Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Today, I'd like to present a small collection of posters created by one of the most influential Polish artists during the Interbellum.

Stefan Norblin was born in 1892 in an artist's family in Warsaw. His father, Piotr Norblin, was a well-known painter. Young Stefan studied art in Antwerp and Dresden. He opened his own atelier in early 1920s.

Norblin was a dazzling figure in the intellectual and artistic circles of Warsaw, his work in demand in Poland and across Europe. His style was Art Deco, his talent versatile. He was a painter, portraitist, illustrator, interior and architectural designer, worked in advertising, fashion and theatre costume. Norblin was capable of everything from the portraits of aristocracy to pulp fiction covers:

But the most famous examples of his work are travel posters created for the Polish State Railways:

All of these talents would come into play again in India, where Norblin fused his Art Deco style with traditional Indian art. Norblin left Poland in 1939 for a commission to paint the royal family of Iraq. The war prevented any possibility of returning home, and in 1942 Maharaja Gaj Singh commissioned Norblin to design the interiors of his new palace, Umaid Bhawan, after the ship bringing interior designs from England was torpedoed in a German attack.

Umaid Bhawan by yadiyasin @ Flickr

He designed new furniture, painted murals and paintings in oils, including portraits of the family. Other commissions included designing interiors for palaces in Morbi and Patna, as well as portraits of the owners. His success led to an individual exhibition in the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall in Mumbai in 1944.

The war finally ended in Europe, but Poland was abandoned to a new regime of terror under the Soviet Union. In 1947, unwilling to return to a Communist-ruled Poland, Norblin and his wife, the popular Polish film actress, Lena Zelichowska, chose exile in the United States, settling in San Francisco.

Lena Zelichowska & Stefan Norblin

There, Norblin continued a successful career, his best-known work being portraits of Amadeo Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, whose portrait appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, and General Douglas MacArthur, whose portrait hangs in the Pentagon. Their good fortune was brief and disaster struck in 1952 when Norblin was diagnosed with glaucoma. As an artist, he was unable to reconcile himself to blindness and committed suicide. His body of work, in India and in America, faded into obscurity.

In the 1990s, a German art historian, Claus-Ullrich Simon, went to India to do research on Indian palaces. In the course of his work, he discovered the paintings and interior designs by a Polish artist in several palaces, notably the Umaid Bhawan, one of the world’s largest private residences. Impressed by the work, Simon was curious about the artist who, he assumed, must have perished during the war. His research, however, proved otherwise. In 1996, Simon published a book, Art Deco for the Maharajas: Stefan Norblin in India, and got in touch with Polish diplomats in India. Simon was also able to inform them about the Norblin collection in California. It is ironic that the largest single collection of Polish art is in India but in the 21st century this does not mean it is totally severed from the artist’s homeland. By 2006, conservators arrived in Jodphur and were warmly welcomed by the Maharaja who gave them generous access to Norblin’s work and the cooperation needed to ensure the art would be preserved. That, together with the San Francisco collection, is an exciting discovery for art lovers in Poland.

Source: Irene Tomaszewski, Stefan Norblin: An Artist Comes Home (The Cosmopolitan Review, 2011)

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Comment by Szymon Milha on April 27, 2012 at 12:14pm

Time before the WW2 was the most eventful and distinguished for my country. It's so sad that later we became a firing range of Europe. Damn! I really miss Wilno and Lwów. 

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