Franciszka and Stefan Themerson (Polish 1907-1988)
Franciszka Themerson was born in Warsaw in 1907 and died in London in 1988. Franciszka was born in Warsaw in 1907, the daughter of painter Jacob Weinles, and pianist Lucja Kaufman. She grew up in a world filled with art. Franciszka studied painting at Warsaw Academy of Art and graduated in 1931.
Franciszka met Stefan, her future husband, in 1929 and they married in 1931, the same year she graduated. After studying in Warsaw, the Themersons played a major role in the history of independent, experimental and pre-war cinema in Poland, their significance for the development of the Polish avant-garde film is enormous.
They founded the Polish Filmmakers Co-operative 1935-7, and a journal Art Film (‘f.a’) 1937. The Themersons moved to Paris in 1937, to be at the heart of the art world. Visiting London in 1938, they met John Grierson, Len Lye and other filmmakers. Two days after the start of the Second World War Stefan and Franciszka volunteered for the Polish army. In 1940 Franciszka escaped by moving to London. Stefan served in the Polish army in France, ending up in a Polish Red Cross hostel in Voiron,1940-42. It was during this time that Stefan wrote his first novel, ‘Professor Mmaa’s Lecture’. After two years of separation Stefan and Franciszka were reunited in London in 1942. They made two more films, 1942-44.
The War had brought them to London permanently. Following their two films funded by the Polish Government in exile, they concentrated on illustrated books and paintings (Franciszka) and writing and publishing (Stefan – Gaberbocchus Press). In 1948 the Themersons founded a publishing house: the Gaberbocchus Press. In 31 years they published over sixty titles, including works by Alfred Jarry, Kurt Schwitters and Bertrand Russell. In 1953 Stefan’s ‘Professor Mmaa’s Lecture’ was first published. It is still a classic in Poland. Through the 60s and 70s, Stefan’s books were published by Gaberbocchus Press, for example philosophical novels, children’s books, poetry, essays and a libretto and music for an opera. His books have been translated in eight languages. Ethics, language, freedom, human dignity and the importance of good manners are the topics Stefan wrote about most.
Franciszka was well-known as a painter and designer and many major exhibitions of her work were held. As art director she designed and illustrated many Gaberbocchus titles. Franciszka’s Ubu comic strip appeared in the Dutch literary magazine De Revisor from 1985 until 1987. In 1979 the Gaberbocchus Press was, at the request of the Themersons, taken over by the publishing house De Harmonie in Amsterdam.
Franciszka Themerson died in London in June 1988, Stefan Themerson in September 1988.
Franciszka Themerson paintings, drawings and illustrated books can be found in British, American and Polish venues. Examples of her paintings and films can be seen in London in the public collections of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the British Museum, the British Film Institute, Royal Holloway College (University of London), the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Tate Britain. Her work is also represented in the public collections of Northern Ireland and in Warsaw.
Franciszka Themerson Exhibitions:
Gallery One (1957 and 59),
Whitechapel Art Gallery (1975),
Imperial War Museum (1994)
Art First Gallery (1999 and 2001)