Virtual Treasure Hunt for Poland's Lost Art
#photography & visual arts
small, Virtual Treasure Hunt for Poland's Lost Art, muzeum utracone 3_6938560.jpg
Over decades of wars, occupation and pillaging, thousands of priceless works of art have been destroyed or illegally exported from Polish territory. The Lost Museum brings back the memory of these works, some of which have been rediscovered - and as their stories unfold through the museum's hot pursuit, the search continues for thousands more
Works in the "lost" collection include Anton van Dyck's 17th-century painting Ecce Homo, Albrecht Dürer's Reposing Lioness, fragments of a Wit Stwosz triptych (or by craftsmen in his workshop) and Lucas Cranach the Elder's Madonna and Child (Głogowska). The latter work was appropriated by a Red Army major and remains at the Pushkin National Art Museum in Moscow, despite eight years' of efforts to have the painting returned to Poland.
The museum's project is the multimedia presentation of works of art that either originated in Poland or were foreign works held in Polish collections but which had disappeared over time, falling victim to the destruction and loss of war - particularly in the Second World War. The project is an initiative of the Ad Artis Art Foundation, aimed at restoring the memory of works that are the cultural heritage of all of Europe. It seeks new ways of sharing knowledge about these lost treasures and, of course, to encourage research and rediscovery of these works. As coordinator Paulina Goliszewska shares in an interview with Culture.pl,
The role of our project is to create a collection of lost works in a virtual museum. As of four years, with the start of our activities, (new additions) to the collection are presented at the Museum Night event in cooperation with affiliated institutions, then presented on the website. This year the main theme is "Collections and Collectors", showing, for example, works from Tadeusz (Boy) and Zofia Żeleńskis' collection and that of King Stanisław August.
The Negress by Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, 1884, oil on canvas, courtesy of: National Museum in Warsaw
The collection of the Lost Museum (Muzeum Utracone) presents just a fraction of the wealth of such works, just a part of the broad catalogue compiled by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, which runs their own sites dedicated to these missing works at: www.skradzionezabytki.pl and kolekcje.mkidn.gov.pl. These collections include works of Polish and foreign origin across genres, including painting, sculpture, crafts, archaeological artifacts and more, originating in both public and private collections. Currently, there are close to 60,000 such records. The Ministry also holds a catalogue of works lost or stolen from Polish libraries, both public and private, from the year 1945.
The fate of many of these works is still a mystery, but the efforts of the public and private sectors in Poland and other cooperating nations have pieced together stories for some of them. And have led to the recovery of works including Aleksander Gierymski's Orange Vendor, looted from the National Museum in Warsaw during the Second World War then discovered at auction in Germany in 2010, and restored to the National Museum's collection in 2011.
Another success story has been Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz's The Negress, also stolen during the Second World War, which was rediscovered at auction in Germany in 2011 and returned to the National Museum the following year. Poland recovered Lucas Cranach's Madonna under the Fir Trees in 2012. The German artist painted the work for the cathedral in Wrocław in 1510, where it remained until it was stolen and taken to Berlin during the Second World War.
The project's programme council includes scholars and representatives from major historical and archive institutions, including Professor Andrzej Rottermund, PhD. (director of the Royal Castle in Warsaw), Professor Maria Poprzęcka (of the Art History Institute at Warsaw University), Władysław Stępniak, PhD. (Chief Director of the National Archives), Dr. Tomasz Makowski (director of the National Library), Dr. Paweł Jaskanis (director of the Palace Museum in Wilanów) and Piotr Majewski, PhD (director of the National Institute of Museology and Collection Preservation).
Photographic documentation of the Lost Museum collection can be found online at: muzeumutracone.pl. Currently, information on the site is only available in Polish.
Author: Agnieszka Sural, May 2013, with translation and additional editing by Agnieszka Le Nart