At the origins of modern illustration

In fact, the story of Frantishka Temerson’s drawings for Alice in Wonderland spans three eras. Illustrations to the famous Lewis Carroll novels by a Polish artist who lived in London since 1940 were commissioned by the British publisher George G. Harrap a year after the end of World War II. Tales of Alice, which over time became the most coveted work for illustrators of children’s books in history, were often published in the first half of the 20th century with original drawings of the 19th century by John Tenniel. Polish children were waiting for the first edition to be released with a new graphic design until 1927 – it was then that the publisher Gebethner i Wolff did not release Alice’s adventures then, but “Ali in Wonderland” with airborne, in the spirit of a secession, Kamil Matskevich’s illustrations.

Frantishka Temerson, in his illustrations, which after long perturbations came out only in 2001, conveyed the character of Carroll’s surreal world with the help of a genius in its simplicity of reception. The image of Alice herself, done in black ink, partially shaded, with realistic proportions, resembles Tenniel’s original drawings. Creating the image, the artist turned to the ordered, rational world of Victorian England. But the chess pieces surrounding the heroine personify the reality of the looking glass, where the rules known to the heroine do not work. This is reflected in the appearance of chess pieces: flat, geometric, drawn in red and blue.

Among the most famous illustrations for Alice’s adventures in Wonderland are drawings created in 1955 by Olga Semashko. “The First Lady of Polish Illustration” belonged to the post-war generation of book graphics, brought up in academic classics, her style has not changed much for decades, but at the beginning of her career it happened that she reproached the senior colleagues in the shop for conservatism. Among them was Marcin Shantser, whose post of artistic director of the children’s magazine Świerszczyk (Cricket) Semashko took in 1945.

Dynamic lines and textiles

Jozef Vilkoni was going to become a painter. Fortunately, for several generations of children who grew up in his illustrations, he was not able to realize his dream to the end. However, it was thanks to the artistic experience acquired during the training from such masters as the formist Zbigniew Pronashka and colorist Hannah Rudzkaya-Tsybis that his work was so unique. In terms of vigor, the brushstrokes illustrate Vilkony’s illustrations of abstract impressionism and sometimes balance on the verge of abstraction – for example, in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, where a sandstorm is depicted as a grainy spot on a sheet of paper black as tar. Vilkoni masterly operated with a line, and brush movements with his dynamism brought his work closer to cave art, especially when he painted galloping horses.

Another designer of the adventures of Ali Baba, Elzbieta Gaudasinskaya, was inspired by the patterns of Middle Eastern fabrics. If we talk about fairy tales from the European cultural context, then Gaudasinsky’s illustrations, which are characterized by clear lines, an abundance of oval, often rhythmically repeating forms representing the density of grasses, a frog choir or ripples on the surface of the lake, also acquire a somewhat “textile” character. There is nothing surprising – in the artist’s works reminiscent of tapestries, her comprehensive education both in the field of painting and textiles makes itself felt, the secrets of which she began to comprehend while studying in the school art circle, and then in the workshop of Anna Sledzevskaya in the capital’s Academy of Fine Arts.

The kitten got on a picture

Janusz Grabiansky in the field of illustration became what Julian Falat was a few decades earlier in the “big” painting. Squeezing the maximum out of the capricious unpredictability of the watercolor brushstroke, Grabyansky was able to completely control him, especially when he drew animals: he achieved exact similarities with a few brush strokes and conveyed a stunning richness of detail. In the menagerie inhabited by dogs and livestock, a special place in Grabyansky is occupied by cats. The artist illustrated almost all the works published in Poland in which these animals play the main role, from Julian Tuwim’s “The Kitten Got Wattle” and the Adventures of the Red Donut to Practical Cat Science by T. S. Eliot. In the impressive collection of his works there are cats of all stripes – realistic and anthropomorphic, playing, yawning, staring out the window or at the aquarium, as well as cats that walk on their hind legs and flaunt in musketeering outfits. Of course, the artist’s work could not have done without Kot in boots.

