This site covers the work of 424 known designers of 7150 film posters with 4107 uploaded images (so far). It contains a database of Polish film posters and a number of browsable sections, as shown on the navigation bar above and as described below.
As much as I'd like to (eventually) provide all available information on all Polish film posters ever printed and every artist who ever designed one, my emphasis is on the best period of the mid 50s to early 70s. Polish film posters practically ceased to exist at the end of the 80s, having been replaced by standard issue foreign ads. All these are absent from the database.
The site is about posters rather than films, so my primary concern is to provide the most complete information available on each individual poster : its designer, date, existing versions and variations, circulation, rarity and value. I also tried to identify original films and find basic info for each title.
The most valuable information comes from the
poster itself. While there are some variations in actors' or
director's names spelling - especially in the earlier works -
the artist's signature, date and circulation numbers are indisputable.
If there are no such markings (or a poster to read it from),
a variety of sources often made identification possible.
Posters could also be dated by censor
codes - a series of numbers printed at the (usually) bottom edge - very reliable method if applied to the Nowogrodzka 64-A (Warsaw) printing house output, but useless with others (Lublin, Gdansk, Kielce). Then there are various albums and show fliers, official artist biographies, etc. etc.
Site map :
- database : search fields are : artist's name, poster (=Polish film) title, original film title & country, poster date (usually same as Polish film release date) , original film release date, director, cast, poster size and type of print, circulation, price, producers and additional remarks.
- artists : start with the full list of all 424 names showing the artist's creative period and a number of film posters designed. There are lists for a particular decade ("50s", "60s", etc.) and "available images". I have also included highly subjective "classic" and "undervalued" categories. Since the work of many poster designers spanned several decades, you'll find some names repeated.
Each name is linked to a corresponding biographical page containing a brief CV and a table of all authored posters, grouped by the year of the poster's design (not the movie release date) & Polish title (with original film title if a well-known classic). The third column lists size, signature info (if any) and the country where the film was produced / film's original language. Titles in bold type are available for sale / trade.
From there, further links lead to individual poster pages with pictures and additional information (exact size, circulation & value of poster + original film title, producer, director, actors and the year of original film release). If more than two images by a particular artist are available, the "bio" page has a link to an individual "gallery" of all available images of posters designed by that artist, all linked back to their separate pages.
- gallery pages are divided by years, decades (with groups of posters by different artists from a given period), as well as "classic" and "undervalued" categories. The yearly section ("1956", "1963", etc.) could be a good place to see the trends for a particular time. The decade sections ("50s", "60s", etc.) are more of a 'best of' presentation. The "classic" is the 'best of the best' and "undervalued" is a self-explanatory, albeit highly subjective category.
- country : for films from a particular country, or - in case of coproductions (especially of frequent French / Italian) - the film's original language
- the other browsable sections : directors , titles (Polish and original) & cast are limited in scope to the most famous names / titles; for a complete search by these and other criteria (producer, release date, poster date, etc.), please use the database.
- glossary : for abbreviations and a sample table please look up this page.
- site search : by keywords.
- what's new : updates, new photos, events, etc.
- links : list of galleries, databases, collections and other sites dealing with Polish posters.
- for sale / trade : the most current list; in general, any of the titles in bold print from artists' pages are negotiable.
Polish poster design overview :
A lot of patronizing drivel had been written about the 'Polish School' of poster design being a 'product' of a 'resistance to Communism' or some such (and by extension, of an overwhelming desire to breathe free under learned guidance of The Donald and the First Ladyboy Melanie, Leaders of the Free World). That view, espoused by Western writers who don't know any better, and Polish ones (who should know better) has been more or less omnipresent. No matter that the idea of art as an expression of political circumstance is par excellence a classic communist one.
In fact, quite the opposite seemed to happen : free from commercial stranglehold, these artists produced brilliant works over an extended period of time. A lot of talented people found themselves in the right place at the right time. Like any artistic movement (or 'school'), it had its own dynamics, peaks and valleys. Indeed, some of the most accomplished works were political (pro-socialist). And now the fact that Polish film poster is dead (and had been so since shortly after 1989 when "freedom dawned", and more to the point, film distribution was privatized) is further evidence of that.
