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Erna Rosenstein

Surrealist artist at the forefront

of Poland's postguard avant-garde

Timesonline. co.uk
January 17, 2005

The surrealist artist and poet Erna Rosenstein was at the forefront of the Cracow avant-garde for half a century. Her mixed-medium creations, sometimes sinister, often playful and nostalgic, were glimpses into dream-worlds.

She was born into a Jewish family in Lvov, now in Ukraine, daughter to a judge. In 1918 her family was resettled in Cracow. Despite financial hardship, she was sent to Vienna to study law. There, however, she disappointed her father when she took up painting at the Weiner Frauen Akademie and became involved with the student-workers' movement. She joined the Communist uprising of 1934 under the pseudonym of Urma Neumann.

She returned to Cracow to study at the Academy of Fine Arts and in 1938 visited Paris to see a key Surrealist exhibition designed by Marcel Duchamp. Rosenstein met other left-wing artists, including Jonasz Stern, Berta Grünberg, Maria Jarema, Leopold Lewicki and Tadeusz Kantor, and formed what came to be known as the Crocow Group. Their artistic solidarity only increased after the war, during which Rosenstein's parents had been killed and she had had to live under an assumed identity, and the group were influential rejecters of Social Realism imposed on art by Stalinist forces.
Always at the forefront of the Cracow avant-garde, Rosenstein was involved with the First Exhibition of Modern Art (1948-49) and the exhibition, Dziewiciu (Nine Artists, 1955), which has come to be seen as a "harbinger of the post-1956 'thaw'". She also played a part in Kantor's experimental Cricot Theatre, which involved artists, critics and theoreticians. In the postwar years, the Cracow Group had a policy of distancing its work from everyday reality - a quality particularly evident in Rosenstein's touching compositions, affected as she was by her experiences as a Jew in Nazi-occupied, then Soviet-dominated, Poland.

She married the literary critic Artur Sandauer and settled in Warsaw. Sandauer, a vocal champion of Polish literature during the 1960s and 1970s, encouraged Rosenstein to publish several collections of her poetry. Her lyrical stanzas express her frustration and pain at the treatment of Jews and the annihilation of their culture in Poland. Last year the BWA Gallery in Bydgoszcz mounted the largest retrospective of her visual-art output since the 1970s. She won many awards, including the Jan Cybris Prize in 1996, Poland’s highest award for painters.

Her husband predeceased her.

Erna Rosenstein, Polish Surrealist artist and poet, was born on May 17, 1913. She died on November 10, 2004, aged 91.