Discovering Polish Art Collections

Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature (Muzeum Literatury Adama Mickiewicza)

Poland is the birthplace of an almost completely forgotten painter, so much so that he represents a real enigma. Very famous among his contemporaries, Franciszek Żmurko was born in Lviv in 1859. A ‘bridge’ city that would delineate his cosmopolitan traits. Żmurko began drawing as a boy, in his native city, under the guidance of the painters Tepa and Matejko. After attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, he moved to Vienna and Munich, then returned to Poland and moved to Warsaw.

A follower of the Polish school of the time who wanted paintings of female figures to portray intense drama, Żmurko managed – however – to deviate from its trajectory: the woman he painted is a new woman, a femme fatale very close to symbolism and the English school. Yet, it would be reductive to explain its value only in parallel, since Żmurko is not the only open question in Polish art. It is an art that has to deal, more than others, with post-war raids. Let us think of another great forgotten excellence: Szukalski; back in the limelight thanks to the docu-film strongly desired by Leonardo Di Caprio and his father.

To venture among the Polish art collections, under the pretext of looking for traces, becomes an exceptional journey of discovery. An excursion that includes three fundamental poles: Warsaw, Krakow and Katowice. The Polish National Galleries, in fact, have few equals in Europe and the pain that is never dormant between the paintings on display well reflects the conflicting past (and present!) of the country.

Starting from the Warsaw Pole (founded in 1862 and hosting some works by Żmurko), we find ourselves in one of the oldest museums in Poland. After the independence obtained in 1918, the collection was moved to the present palace built between 1927 and 1938. Today it houses over 800,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs from all over the world.

The National Gallery in Krakow, which houses a similar number of works from prehistoric times to the present day, should be considered as a ‘twin’. A prominent venue for the country’s most important temporary exhibitions, it finds in the painter Wyspiański its greatest exponent, who was at the centre of two recent monographic exhibitions probably destined to be re-proposed cyclically. In addition to the extensive collection of Polish art, Krakow also hosts the Krakow Iconography Studio, with an extensive collection of views and photographs of the city.

For those who wish to expand their knowledge on the subject, all that is left is to go to Katowice, the host city of the Silesian Museum. The Silesian Museum of Silesia is an important industrial region, and its museum is an ideal mirror of its historical and intellectual role between the present and the future.

Inspired by the Silesian heritage, the location is evocative and is located in the centre of an ancient mining site that has been revised and corrected to become an exceptional cultural centre. It is impossible not to be impressed by entering it. We find ourselves, in fact, in the presence of the depths that have seen many hands at work and that today host, instead: the Gallery of Polish Art from 1800 to 1945, the Gallery hosting  works from 1945 on, the Gallery of Religious Art and the Gallery dedicated to Amateur Art.

The Silesian Museum gives us the opportunity to admire a small sculpture by Szukalski and to close, ideally, the circle of our journey.

Emanuela Borgatta Dunnett