The censorship debate seems irrelevant; aside from some agitprop films, it's hard to argue that the men with scissors had much to concern themselves with. One exception was the 1948 to 1954-55 period, when actual presentation mattered and "modernistic" style was frowned upon; even then however "social-realist" images were few and far between.
The results this hands-off policy produced were often brilliant, sometimes dreary and self-indulgent, often mediocre, but seldom boring and - as a rule - deeply personal.
The uniqueness of Polish film posters (and to a lesser degree, theatrical ones) lied in the fact that for 3 decades the artists controlled the content and form of an ad. It allowed unprecedented freedom of expression, created new sensibilities and divorced the medium from immediate and often depressing concerns of their Western counterparts : who gets the top billing, what font is approved and which side of Johnnie the Star's face is better than the other. It might have well been the longest period in modern commercial art history that the keepers gave away the key (albeit in a limited and marginal market), with consequences even now.
The essence of Polish poster school was a desire to create a graphical synthetic view of an idea expressed by the advertised event. Waldemar Swierzy summed it up so : "Here's how I understand the idea of the poster: ... the theatrical poster has to be a synthesis of two hours, because it can not be told as in the theater, where we have the two hours sitting in comfort in the warmth. The poster is looked at in the passing, in the rain, in winter at the bus stop, in the crowd, so it must be only a signal, suggestive character for the passer-by to register.."
The golden decade of Polish film posters, from approximately the mid 50s to the mid 60s was preceded by the pioneering work of a trio of artists in the 1940s. Henryk Tomaszewski, Tadeusz Trepkowski and Eryk Lipinski were the original graphic designers commissioned in 1946 by Film Polski (a State film distribution monopoly) to design film posters. Their work soon revolutionized this particular form of advertising. Rather than use the stereotypical images of movie stars and exclamation points, they employed a whole new arsenal of graphic interpretation to convey a shorthand essence of the film. Two terrific early (1948) examples are : Tomaszewski' Citizen Kane and Ostatni etap by Trepkowski.
In 1948 the political climate changed, Social Realism was introduced and other styles were severely restricted. Few works from the 1949 -1953 period retained the high standards established earlier. In the meantime though, more designers were drawn to the field : Wojciech Fangor, Waldemar Swierzy, Jan Lenica, Jerzy Treutler, Roman Cieslewicz, Wiktor Gorka, Jan Mlodozeniec, Julian Palka, Franciszek Starowieyski, Jozef Mroszczak, Wojciech Zamecznik - to mention the absolutely essential names. By 1955 the Stalinist policies were history and - with the restrictions gone - the field exploded with brilliant, classic works.
The golden period extended until 1965, more or less. Designs from the late 60s, while by no means regressing to the corporate hack of Hollywood, generally lack the freshness and boldness of the earlier pieces. At the same time, the variety of styles widened. Many new designers brought with them their own vision, spanning the spectrum from the lyrical impressionistic style of Maria Ihnatowicz, to the pop designs of Andrzej Krajewski; from the cyberpunk montages of Ryszard Kiwerski and Maciej Raducki, to minimalistic expressions of Bronislaw Zelek and Mieczyslaw Wasilewski.
In the mid-70s to mid-80s, the "Polish School" of poster design was suffering from atrophy of fresh ideas. Apart from the works of few artists who basically continued the previous trends, most posters from that period seem uninspired. In the 80s, the designs became politicized, with hardly any new designers entering the field. Some interesting trends emerged, signified by some works of Stasys Eidrigevicius and Wieslaw Walkuski, but overall quality of designs went rapidly downhill.
Then came 1990
and the State monopoly ended.
the way it worked
Money not usually being their main consideration*, the artists strove to show off and the pool of talent was large enough to assure artistic quality. Of the 7000 + Polish film posters, at least a quarter could be described as very good, "awesome", 'cool' or whatever the vernacular of the times. Indeed the overall standard (despite some duds from the 70s and 80s) was consistently high.
