Katarzyna Kobro, Spatial Composition 9, 1933.
Although she is widely seen as one of art history’s most important sculptors, many of Katarzyna Kobro’s (1898-1951) works are no longer extant. This is especially true of her earliest artworks. The loss is a real tragedy as she and her work have been called innovative, brave, and influential. Fortunately, other kinds of records (including documentary photographs and recreations) do still exist for many of these artworks.
Active primarily during the brief peacetime between World Wars, Kobro’s mixed German-Russian background, her gender, and her untimely death resulted in quite a tragic life and career for the artist.
Katarzyna Kobro with her daughter in 1938.
Born and raised in Moskow, the artist was able to remain in Russia long enough to meet and marry her husband, attend and complete art school, and execute her first round of important artworks. She was unfortunately forced to flee the country in 1921 on account of her German heritage. Many of her earliest sculptures were lost during this time. Though she went on to spend most of her adult life in Poland, she was also persecuted there for her mixed lineage.
A couple of years before her family’s exile, Kobro joined the leftist artist group called the Trade Union of Painters of the City of Moscow. It is highly likely that these artists were an enormous source of inspiration for her.
Kobro and her husband were additionally involved in a handful of other prominent artistic groups of the period. Involved in leftist trends and Constructivism, they likely rubbed shoulders with creatives like Malevich and Eliezer Lisicki (El Lissitzky). The couple also co-ran a branch of UNOVIS and likely played a significant role in the establishment of new guidelines for Russian culture and art.
Strzemiński’s Sala Neoplastyczna (Neoplastic Room) at the Museum of Art in Łódź featuring sculptures by Kobro.
In 1920, just before her departure from Russia, Kobro completed her first sculpture, Tos 75 – Struktura (Tos 75 – Structure). Though it was destroyed, photographs of the part Futurist, part Cubist work remain extant.
After her move to Poland and a messy separation from her husband, she was relegated to the sidelines of the local avant-garde movement in Łódź. Even her former loving spouse did not invite her to the first post-war exhibition for the group, though he did select five of her artworks to feature in the show.
She died relatively young of a terminal illness that drained her remaining energy and creativity over the last few years of her life.
Anna Claire Mauney is Managing Editor for Art & Object. A writer and artist living in North Carolina, she is interested in illustration, the 18th-century, and viceregal South America. She is also the co-host of An Obsessive Nature, a podcast about writing and pop culture.
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