But Janusz Grabyansky perfectly managed not only animals. In illustrations to the cult primer Marian Falsky, he thoroughly reproduced the urban and rural landscape, although somewhat embellishing the reality of the NDP. The panel houses performed by Grabyansky looked like Le Corbusier’s best designs, the Millennium schools turned into Bauhaus campuses, cars streaming through the streets had nothing to do with the clumsy products of the Soviet automobile industry, but they were magnificent “opel cadets” and “Ford Mustangs”, and the streets of Warsaw, despite their native signs, shone with lights and neon signs, as if it were New York Times Square, and not Constitution Square.

Geometry for Kids

After the constructivists reduced the painting to simple geometric shapes and basic colors, Stanislav Zamenik, an architect, stage designer, poster artist and popular illustrator, carried young readers on a journey in the opposite direction. In illustrations to the “Magic Triangles” by Maria Terlikovskaya, he demonstrated how the imagination of the poster artist is arranged – in a simple but effective form, he is able to combine the illusion of space, abstract composition and techniques known from children’s drawings on just two sheets of paper. The book is part of the geometric trilogy “Figures”, supplemented by stories about circles and squares. The publication introduces children to the basics of geometry and helps develop abstract thinking. Among the most important achievements of the Observer in the field of illustration, one should also mention Bzhekhva’s book “A Thread with a Needle Launched in the Dance”, where the artist combined elements of drawing, photography and typography.

From another world

The creative manner born in 1917, Daniel Mrouz takes its roots in slightly different traditions than the style of most of his colleagues in the shop. Even as a child, Moose admired the surrealistic collages of Max Ernst, the impression of which was not replaced by later meetings with professors and peers at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts. Formally kept aloof, Mruz still found like-minded people among the members of the first Krakow group.

In the illustrations to Robert Stiller’s “Menagerie,” Ernst’s collages showed a craving for realism in the manner of 19th-century landscape engravings combined with surrealistic animal hybrids. However, Morse entered history mainly as an illustrator of books for older readers. Throughout his life, the artist remained the co-author of the graphic design of the first “Psekru”, he also created a series of canonical illustrations for the science fiction works of Stanislav Lem, whose literary style ideally rhymed fantastic and at the same time incredibly realistic drawings by Mruz, made with attention to the smallest details.


Zbigniew Rychlitsky was a man orchestra. For three and a half decades, in the golden era of the Polish school of illustration, he led such a giant in the children’s literature market as the publisher Nasza Księgarnia. At the same time, he did not stop actively engaged in creative activities. It was Rykhlitsky who published the first editions of “Plastilenka” and “Bears of Ushastik.” And not only paper, but also film adaptations. Ryhlitsky took care of all the details: for example, in the puppet series about the adventures of Mishka Ushastik, he was in charge of an impressive wardrobe of the hero, who had so many pajamas that any modern fashion blogger would feel: life was wasted.

The artist was born in a small village near Przemysl, his childhood passed under the influence of folk art, and he retained interest in its various forms throughout his life. Illustrating “Home Traditions”, he drew full handfuls from flat and expressive folk wooden engravings, and partly from expressionist art that appeals to the same sources of art. In the illustrations for “As happened in Kurpas in former times” (“Jak to dawniej na Kurpiach bywało” – fairy tales, legends, and legends, authors Jadwiga Gozhekhovskaya, Maria Kachurbina), the artist turned to a repeating floral ornament and used rich strokes in the manner of Kurpov’s patterns, cut out of paper. He was also inspired by glass painting and stained glass.

Adam Kilian absorbed the love of folk art with his mother’s milk. She was an art historian, collector and theater director, in her collection there were several samples of folk art, the passion for which was shared by a family friend Leon Hvistek – an outstanding philosopher, critic and artist. Thanks to his mother, whose social circle was made up of representatives of the Lviv avant-garde, Kilian became close to the Formists, while both folk art and his avant-garde rethinking influenced him. In the diverse heritage of the illustrator, who was in perpetual search, among others – became classic for several generations of children who grew up in Poland, images of Jacek and Agatha from the first version of the evening children’s television show. However, he returned to wooden engraving and glass painting in the 60s. Kilian inherited a passion for collecting from his mother, especially loved ceramic tiles with folk ornaments. Sometimes he used it in illustrations, but he did not transfer to the paper a pictorial pattern, as one might assume, but cobwebs of cracks covering the glazed surface.