The established designers who had the first pick of titles were constantly nipped at knees by young upstarts who delighted in the opportunity for their work to be showcased in public places all over the country. The seniors were accomplished enough to command artistic respect though. The process was self-policing and here's how Zuzanna Lipinska - daughter of Eryk, one of the Founding Fathers of the movement - described it :
"I worked as poster designer in Poland in the early seventies, mainly designing film and theatre posters. To become a film poster designer as a young art graduate, you had to become a member of the Artist Union, to start with. Then get your name on the list of potential designers and attend the screenings of the films, before they were released. After each screening, you put your name down on the list of people who saw the film, and then Mister Rog, who was responsible for giving commissions, would choose the designer."
"The designer would be given a set of films stills. Obviously American, French and Italian films were more popular and the screenings were crowded. If the film was very well known, the commission was given to a well known designer, even without him having to attend the screening. We, young unknown artists, were left with Bulgarian, Romanian and similar films, but every opportunity to design a film poster was thrilling."
"We had 2 weeks to do it. Posters were produced in 1:1 scale. In most cases the lettering was done by hand."
"So once the poster was done, it was presented in front of the panel of 4-6 well known poster designers and they would either accept it or reject it. Sometimes they would give a "distinction" if the poster was very good - which meant an additional 50% on your fee. A fee for poster design was just below a monthly average salary in Poland, so it was quite good."
"Sometimes they would ask for some corrections and changes. Sometimes they would reject it all together. All this was necessary to assure a high level of the design. If it was totally rejected, a new project was presented in a week."
"In case of Polish films, the directors often would choose a designer themselves to do the poster, and they had the final word."
"Posters were mounted or done directly on a stiff background, so they could be displayed in front of the judging panel. Each designer was given 10 copies of the printed poster. I am talking here about late 60s - early 70s - afterwards things were different."
Despite the plurality of styles the posters shared a common characteristic : rather than ads they were a variation on a theme, an interpretation, a commentary. As an ironic reaction of sorts to so many 'arty' designs, there was even a short-lived, tongue-in-cheek trend with posters deliberately stylized to resemble Hollywood playbills.
It is hard to speculate whether this form of advertisement was more effective than the garden-variety kind. For one, no pressure existed for the exclusive State distributor to push one film over another. The system worked by word of mouth and the typical blockbusters (Westerns and swashbuckling capers in the 60s, big war movies of the 70s, action thrillers of the 80s) would find their clientele no matter what the poster looked like. Many posters for the likes of "Guns of Navarone" were quite pedestrian; or ironic, as befitting a serious artist in need of a challenge presented by more sophisticated films or, perversely, by unwatchable ones. In fact, the best posters were often for very obscure titles.
Of course, "2001", "The Birds", the
whole Westerns collection, could suggest otherwise,
but in the end it wouldn't matter. Selling or not, it was not
the main concern. It is arguable whether "The Cabaret" would
have a bigger audience if it was advertised with Lisa's 2 legs
instead of four, or if the fact that the film was a huge hit
had anything to do with any promotion or lack thereof.
For a medium increasingly divorced from street presence, Polish posters enjoy an unexpected following lately and are being rediscovered in strange ways. On this (rather serious) site, there are more hits from art blogs than from anywhere else. One such net article: "50 incredible film posters from Poland" might have done more to popularize the subject than any show in MOMA. Then there's a blog which lets you design your own Polish movie poster, with the added benefit of hilarious machine translation. Another challenges the viewer to "match the Polish poster with the film" and comes complete with priceless comment section. As long as the kids are having fun with them, they live..
The images I included first are of (subjectively) the best posters, even if by more obscure artists. The 50s through the early 70s figure most prominently here. Worth seeing are works by many lesser-known artists, who nevertheless deserve much better recognition. Check out the undervalued link in "gallery" for some wonderful surprises. Which leads me to ..
Price / value info (at individual poster pages) has been compiled from many commercial galleries & auction results for each individual title. Some posters (especially indicated in bold print) are available for sale / exchange by individual enquiry.
"Recent price" : most current offering
by any gallery or recorded auction price
Polish posters didn't fare too well in the West. Due to lack of commercial interest in the early period, these works were virtually unknown outside of Poland. Most were released in small, 3000 to 12000 first runs (4200 - 8000 average), with only a few ever seeing additional printings. The great majority were used for actual advertising and very few found their way to private collections. There was no way of buying these works anyway; they had to be obtained from a friendly theater manager (or a guy who'd put them up on public billboards).
