borders than within them.


A dark kilim decorated with a regular golden ornament. The fabric is rectangular; the ornament is a regular pattern on a 3x5 grid. Every second horizontal row is filled with a simplified image of two birds and two trees. The remaining horizontal rows are dark blank spaces with golden outlines. At the very bottom, there is a stylised inscription: 'ŁAD WARSZAWA 1929'.
Flowers kilim, designed by Eleonora Plutyńska, 1929, ŁAD Artists' Co-operative. The Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, photo: M. Korta
A brown fringy rug, decorated with a semi-regular ornament with geometrical, triangular, turquoise images of trees in the snow.
Turquoise triangles, double-wrap textile, by Eleonora Plutyńska, 1960, ŁAD Artists' Co-operative. Photo: M. Korta
A wooden chair in a light brown color. It appears to be simple but stylized. The seat and front legs are standard, but the backrest, which also functions as a back leg, is tall, with a brush-like upper portion.
Feathers chair, by Jan Kurzątkowski, 1936, ŁAD Artists' Co-operative. National Museum in Warsaw, photo: M. Korta

The ŁAD Artists’ Co-operative (Spółdzielnia Artystów ŁAD) was the most important and longest-acting Polish design and arts group. Created after the success of the Polish Pavilion in Paris, the co-operative brought together prominent designers from the Kraków Workshops and younger up-and-coming artists just getting their careers started. ŁAD preferred handmade over machine-made and small workshops over big factories. The ‘Ład style’ (Ład meaning ‘order’ in Polish) is a combination of traditional inspirations with a longing for modernity, and functional simplicity with folk-style decorations: that means solid and proportional handcrafted wooden furniture and textiles are in the spotlight.


Poland is not a landlocked country. Its southern border may be made up of mountains, but its northern border looks out onto the Baltic Sea. On 29th November 1933 in Warsaw, directors of the Polish Transatlantic Ship Society and a representative of the Italian shipyard of Monfalcone signed a contract for the construction of two twin transatlantic ships. Poland’s dream of owning its own modern transoceanic liners was coming true. When the MS Piłsudski (1934) and the MS Batory (1936) were delivered, a new chapter began for Poland. It was time to set out and sail the seven seas!

A specially-appointed artistic subcommittee led by Wojciech Jastrzębowski, co-founder of the Kraków Workshops and the ŁAD Co-operative, was in charge of the interior design of the rooms. The subcommittee was comprised of some of the best Polish architects and artists, including Stanisław Brukalski, Lech Niemojewski and Tadeusz Pruszkowski. Since the new transatlantic ships were twins, the layout of their interiors was identical, as were what they were used for. On the MS Batory, however, the space which was the Women’s Lounge on the MS Piłsudski, was replaced with a modern ‘American bar’.

A monochromatic photograph of an enormous ship in the dockyard. Its corpus is black with the white inscription 'PIŁSUDSKI' visible on the right side. The prow is adorned with a white eagle and a cross symbol. Above the ship, some cranes can be seen.
The launch of MS Piłsudski at the Monfalcone shipyard near Trieste, December 1934. Photo from Wojciech Jastrzębowski's family archiv
A snapshot of a massive transatlantic ship near the shipyard in black and white. The corpus is black with white characters spelling out 'BATORY.' Three chimneys tower above the deck, which is white.
Ocean liners MS Batory and MS Piłsudski at the port of Gdynia, July 1936. Photo from Art Everywhere
A black and white photo of a ship's salon. The room is sparse. On the left, there are some tables with flowers and surrounded by chairs. On the right, the black grand piano is visible, as is an empty space-probably for dancing. In the middle, a statue of a nude woman holding a big vase on her head is placed.
MS Piłsudski, Grand Salon, arch. photo scanned from Art Everywhere,
A snapshot of a ship's reading area in black and white. There are numerous tables with lamps adorning them, as well as cozy armchairs. A large replica of a historical painting hangs on the back wall. A statue of a human head can be seen below the right-hand wall.
MS Batory reading room on the promenade deck, arch. photo scanned from Art Everywhere
A black-and-white snapshot of a room with comfortable armchairs, a round black table on the right with a conspicuous potted flower, and a rectangular table on the left. The back wall is adorned with mirrors, while the left-hand wall is decorated with a tapestry.
MS Piłsudski, Ladies’ Lounge on the promenade deck, arch. photo scanned from Art Everywhere, p. 353

