'Poland: The Power of Images' at the National Museum in Warsaw
#photography & visual arts
default, 'Poland: The Power of Images' at the National Museum in Warsaw , 'W Tumanie' (In the Cloud) by Jacek Malczewski, 1893-1894, oil on canvas, collection of the Raczyński Foundation at the National Museum in Poznań, pho, center, #000000, jacek_malczewski_w_tumanie_.jpg
The exhibition 'Poland: The Power of Images' is themed around the role of painting in the formation of national consciousness of Poles, the responsibilities of Polish artists in the 19th century, and the significance of historical continuity for the formation of collective memory. The National Museum in Warsaw (NMW) displays masterpieces of Polish painting from the major museums in the country. Exhibition organised by the NMW in collaboration with Musée du Louvre-Lens and National Museum in Poznan and Adam Mickiewicz Institute.
During the period of partitions of Poland (1795–1918), the role of the spiritual guide of the nation was first assumed by Romantic poetry, then by art. Visual arts shaped and solidified the sense of bond, created national mythology and illustrated the struggle for independence. The NMW exhibition curators Iwona Danielewicz and Agnieszka Rosales-Rodríguez explain:
When Poland had lost independence, art became a substitute for the lost freedom, a depositary of the former power of our country. Art transmitted the idea of national solidarity and became the treasury of native culture and folk traditions. It performed a variety of functions: compensative and recapitulative, apologetic and prophetic.
The works presented at the exhibition would form the collective imagination of Poles for decades. Creators of national mythology liked to return to the glorious past and Polish historical painting often recalled the splendour of old Poland. Such a grand and mythographic vision of Polish history, closely tied with contemporary political situation, was created by painter Jan Matejko. The artist chastised persons and political factions who contributed to the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and addressed the question of individual responsibility towards the community of the nation. In his works we will find a moving portrayal of the states of spiritual tension and psychological depths of the protagonists, as exemplified by the famous painting Reytan – The Fall of Poland.
Was Matejko A Painter?
A nation without a state
Shortly before the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, its vast territories were inhabited by Poles, Ruthenians, Lithuanians, Jews, Tatars, Crimean Karaites, Armenians and Germans. This ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity of the country under partitions was illustrated by Aleksander Grodzicki, Aleksander Gierymski and other artists. In old Poland, the term ‘nation’ was reserved for those who could use their full civil and political rights, that is – the nobility. During the partitions period, the Polish noblemen’s manor houses became the space of cultivation of language and culture, a bridge between the past and and the present. It became the mainstay of national identity, as well as a particular motif in the iconography of the Polish pursuit of independence – it can be found, for instance, in the works by Ferdynand Ruszczyc or Stanisław Kamocki. Polish manor houses raised the future insurgents; later they served as hospitals or shelters for soldiers and fugitives. Poles rather quickly realized that they would not win against the occupants if the entire society did not participate. The idea of national solidarism was highlighted in visual arts. An interest also developed in the culture of the country people as the source of cultural revival, treasury of authentic, primaeval collective values and morality. It was followed by the rich iconography of life in the country, colourful folk customs and religious rites. Jacek Malczewski painted subjects borrowed from folk tradition; the daily life of Tatra highlanders and Hutsuls was depicted by Władysław Ślewiński, Władysław Jarocki, Kazimierz Pautsch, Kazimierz Sichulski, Teodor Axentowicz and other artists. Stanisław Lentz delivered vivid depictions of the working class.
Rejtan – Jan Matejko
During the partition times, one particular vehicle of patriotic feelings was the native landscape, which was related to the turn to regions, the 'small homelands'. The quest for familiarity found expression in the choice of a particular scenery, e.g., a Masovian plain or the Eastern Borderlands (Kresy), popularised in painting by Juliusz Kossak, Józef Brandt, Józef Chełmoński, Jan Stanisławski or Leon Wyczółkowski. The landscapes by Stanisław Wyspiański evoke the drama of a country in bondage: views of the Wawel Castle and the Planty park in Krakow are a symbolical manifesto of an artist awaiting the restoration of the independent country and society. The trend of 'pure' landscape, liberated from patriotic duties, typically modern in its treatment of light and colour, was pursued by Jan Stanisławski, Julian Fałat and Aleksander Gierymski. Enforced deportations, resettlement to Siberia, ban on the use of Polish language in public places, offices and schools made the family home a symbol permanently tied with independence and the sense of national identity of Poles. This aura of the private, safe space was captured by Józef Mehoffer and Konrad Krzyżanowski.