As a result, most are extremely hard to find. I personally know of no more than 40 large private collections worldwide, mainly in the US, Poland, Japan, UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and France. Paradoxically, the rarity makes them wonderful collectibles : cheap because not well-known, yet with prices nowhere to go but up. There is no surplus of these classical works in Poland or anywhere else in the World.
Prices vary from $100 - 250 (inexpensive, mostly 70s and 80s posters), to $250-500 (moderate, 60s and some 50s works of the better-known designers), $500-1000 (expensive, well-known pieces of very well-known designers), $1000-7500+ (the best-known, rare individual titles). In each category there is enormous growth potential. Most Polish film posters remain on the cutting edge of poster design even now, and are not just nostalgia pieces.
The best works should reach the $10 K range within a decade, and an average price may easily quadruple. Right now, they are still a bargain : at a 4-8-98 Sotheby's auction, a Swierzy "Midnight Cowboy" poster sold for $690, well below its replacement value of $1800-2200. A Fall 1999 Christie's London auction brought £450 ($900 ) for Anczykowski's "Kanal" poster, listed at $2000 by a New York commercial gallery in 2003. These works are in the "expensive" category. A gallery in England lists Zelek's "Ptaki" ('The Birds") 1963 poster at £1500 ($2900+), and in NY it could be had for $ 3500. Ditto Janiszewski's "Moulin Rouge" 1955 poster ($4500), and Swierzy' "Sunset Boulevard" ($7500+).
These are exceptions. The bulk of Polish film posters are sold by commercial galleries in the $150 - 350 range. Check out links for a list of some such establishments. Most of these vendors are not well versed in the subject. On the many dealers' Internet sites spelling mistakes are the rule, posters are misdated and presented "all over the place", without any chronological, thematic or logical order. Many (especially US) collectors seek their favourite movies and/or stars, which explains sometimes wildly diverse prices. As an example, a wonderful 1958 A1 size reissue of 1948 "Ostatni etap" Trepkowski poster lists anywhere from $800 to $2600, depending on the knowledge (or lack thereof) of the gallery appraiser. It should be worth at least $4000 within several years.
Collecting tips / things to avoid :
1. Stick to the golden age (mid 50s to late 60s / early 70s) and pick a favourite designer(s) or a theme. Some artists continued their best efforts well into the 70s and beyond, but generally : late 60s seem tired, 70s - flat and uninspired, 80s - repetitive and boring and the 90s nailed the coffin shut. Anything pre 1955 will be worth having, if only for serious trades.
2. Almost all collectible pieces are in the A1 format. Some of the 40s original well-known B1-size classics have been reprinted in A1 in the 50s, and these second runs are actually more valuable. The format switch occurred again at the end of the 70s, and - almost without exception - all the 80s and 90s posters are B1. It'll be years before the (very) few of these will gain real value - now they are just wallpaper.
3. In the 80s, the matte paper on which most earlier posters have been printed was substituted with cheap glossy stock reminiscent of the Western "movie posters". Also, there was a logo switch, from the earlier "CWF" to "Poltel". Stay away !
4. In addition to the above no-no's, a presence of English, French or German titles (sometimes coupled with the absence of Polish ones) is an indication that the poster was intended as a promo for foreign release, usually in the 80s, always in the B1 format. These posters are generally much less valuable than the Polish originals.
