Wojciech Fangor: Forging the Scythes, 1954, egg tempera on plywood, approx. 9 by 24½ feet overall.COURTESY MUSEUM OF WARSAW
In 2013, curators at the Museum of Warsaw uncovered a hidden mural. Painted in 1954 by Wojciech Fangor (1922–2015), the composition shows three blacksmiths working together on a single scythe blade amid the smithy’s dark-red flames. Its depiction of collective labor was the sort of thing encouraged at the time it was commissioned, when Poland’s political and cultural life was dependent on Moscow. But the mural was covered with a thin plywood wall shortly after completion for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.¹ It had never been shown to the public.
The discovery came on the eve of a modernization project. The museum exhibited Forging the Scythes before it closed for renovations, and at the opening, Fangor put his signature on the previously unsigned wall. The artist posed for photographs in front of the painting, arms outstretched in a triumphant gesture. It was unusual for an artist in this part of the world—and for the museum—to so forcefully embrace old Socialist Realist work.