Photographs of Sławomir Królikowski, guest of the "Kultura" house. November 2021
The first issues of “Kultura”, the first articles, obtaining funds for the activity ‑ in the memories of the team members. Beginnings in Rome and the first seat of the Literary Institute in Maisons-Laffitte near Paris ‑ in a house on avenue Corneille. The ruined and cluttered house, which had served as a warehouse, was cleaned by everyone together ‑ after a long time, they discovered… a kitchen in it. The photos included in this collection show the effect of time-consuming and laborious cleaning. The authors of the photos also immortalized The Editor among the garden beds ‑ looking after the vegetable garden was also the responsibility of the team members.
“On Corneille” Institute functioned for seven years. It was, as Jerzy Giedroyc puts it, “neither a kibbutz nor a convent”. The aforementioned group of people constituted a well-coordinated team. According to The Editor, they were connected by their common experience in the II Corps. “The army brings people together”, he adds. “We were leaving the army, we didn’t expect to join high society”, adds Józef Czapski in another recording.
It is no coincidence that the list of the first publications of the emerging “Kultura” included two items: Mickiewicz’s “The Books and the Pilgrimage of the Polish Nation” (with an introduction by Gustaw Herling-Grudziński) and “Prometeusze” [Prometheuses] by Stanisław Szpotański – “a book that showed that life in exile is extremely hard and often ends tragically,” explained Jerzy Giedroyc in “Autobiografia na cztery ręce” [Autobiography for Four Hands]. “I chose this book, as well as »The Books and the Pilgrimage «, very deliberately and consciously, because I considered it a warning against emigration,” he added.
In the interviews presented here, Jerzy Giedroyc, as well as other members of the “Kultura” team, talks about various concepts of emigration, its subsequent “waves,” the difficult first (and not only the first) years and relations with other emigration circles.
It is impossible to talk about “Kultura” without mentioning General Władysław Anders. Jerzy Giedroyc served under his command thanks to Józef Czapski, wand it was there that he met Zofia Hertz. Anders established the Literary Institute, appointed Giedroyc to its organization and granted a loan for this purpose. Regardless of the differences or disputes that later divided them, the people of “Kultura” maintained their respect and sympathy for the General, and he reciprocated them with the same.
The Congress for Cultural Freedom was founded in June 1950 in Berlin. As Jerzy Giedroyc recounts in the accompanying video, the invitation for the representatives of "Kultura" to the organizational congress is due to their friend James Burnham, one of the initiators of the project. Participation in the Congress made it possible to establish contacts with the Western European and American intellectual world, and the cooperation resulted in, among others, the creation of a Free Europe University in Exile (FEUE) in Strasbourg for East European students. Next to it, you can see archival photos from the Congress - "Kultura" was represented, apart from Jerzy Giedroyc, by Józef Czapski.
„Pisanie na emigracji to składanie rękopisów do dziupli w drzewie” – przypomina pogląd Czesława Miłosza w zamieszczonym tu nagraniu wideo Jerzy Giedroyc. Dodaje jednak, że sam poeta – laureat Literackiej Nagrody Nobla z 1980 roku – jest dowodem fałszywości tej tezy.
Gdy Miłosz zdecydował się w 1951 roku pozostać na Zachodzie, to właśnie w Domu „Kultury” znalazł schronienie. Sam Miłosz przyznaje w jednym z zamieszczonych tu nagrań, że nie było to współistnienie „pokojowe” – dochodziło do awantur, ostrych starć. Niemniej Giedroyc publikował jego książki, a „Kultura” była jedynym pismem, które broniło go mimo jego „dość aroganckiej pozycji”.
In fact, Maisons-Laffitte housed only the first headquarters of "Kultura", on avenue Corneille. The house at 91 de Poissy Avenue - Jerzy Giedroyc's last address - is located in neighboring Mesnil-le-Roi. But by force of habit, that first address remained with 'Kultura': 'Maisons-Laffitte'.
The Literary Institute bought the house at the end of 1954, after being evicted from its first residence. It was possible thanks to the help of wealthy friends and fundraising among the readers of "Kultura". Offices were arranged on the ground floor, bedrooms on the first floor. The guests stayed overnight in the pavilion near the house.
Offices, hall, jardin d'hiver, i.e. a winter garden, a parcel shop... - photos from years ago and today.
“And finally, Józio Czapski. His functions in running Kultura are undefined. He must have rendered her great service in the former difficult times, as quaestor and fundraiser, in the States and in South America,” recalled Wacław Zbyszewski in the article “Zagubieni romantycy” [Lost Romantics] (Kultura, No. 10, 1959).
