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This catalogue offers a comprehensive overview of the work of the War Graves Department in Krakow (KGA). It situates the Department and its activities within the broad context of the history of Galicia during World War I, focusing on the life and work of the artists working for the KGA.
The Department was active from 1915 to 1918, focusing its work on the areas of former battlefields, as well as on the design and construction of cemeteries in West Galicia. Over 40 artists collaborated with the KGA: architects, painters, sculptors, graphic designers, and photographers from various countries of the monarchy.
An introduction to the history of the KGA comes with an essay by Dr. Kamila Ruszała, addressing the wartime history of Galicia. Ruszała discusses the exile of the civilians and their fear of the Russian army, but also the sources of the idea of making war cemeteries, later transformed into a vast imperial project.
The second essay, by Dr. Beata Nykiel, describes in detail the structure of the KGA, principles of its operation, and the idea behind the founding of the Department. It also presents the biographies of its administrators, in particular Rudolf Broch and Hans Hauptmann. Nykiel situates the history of the making of the Galician war cemeteries complex in the broader context of Austro-Hungarian propaganda and historical politics.
In the final essay, Agnieszka Partridge introduces the biographies of artists working for the KGA. The author discusses exhibitions of their work and describes the post-war history of these objects. She also describes the work of famous artists such as Dušan Jurkovič, Henryk Uziembło, Jan Szczepkowski, and Alfons Karpiński. The essay revives the memory of forgotten artists, whose wartime practice has been discovered and described only in the last decade. This group includes, among others, Hans Mayr, Gustav Ludwig, Heinrich Scholz, Adolf Kašpar, Robert Pochop, and Franz Poledne.
The catalogue is richly illustrated with reproductions of sketches, watercolours, gouaches, as well as photos of selected examples of medal art. The works’ subject matter includes the life in the barracks, views of battlefields, temporary burials sites, as well as genre scenes and views of Krakow.
“In the liberated western part of the province, dotted with thousands of soldiers’ graves, the effort of making war cemeteries was taken as a grand project of the Habsburg Empire. In this way, Galicia became a theatre of a perfectly designed and structured narrative about military operations, full of evocative monuments to fallen soldiers, with their originality and panache often contrasting with war ruins.” (Kamil Ruszała)