The Painting that Changed Kraków’s Cloth Hall
The exhibition emphasises artistic and political relations between Poland and France, revitalised by the Napoleonic legend from the period of the Duchy of Warsaw and the activism of the Great Emigration after the November Insurrection, especially the circle gathering around the Czartoryski family at Hôtel Lambert in Paris. The capital of France, the main travel destination of Polish artists, was perceived as the home of artistic freedom. Napoleonic iconography, present in Polish art until World War II, established in the collective memory the image of the Uhlan (cavalryman) fighting – even in remote corners of the world – for Polish independence. Piotr Michałowski for almost two decades painted the theme of the famous attack of the Polish Chevau-légers (light cavalrymen) at the Somosierra mountain pass, and made it, beside the figure of Napoleon, one of the key motifs of his art.
Insurgents & exiles
For Poles in the 19th century, history was a real force shaping the fates of both individuals and entire nations. The dramatic events of the January Insurrection and the deportations to Siberia were portrayed in Artur Grottger’s several drawing series, at that time extremely popular and known in every cultured household. They illustrated model patriotism, and with the passing of time, gained the status of the canon of national martyrology. In the last two decades of the 19th century, the subject of the armed struggle in art was replaced by the topic of exclusion, discouragement and death. For Maksymilian Gierymski, Józef Chełmoński or Jacek Malczewski, the historical experience of national insurrections provided a challenge to abandon Romantic heroism and turn to naturalistic compositions depicting contemporary subjects. Anonymous insurgents of 1863, Siberian exiles, political prisoners, separated from their homeland and families, became figures of human misery humiliation and loneliness.
11 Unmissable Paintings in the Collection of the National Museum in Warsaw
Towards the 20th century
Polish modernism of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was a multi-layered phenomenon filled with tensions and contradictions. Programmes and ideas breaking against the Romantic mission or involvement of art in national affairs would emerge. Nevertheless, visual arts continued to preserve the past symbols and allegories, like the figures of Polonia, Hussars (cavalrymen), Stańczyk (the famous 16th-century court jester to Polish kings) or 19th-century insurgents. The eminent students of painter Jan Matejko, mostly Jacek Malczewski and Stanisław Wyspiański, and to a lesser extent Leon Wyczółkowski, assumed the role of the guides of collective memory, replacing Romantic poets. The end of the century abounded in programmes and stances that abandoned the ideals of national art. Native artists confronted themselves with the achievements of European artists, absorbed the new trends of symbolism, nabism, protoexpressionism, aestheticism and decadentism, Art Nouveau, or the British movement of the revival of arts and crafts. The exhibition presents the works by Stanisław Przybyszewski, Wojciech Weiss, Władysław Ślewiński and Witold Wojtkiewicz.
The Painting of Polish Symbolism
A collaboration between NMW & Musée Louvre-Lens
The exhibition Poland: The Power of Images is the Warsaw edition of the display Pologne 1840–1918: Peindre l’âme d’une nation [Poland 1840–1918: Painting the Spirit of the Nation] presented until January 2020 at the Musée Louvre-Lens. The French exhibition was a partner project of the NMW, the Musée Louvre-Lens and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw, with the President of the Republic of France Emmanuel Macron and the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda acting as the honorary patrons. The exhibition was part of celebration of the 101st anniversary of the Polish independence as well as the 100th anniversary the Polish-French migration agreement. The exhibition’s success encouraged the organisers to show it also to the Polish public.
The Warsaw exhibition presents works from the NMW as well as masterpieces of Polish painting from the collections of the National Museum in Kraków, the National Museum in Poznań, the District Museum in Toruń, the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków, the Raczyński Foundation at the National Museum in Poznań and the private collection of Sylwia and Tomasz Gardecki. The exhibition chronologically begins with a work by Piotr Michałowski and is concluded with paintings from the early 20th century. It is accompanied with the catalogue and an extensive series of lectures, workshops and themed guided tours.
Curators: Iwona Danielewicz (MNW), Agnieszka Rosales Rodríguez (MNW), Marie Lavandier (Musée du Louvre-Lens), Luc Piralla-Heng Vong (Musée du Louvre-Lens)
Assistance: Wojciech Głowacki
Exhibition organised by the National Museum in Warsaw in collaboration with Musée du Louvre-Lens and National Museum in Poznan and Adam Mickiewicz Institute
Patronage of Frédéric Billet, French Ambassador to Poland, and the Institut français de Pologne.
National Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda to mark the Centenary of Regaining Independence
Patronat Ambasadora Francji w Polsce Frédérica Billet.
Patronat Instytutu Francuskiego w Polsce.
muzeum narodowe w warszawie
muzeum narodowe w poznaniu
muzeum narodowe w krakowie
instytut francuski w warszawie
Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa NArodowego
polskie malarstawo XIXw.
Co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland as part of the international cultural programme coordinated by Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the multi-annual programme NIEPODLEGŁA 2017–2022.