And this is how Zbyszewski further characterized Czapski’s role in the small community of Kultura: “Czapski has certainly rendered and continues to render great services to Kultura as a sui generis minister of foreign affairs: he has a double ease of establishing relations and friendships, both as an artist and as count, because these two social groups ‑ the aristocracy and the bohemian ‑ are the most international, the least rigid, the least parochial in dealing with foreigners. But these real, concrete merits of Czapski are unimportant in comparison with his contribution to spiritual, personal, social and internal life du petit circle of Laffitte. Giedroyc gives a sense of Mission, Zygmunt brings idealists to the hard ground of reality. Zosia gives a lot of furious energy and the warmth of the family nest. And Józio Czapski adds a kiss of fantasy to the whole thing.”
Dom „Kultury” – zgodnie z życzeniem Redaktora – nie został zamieniony w muzeum, jego drzwi są nadal dla wszystkich otwarte (po wcześniejszym umówieniu się!. Niektórzy goście dają się namówić na krótką wypowiedź do kamery, starzy bywalcy wspominają dawnych mieszkańców, młodsi dzielą się wrażeniami…
Opening of the exhibition “Jerzy Giedroyc and His Achievement”. November 24, 2014, at the National Library in Warsaw. The exhibition was opened by Tomasz Makowski ‑ head of the National Library, Wojciech Sikora ‑ president of the Literary Institute, and Jacek Miler from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The exhibition was prepared by Małgorzata Ptasińska and graphically designed by Marek Zalejski.
Throughout the long years of its existence, the Literary Institute has collected many artworks. However, not being an art museum, for obvious reasons this collection was not created according to any particular plan. It is rather evidence of visits, contacts, and often friendship with artists associated with “Kultura”. Most of the artworks in the Institute's inventory came from donations.
Undoubtedly, the most important figure who left a mark on this institution was Józef Czapski, a long-term resident of the house in Maisons-Laffitte. It was here that he wrote, drew and painted for almost the entire period of his post-war, busy life. Today, a gallery of portraits by him, depicting personalities who have gone down in the history of our culture, decorates the stairs leading to the first floor. We can see there the images of: Zygmunt Hertz, Marek Hłasko, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Jerzy Giedroyc, Stefan Kisielewski, Józef Łobodowski, Sławomir Mrożek and Bohdan Osadczuk. The Institute's collection also includes other oil compositions by the artist, depicting genre scenes and still lifes. The collection is complemented by numerous works on paper ‑ ink sketches and watercolors, partly decorating the walls, partly hidden in drawers. Several of them, sketched in Iraq, have a documentary value, recalling Czapski’s journey during the war years.
Another painter who strongly marked his presence at the Institute was Jan Lebenstein. Among the dozen of his works, it is worth noting such works as Sainte Paula, Image Double, Enlèvement de l’Europe, in which we find typical fantastic-surreal motifs with a strongly erotic flavor. Lebenstein’s most original work, constituting an inseparable part of the house on Avenue de Poissy, is undoubtedly the window in Zygmunt Hertz’s room, painted in the 1970s. Lithographic boards also decorate one of the rooms on the first floor.
Among the artists close to “Kultura” through her relationship with another collaborator ‑ Konstanty A. Jeleński ‑ there is his life companion and wife, Léonor Fini. In addition to several poetic compositions on paper, a three-dimensional mask painted on a piece of bark attracts attention.
Next in turn, the painter Arika Madeyska, known in Parisian artistic circles, left seven of her works here, two of which are unusual ‑ they are painted chests, one in the African style, the other in the Kashubian style.
Naive painting is represented by three watercolors by Nikifor. There is also an opportunity to see two paintings by Henryk Józefski, better known for his independence and political activities.
Among the classics of Polish painting, Jan Cybis is worth mentioning, represented by one oil and two watercolors. We can find also individual paintings by Rafał Malczewski, Włodzimierz Terlikowski, Marek Oberländer, Tomasz Dominik and others.
The collection of paintings is complemented by graphics by, among others, Brandel, Jastrzębowski, Czermański and Kulisiewicz, a number of engravings from the 17th-19th centuries and maps related to the history of Poland, which were collected by Jerzy Giedroyc and Zygmunt Hertz. The entire collection of about 150 items briefly described here was inventoried in 2011.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the books published by Giedroyc, as well as the archival issues of Kultura, were a treasury of texts for independent, opposition publishers in Poland. The so-called “underground” publishing houses (“second circuit” of publications ‑ the “first circuit” are official publishing houses, approved by censorship) illegally published texts that were unavailable in Poland due to censorship. The phenomenon of underground publishing existed in many countries of the Soviet bloc (e.g. samizdat in the USSR), but it was in Poland that it reached its greatest proportions. A large part of the books of the second circuit are reprints of the publications of the Literary Institute. Bestsellers in this market have become, among others: books by Witold Gombrowicz, Stanisław Barańczak, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Czesław Miłosz, Leszek Kołakowski, Stanisław Swianiewicz, Paweł Zaremba, Marek Hłasko, Stefan Kisielewski, George Orwell, Melchior Wańkowicz ‑ and many, many others… We present here the covers of some “underground” reprints of IL books.