The ships were designed from top to bottom: from the furniture to the knick-knacks in each room – passenger cabins, lobbies, lounges, dining rooms, reading rooms, smoking rooms, verandas, chapels, but also the tableware and menus! The ships were known as ‘floating showrooms’ because they presented the best of what Poland had to offer: Polish design, Polish art and other Polish products. The MS Piłsudski and MS Batory were the reborn republic’s newest and flashiest calling cards.

A black figure of a young naked woman holding her hair with the left hand. In her right hand, she is holding fruits.
Franciszek Strynkiewicz, NUDE GIRL – POMONA, c. 1936, National Museum in Warsaw, arch. photo scanned from Art Everywhere, p. 353
A stone-like grey cover of a book intercut with horizontal black lines. The title, written in highly stylised letters, says 'MS PIŁSUDSKI'.
Cover of the visitors' book of the MS Piłsudski, by Bonawentura Lenart, 1935, 'Art Everywhere', published by the Academy of Fine Art in Warsaw, Warsaw, 2012, p. 344
A spherical silver milk jug with a round handle and a sharp extra handle atop the lid.
A milk jug from the breakfast set, by Julia Keilowa, 1935, FRAGET Plating Factory in Warsaw for the Gdynia-America Lines. Photo: M. Korta


While travel by sea was becoming more stylish and more comfortable, so was train travel. Trains were getting classier and much, much faster. At the World’s Fair in Paris in 1937, Poland’s aerodynamic train PM36-1 caught everyone’s attention in the Railway Pavilion. Manufactured at the Polish Locomotive Factory in Chrzanów, it was the first example of the use of aerodynamic shapes in the history of Polish rail travel.

The prototype was created under the supervision of Kazimierz Zembrzuski and was based on a series of new engineering solutions, which had yet to be used in Poland. Its most distinctive feature was its aerodynamic cover which was applied to the entire train (including the coal car). It reduced air resistance by 48% and made the train very attractive. Its coherent form along with its dark blue colour complemented by silver details earned the train the nickname ‘la belle polonaise’.

A colourized shot shows a large dark-blue steam locomotive from the side. It has golden lines and the PKP logo on it. The wheels are partially hidden by the body. The top of the front side is rounded.
PM36-1 locomotive, designed by the team under the supervision of engineer Kazimierz Zembrzuski, 1936-1937. Produced by the first Polish Locomotive Factory
Black and white photograph of a steam locomotive under construction. Part of its body is covered with scaffolding.
PM36-1 locomotive during the work on the structure of its aerodynamic body, designed by the team under the supervision of engineer Kazimierz Zembrzuski, 1936-1937. Produced by the first Polish Locomotive Factory

Three wagons made for a Polish tourist train were also noticed by the Parisian audience: the second- and third-class sleeper cars; the bar car, which included a dancefloor; and the bathing car, making a debut in the Polish railway industry, which included baths, showers, and even a hairdresser! Both manufacturers of the Polish train received awards, the PM36-1 steam engine was awarded the Gold Medal, and the Polish Ministry of Transportation received a Grand Prix award for the entire Polish exhibition, which perfectly fit into the theme of the Paris exhibition: ‘Art and Technology in Contemporary Life’.