A sample list of the most sought- after, classic Polish film posters :
ANCZYKOWSKI : Kanal 1957, BACZEWSKA : Il Cappotto 1957, Elena et les hommes 1958, Porte des Lilas 1958, BODNAR : Marianne de ma jeunesse 1958, Sleeping Beauty 1962, Old Yeller 1961, BOROWY : Narzeczona Dzigita 1955, Siamo donne 1957, BUTENKO Tre notti d'amore 1964, Plein soleil 1969; CHERKA Faibles femmes 1961; CIESLEWICZ Broken Arrow 1957, Adorables créatures 1958, The Fallen Idol 1958, Ludzie i wilki 1959, Krzyzacy 1960, Mieszkanie nr 8 1961, Taxi for Tobruk 1963; CZERNIAWSKI 3 Days of Condor 1978; DABROWSKI Sons and Lovers 1963, Cléo de 5 à 7 1964, The Hill 1966, Cul-de-Sac 1967; EROL Star Wars 1980; FANGOR Au-dela des grilles 1952, Maclovia 1955, My Teenage Daughter 1958, Carmen Jones 1959, Love in the Afternoon 1959, Niewinni czarodzieje 1960; FLISAK Roman Holiday 1959, All in a Night's Work 1963, The Firemen's Ball 1968, Cable Hogue 1972, Day for Night 1974; FREUDENREICH America America.. 1965; FRYSZTAK Lipstick 1961, A Kind of Loving 1963; GORKA La Bigorne 1958, Tamango 1959, Ludzie i bestie 1963, Kwaidan 1966, Sweet Charity 1970, 2001 : A Space Oddisey 1973, The Cabaret 1973; HEIDRICH Spellbound 1960; HIBNER The Mill on the Po 1957, Les Amants de Vérone 1958, The Idiot 1959, Rocco 1962, Two Way Stretch 1963; HILSCHER L'Affaire Maurizius 1957, Torrente Indiano 1957; HOLDANOWICZ Faraon 1965; HUSKOWSKA Il Letto 1957, Muerte de un ciclista 1957, L'Idiot 1958, Maria Candelaria 1959, Black Orpheus 1960; IHNATOWICZ Hud 1965, Night of the Iguana 1967, The Night of the Seagull 1972, Le Temps de mourir 1972, The Last Picture Show 1974, Don't Look Back 1977; JAGODZINSKI Moulin Rouge 1957; JANISZEWSKI Archimede 1960, Champion 1961, Drunken Angel 1961, Jewdokia 1962; JANOWSKI Ivan's Childhood 1962, The Mountain 1962; JAWOROWSKI An Inspector Calls 1956, The Misfits 1962, The Rebel 1962;; KIWERSKI Lord of the Flies 1969, Rebel Without a Cause 1970; KLIMOWSKI Taxi Driver 1976, The Omen 1977; KRAJEWSKI On the Beach 1967, A Trap for Cinderella 1967, Sanjuro 1968, Woman x 7 1968, La Curée 1969, The Pink Panther 1969, Max et les ferrailleurs 1972; LENICA Rio Escondido 1954, The Wages of Fear 1954, Maxim 1956, La Strada 1956, Il Bidone 1957, Kanal 1957, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud 1958, La Grande illusion 1960, Le Million 1960, Knife in the Water 1962; LIPINSKI Ulica graniczna 1948, Background 1958, Le Notti di Cabiria 1958, The Paradine Case 1959, All About Eve 1960, Me and the Colonel 1961, Yojimbo 1962, Le Bonheur 1966, Cleopatra 1968, Planet of the Apes 1969; MLODOZENIEC Le Fruit défendu 1959, L'Imprevisto 1962, Pot-Bouille 1962, Barbarella 1970, Dodes'ka Den 1971, Klute 1973, The Conformist 1974; MROSZCZAK Amici per la pelle 1958, The Moor of Venice 1961; NEUGEBAUER Lets Make Love 1965, My Geisha 1965, Harper 1970; OPALKA Le Bossu 1961, Serengeti 1963; PAGOWSKI Platoon 1988; PALKA Les Enfants du paradis 1954, Romeo and Juliet 1961, Comicos 1965; PROCKA The Getaway 1965, The Sting 1965; RADUCKI La Verite 1962; RAPNICKI Le Mepris 1966, Bus Stop 1967, Rodan 1967; SROKOWSKI The Ghost Goes West 1954, Huckleberry Finn 1962, Son of Flubber 1964; STACHURSKI Sitting Pretty 1958, High Noon 1959, The Horse's Mouth 1959, The Snows of Kilimanjaro 1959, 7 Samurai 1960, The White Sheik 1960, The Sheepman 1965, The Time Machine 1965, A Patch of Blue 1968; STAROWIEYSKI Das Feuerzug 1960, Jeu de massacre 1968, Operazione San Gennaro 1968, Les Creatures 1969, Un Bellissimo novembre 1970; STRYJECKI Droga na Zachod 1961, The Bad Sleep Well 1963, Viridiana 1963, The Small World of Sammy Lee 1964; SWIERZY 08-15 1957, Sunset Bv 1957, 