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Francesco Guardi's ‘Palace Stairs’ Returns to Poland

Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, a valuable Francesco Guardi painting looted during World War II has been safely returned  to the National Museum in Warsaw.

Francesco Guardi "Schody pałacowe", II poł. XVIII w., fot. dzięki uprzejmości MKiDN
Francesco Guardi "Palace stairs", II half of XVIII, photo. courtesy of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage

The Polish Ministry of Culture regained “Palace stairs,” a masterpiece by Italian painter Francesco Guardi, which had been lost during WWII. This is one of the most important restitution issues of recent years.

I attach particular importance to the protection of Polish cultural heritage, and the restitution of cultural property lost during World War II is one of my top priorities – emphasized Bogdan Zdrojewski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage.

The painting was previously on display in the National Gallery in Stuttgart. On 31st March 2014, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski received the painting from his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in Berlin.

The date of the transfer of the painting to the National Museum in Warsaw will soon be given. It is not set yet. – said a spokesman of the Ministry to

From 1949, Francesco Guardi’s painting was mentioned in Ministry publications presenting cultural goods exported from Poland between 1939-45. It was registered in the database of objects lost to plundering in WWII maintained by the Ministry of Culture .

In 2010, the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture prepared a restitution request, which was filed by the National Museum in Warsaw - the pre-war owner of the image.

“Der Tagesspiegel” wrote about the Guardi painting. German press reports - particularly in the context of the recently discovered collection of Nazi-looted art in Munich - and repeated calls, conversations and efforts of the Polish Ministry of Culture resulted in a breakthrough in the case.

Francesco Guardi's Palace Stairs is an oil painting measuring 32.8 x 25.8cm. On 13th March, 1925 it was bought by the National Museum in Warsaw from Leon Kranc, a collector. Until the outbreak of World War II, the work was exhibited in the museum building at 15 Podwale Street. In the summer of 1939, in the face of impending war, the painting was hidden in the basement of the Museum. Shortly after the occupation of Warsaw, German forces began systematically requisitioning and exporting cultural goods.

Based on documents found in the German archives, the painting was transferred to the cultural goods repository in Wiesbaden on 24th December, 1945, and then to the Central Collecting Point in Munich. Later on, the canvas went to the University of Heidelberg as an object of unknown origin. In 1980, Palace Stairs was deposited in the Kurpfalzsche Museum in Heidelberg, and then to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, where it remained until recently.

The Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage maintains the national database of war losses, which now includes nearly 63 thousand paintings, sculptures, and other works of art. The list include works by artists such as Rubens, Rembrant, Durer, Wyspiański and Matejko.

To this day, thanks to the efforts of the Ministry, 26 objects have been returned to Poland, including Aleksander Gierymski's "Żydówka z pomarańczami", and Julian Fałat's "Przed Polowaniem w Rytwianach” and "Naganka na polowaniu w Naświeżu", among others.

The Ministry is currently working to regain 46 objects.

Sources: The Ministry of Culture and National Heritag, press materials, ed. AS, 31.03.2014, translated: Katarzyna Maksimiuk, 2.04.2014

Photography & Visual Arts
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