Henryk Berlewi

1894 1967
(Pologne) 1894 /   (France) 1967

Henryk Berlewi was encouraged by his mother, and his artistic vocation was revealed at an early age. When he was twelve years old, he attended the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In 1909, he joined the School of Fine Arts in Antwerp and went to the Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts) in Paris in 1911.

In 1913, he returned to Warsaw and collaborated with Polish futurists.

In Berlin, between 1922 and 1923, Berlewi made friends with the November Group (Novembergruppe), which was founded by Max Pechstein in November 1918. He also participated to the International Conference on Progressive Art and got in touch with El Lissitzky.

He went back to Warsaw in 1923 and founded the constructivist group Blok, together with Wladyslaw Strzeminski (1893- 1952). In March 1924, Berlewi published a manifesto on his concept of abstract art:  “Mecanofacture” (Mechano-Faktur - rhythm of geometric shapes and pure colors, which give the illusion of vibration and movement). The writer Alexandre Wat prefaced the manifesto. In 1924, Berlewi insisted on the links that unite art and machines and organized the first Mecanofacture exhibition in the Austro-Daimler car show. Although officials found it controversial, partisans of the Blok followed the experience twenty-fourhours later. During the summer 1924, Herwarth Walden, founder of the gallery and journal Der Sturm, invited Berlewi to exhibit his experiences on Mecanofacture. The German translation of his manifesto was published at the same time in the journal Der Sturm. In 1926, Berlewi put an end to his research; he returned to figurative art and worked on his theater sets.

In 1927, he settled in Paris for good. Between 1928 and 1938, he travelled to Belgium and painted the picture of some people in the political and literary world. At that time, he found out that he was critically ill and stopped all artistic activity.

In 1942, he left Paris, took refuge in Nice and joined the Resistance (1943-1944). He only rediscovered a taste for art in 1947. He wished to “reintroduce the subject” and produced still lifes inspired by the French masters of the 17 th Century. In 1957, the exhibition on the precursors of abstract arts in Poland at the Denise René gallery prompted him to resume his research on Mecanofacture. The latter is today viewed as one of the sources of optical art.