Janusz Lachowski

ANATOL STERN AND STEFAN THEMERSON. ON EUROPA AND THE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO AVANT-GARDE ARTISTS ON THE BASIS OF THEIR MUTUAL CORRESPONDENCE FROM THE YEARS 1959-1968

Anatol Stern (1899–1968) was a poet, one of the founders of Polish futurism, a prose and drama writer, literary critic, essayist and author of memorial sketches1 as well as a prolific scriptwriter and film journalist of the Polish interwar period. His wife Alicja (1905–1993) was a translator of Russian literature, theatre critic, and columnist, also participating in film script writing. Towards the end of her life, she wrote a children’s book. Following her husband’s death, she took care of his manuscript collection, preparing previously unedited texts2 for publication and making their home archive available to literary researchers interested in Stern’s writing. 

Stefan Themerson (1910–1988) was a novelist, poet, essayist, philosopher, author of children’s literature, and composer; together with his wife Franciszka (1907–1988), he made experimental short films in interwar Poland and later in the UK during the war, laying the foundations for the Polish film avant-garde.3 His wife was a graphic artist, painter, and designer of theatre costumes and props. Together, they set up and ran a publishing company called Gaberbocchus Press, known for books with original graphics designed by Franciszka. They left an extensive collection, managed for the last 25 years by Franciszka’s niece, art critic and curator Jasia Reichardt. The couple’s heir organised the materials and opened the Themerson Archive, located and made available to the public in London only recently.

Literature discussing the works of both Anatol Stern and Stefan Themerson is relatively abundant, including several monographs4 (in the case of the Themersons, also exhibition catalogues5 and monographic issues of reviews6) as well as many scattered articles. Nonetheless, their achievements have not yet been fully explored thus far and may still inspire new research.7 It also seems that their artistic activity has not received the recognition it deserves. While there is no doubt that Anatol Stern made a major contribution to the Polish poetic avant-garde and that the Sterns themselves were notable figures in the literary circles of the past century,8 today their names are virtually nonexistent in book circulation, with their works available only in antiquarian bookshops and on library shelves, if at all. As to the Themersons, the Polish public have never become fully acquainted with their work. As the artists lived and worked abroad, their achievements have never gained much notoriety in their home country; despite the (mostly recent) specialised and popular reference literature now available, including reprints of Themerson’s novels9 and some of the couple’s children’s books,10 their names remain unfamiliar even to some adepts of Polish studies.


1 Cf. i.a. A. Stern, Legendy naszych dni [The Legends of Our Days], Kraków 1969; idem, Poezja zbuntowana. Szkice i wspomnienia [Rebellious Poetry. Essays and Memories], revised and expanded edition, Warszawa 1970; idem, Głód jednoznaczności i inne szkice [The Craving for Unambiguity and Other Essays], Warszawa 1972.

2 Cf. A. Stern, Dom Appolinaire’a. Rzecz o polskości i rodzinie poety [Appolinaire’s Home. On the Poet’s Polishness and His Family], prepared for printing by A. Stern, edition and footnotes Z. Czerny, Kraków 1973.

3 The Themersons made seven films in total. Apteka [The Pharmacy] (1930), Europa [Europe] (1931–1932), Drobiazg melodyjny [Musical Moment] (1933), Zwarcie [Short Circuit] (1935) and Przygoda człowieka poczciwego [The Adventures of a Good Citizen] (1937) were shot in Poland, while Calling Mr. Smith (1943) and The Eye and the Ear (1944–1945) in the UK. Only the last three of these survived World War II. In 1936, they were preparing to make a film entitled Polski gotyk drewniany [Wooden Gothic Architecture in Poland] (nothing but photos used as
basic visual documentation for the film remain to this day). After they left the country, in 1938–1959, they also authored several film projects, which, however, never made their way to the screen. Working materials related to these projects can be found in the artists’ manuscript
materials.
4 Works on Stern: G. Pietruszewska-Kobiela, Pejzaż dramatyczny Anatola Sterna [The Dramatic Landscape by Anatol Stern], Częstochowa 1989; idem, Psychologizm i surrealizm – proza Anatola Sterna [Psychologism and Realism. Anatol Stern’s Prose], Częstochowa 1991; idem, O poezji Anatola Sterna [On Anatol Stern’s Poetry], Częstochowa 1992; P. Majerski, Anarchia i formułyProblemy twórczości poetyckiej Anatola Sterna [Anarchy and Formulae. Problems in Anatol Stern’s Poetry], Katowice 2001. Works on Themerson: E. Krasnowska [i.e. Kraskowska], Twórczość Stefana Themersona – dwujęzyczność a literatura [The Writing of Stefan Themerson. Bilingualism and Literature],
Wrocław 1989; A. Pruszyński, Dobre maniery Stefana Themersona [The Good Manners of Stefan Themerson], Gdańsk 2004; A. Prodeus, Themersonowie. Szkice biograficzne [The Themersons. Biographic Sketches], 2nd, revised edition, Warszawa 2010.
5 Cf. e.g. Stefan i Franciszka Themerson. Poszukiwania wizualne [Stefan and Franciszka Themersons.Visual Researches], ed. U. Czartoryska, Łódź 1981; Themersonowie i awangarda. [The Themersons and the Avant-Garde], ed. P. Polit, Łódź 2013; Dwie wystawy. Themersonowie na papierze. O potrzebie tworzenia widzeń [Two exhibitions. The Themersons on Paper. The Urge to Create Visions], M. Sady, N. Wadley (eds.), Płock 2013. 
6 Cf. Ha!art, vol. 26, 2007; Gościniec Sztuki. Magazyn Artystyczno-Literacki [The Art Road. Arts and Literary Magazine], vol. 2/15, 2010; vol. 2/17, 2011; Literatura na Świecie [Literature in the World], vol. 9–10, 2013.
7 The author of the present contribution is currently working on a book on Anatol Stern’s film works.

8 Cf. R. Matuszewski, ‘Sternowie Anatol (1899–1968) i Alicja (1905–1993)’ [Anatol (1899–1968) and Alicja Stern (1905–1993)], in idem, Alfabet. Wybór z pamięci 90-latka [The Alphabet. Selected Memories of a 90-year-old], Warszawa 2004, pp. 429–430.
9 Cf. i.a. S. Themerson, Wykład profesora Mmaa [Professor Mmaa’s Lecture], illustrated by F. Themerson, preface by B. Russell, 3rd edition, Warszawa 2013; idem, Tom Harris, E. Krasińska (transl.), Warszawa 2013; idem, The Mystery of the Sardine, I. Szymańska (transl.), Warszawa 2013; idem, Hobson’s Island, E. Kraskowska (transl.), Warszawa 2013.
10 Cf. e.g. S. Themerson, Był gdzieś haj taki kraj – Była gdzieś taka wieś [Once Upon a Time,There was a Country called High], illustrated by F. Themerson, Piaseczno 2013; idem, Narodziny liter [The Birth of Letters], illustrated by F. Themerson, Piaseczno 2014; idem,
Poczta [Post], illustrated by F. Themerson, Piaseczno 2014.