"Two steam locomotives are mounted on rails in this black and white image. The left one has a massive, rounded body, whereas the right one is smaller and has a cylinder-like front. "
The PM36-1 and PT31 steam engines, before leaving for Paris for the International Art and Technology in Modern Life Exhibition, 1937. Photo: Inżynier Kolejowy, no. 5, 1937
A black and white photograph of the train's lounge space. Several small round tables are visible, surrounded by white sofas and armchairs. The counter can be seen in the background.
The interiors of the club-bar car of the express train. Designed by the team under the supervision of engineer Kazimierz Zembrzuski, 1936-1937, Photo: Inżynier Kolejowy, no. 5, 1937


A full tea set. Six cups on saucers, a teapot, a milk jug and a sugar bowl. All are decorated with blue flower ornaments. Their handles are golden. The inner sides of the cups and the bottoms of the saucers are white.
KAPRYS Tea Service, Bogdan Wendorf, 1932-1934, ĆMIELÓW Porcelain Factory. Photo: Courtesy of DESA
A pink teapot with a golden frieze between the main part and a lid.
PŁASKI Tea Set, Bogdan Wendorf, 1932-1934, ĆMIELÓW Porcelain Factory. Photo: Courtesy of DESA


Bogdan Wendorf began working on the Kula coffee set in his Paris studio in 1932. The production of the set began at the famous Ćmielów Porcelain & Ceramics Factory two years later. As its name would suggest, each piece of the set is a sphere. Even though the shape was gorgeous, it wasn’t necessarily convenient, so to keep these beautiful different-sized balls from just rolling off the table and smashing, Wendorf placed each one on a star-shaped base. To top it all off, the handles and edges were decorated in gold. Each part of the set was made by hand in porcelain, using thirty different specially-made moulds. Since its creation in the 1930s, Kula has been produced in exactly the same way – differing only in colour schemes and decoration. Wendorf’s tea sets, such as Kula, Płaski and Kaprys (Caprice), are some of the most beautiful and representative pieces of the interwar style in porcelain.

"A cofee set that includes a mug, sugar bowl, and cup with saucer. All of the objects are green on the outside, white on the interior, and have black handles that are stylized and slightly oversized. "
KULA coffee set, designed by Bogdan Wendorf, 1932-1934. Photo: P. Dzienis
Two tall square cigarette holders and two square ashtrays are combined into a single metal construction.
An ashtray and cigarette box, designed by Julia Keilowa, 1937, produced by the Hennenberg Brothers Plating Plant. Photo: M. Korta


Nearly 400 different designs were created in Julia Keilowa’s workshop. For the most part they were commissions from the factories of the Henneberg Brothers, Józef Fraget, the Norblin Joint-Stock Company, the Buch Brothers and T. Werner. Keilowa’s designs were usually considered Art Deco – it goes without question that geometry was her language of choice. She used it to build her own unlimited design dictionary. She could create just about anything from a set of spheres, cylinders, cubes and cones. Keilowa made metal both elegant and functional. She was able to create extremely decorative forms using contrasting shapes, lines, textures and even light, all the while making absolutely sure each vessel would serve its initial purpose.

A set of metal dishes: bowl, vase and platter, art deco style. The design is grey, simple and monumental. The objects have rough surface.
A hand-forged vase, platter and bowl designed by Julia Keilowa. Photo: M. Korta
A gablet and a cup are two decorative round translucent glass dishes. They have a warm, dark brown colour. Underneath the objects, a faint light reflection may be detected.
A goblet and cup, model no. 1761; designed by Michał Titkow; produced by the J.Stolle Niemen Glassworks Joint-Stock Company; 1930s. Photo: M. Korta


Huta Niemen’s story goes back to 1893. During the interwar period, it was the largest Polish producer and exporter of pressed and blown glass. Its pieces were sent all over the globe – across Europe, to North America, South America, Africa and the Middle East. Bronisław Stolle, director of Huta Niemen, was very well acquainted with the production process of top European glassworks, as well as the hottest trends in glass design. He focused on high quality, which was the joint success of the designers and its outstanding technologists, led by Herman Szall. Unfortunately, today it is hard to determine who created individual designs. There is, however, one exception. Michał Titkow was behind approximately 400 of the 1,828 designs found in the glassworks’ four-part catalogue published at the end of the 1930s.