400 Blows 1960, Matka Joanna od Aniolow 1961, Adam's Rib 1962, The African Queen 1962, Billy Liar 1964, Midnight Cowboy 1973; SYSKA Queen Christina 1964, Monkey Business 1965, Zorba the Greek 1966; SZAYBO The Diary of Anne Frank 1961, The Mistress 1965; TOMASZEWSKI Black Narcissus 1948, Citizen Kane 1948, Bellissima 1951, Ditta 1952, Hellzapoppin' 1959; TREPKOWSKI Ostatni etap 1948; TREUTLER Stagecoach 1961, A Child is Waiting 1965, The Vikings 1966, Los Golfos 1970, Five Easy Pieces 1974; WASILEWSKI Three Women 1978; WENZEL That Hamilton Woman 1957, Marty 1957, Donnez-moi ma chance 1958, Rebecca 1959, Shane 1959, The Bachelor Party 1960; ZAGORSKI Hiroshima mon amour 1959, Yesterday's Enemy 1962; St. ZAMECZNIK Czlowiek na torze 1957, Il Grido 1960, Cone of Silence 1961, One-Eyed Jacks 1963, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane 1965, The Battleship Potiomkin 1967, 100 Rifles 1970; W. ZAMECZNIK Lotna 1958, Sommaren med Monika 1958, Pociag 1959, A Night to Remember 1961, Mondo cane 1964; ZBIKOWSKI Yoyo 1966, Closely Watched Trains 1967, Red River 1967, Deadline USA 1970, Tristana 1971, The Graduate 1973; ZELEK The Birds 1965, To Kill a Mockingbird 1965, Hunger 1967...
... and bargains :
Almost anything by the following artists is very likely to be a bargain : Baranowska, Bochen, Bodnar, Butenko, Cherka, Dabrowski, M. Heidrich, Janczewska, Janiszewski, Jaworowski, Karczewska, Kiwerski, Koscielniak, Krajewski, Mann, Niklewska, Srokowski, Stryjecki, Syska, Szaybo, Wasilewski, Zagorski and Zbikowski.
Many posters, especially before 1954 and after 1980 were issued in the B1 (26.4" x 38.4" = 67 x 97.5 cm) format, as opposed to the standard A1 (23" x 33" = 58.5 x 84 cm) size. As the latter is easier to manage and most of the best works were issued in A1 anyhow ( even some reissues of the original B1 posters, such as "Citizen Kane" or "Ostatni etap"), they usually command higher prices. During the "Golden Age" of 1955-1965 , virtually all posters were released in the A1 format, with occasional A2 (16" x 23" = 40.5 x 58.5 cm) and B2 (19.2" x 26.4" = 48.8 x 67 cm) versions.
There were also some oddball sizes, such as narrow vertical (rarely : horizontal) strife : half of A1 (11" x 33" = 28 x 84 cm) or 1/2 of B1 (13.4" x 38.6" = 34 x 98 cm); B2 square (about 20.5" = 52 cm + variations thereof); and A-0 (double A1 = 117 x 84 cm) consisting of 2 standard size (usually vertical) parts, that - combined - form a horizontal banner-like poster (such as Lenica's "Krzyzacy" or Zamecznik's "Lotna" and "Pociag"). These are very rare and highly collectible.
Most posters were issued in small quantities. Some (especially in the early and mid 50s) had larger intended circulation (12000 to 22000), usually greatly reduced at printing time. Standard runs were : 4200 - 6000 - 8000 - 11500, with most in the 4200 - 8000 range. Now, often just a few copies survive. These posters were never intended (or available) for sale, being used all over the country in 1200+ theaters, and stuck on billboards, street fences and advertising kiosks. To obtain a film poster someone involved in their distribution had to help.
As a result, large holdings (1000+ titles) are surprisingly few in Poland (+-10 private, another 10 institutional). In the US, I am aware of about 15, even less in the UK, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Japan, though there are a number of small (200-400 titles) collections. Most commercial galleries have at least a few Polish posters for sale, usually the less desirable 70s to 90s pieces in the $150-300 range. Only a few deal in the truly classic - check links for dealers, galleries, etc.