Friday, July 28, 2006

Polish Art Collections in Michigan, from Poles in Michigan

Excerpt from: Poles in Michigan Vol. 1 Detroit, Mich. 1953.

Polish Art Collections in Michigan by Stanislaw Janicki

The tragic history of the Polish nation reflects itself not only in literature, painting and music but also in various collections of remembrances and works of art which were treasured by Polish generations as precious relics. Polish museums, libraries and private art collections have thus their special history.

In almost every Polish museum there are some relics of national martyrs and heroes of the Polish insurrections, like rosaries from bread, prison chains, or signs with an inscription, “Speaking Polish is prohibited”. Such signs were hung in the Polish towns during the czarist rule in Poland.

The last war brought new exhibits and new remembrances from German concentration camps in Dachau, Oswiencim and Birkenau, such as lampshades and book covers made from skins of the tortured and cremated.

The Polish political emigrants have in their possessions items as such as vestments made secretly by the people, of old blankets for the priests saying Masses in Siberia, pictures of thin, emaciated children and descriptions of experiences and tortures in the Russian prisons.

During the past centuries, Poland was systematically robbed of art works and valuable relics. Toward the end of the 18th century, during and after the fall of the Polish Republic, plunder of Polish art was methodically carried on by all partitioning powers. At that time, the royal insignia from Wawel secretly disappeared. This insignia was stolen on orders from the Prussian King, Frederick Wilhelm II and melted into war equipment.

One of the biggest and the most valuable libraries, the Zaluski Library in Warsaw, containing over 320,000 priceless books, was plundered by General Suvorov in 1795. Its contents were taken to St. Petersburg where it became the foundation of the famous Rus­sian Imperial Library. After both the insurrections of 1830 and 1863 the Russian museums and libraries were enriched with Polish works of art.

The 20th Century brought further devastation of Polish art exhibits and monuments. The Russian Revolution of 1917 destroyed famous palaces and manors in the former eastern part of Poland. Many famous original paintings of Canova, Rodin and others perished during revolutionary turmoil.

Between 1939 and 1945 there was mass destruction of Polish libraries and archives. These were purposely burned to obliterate Poland’s cultural tradition. Some catalogs, enumerating the magni­tude of destruction by the Hitlerites, were published in Poland after 1950. There is no accurate record of the plundering done by the Soviets who had stolen not only the art work, but also floors from some of the Polish palaces. Happily, the priceless Gobelin tapestry of King Zigismund August who reigned during the 16th Century, the coronation sword of the kings of Poland and other national treasures were saved and deposited in a Catholic monastery in Ca­nada. The story of this famous rescue was recently described by Alexander Janta. There are, however, some who would be willing to give these national treasures to the Soviets, in order to appease them.

During the partitions of Poland, political emigrants estab­lished the famous Rapersville collections in Switzerland. At the pre­sent time the Polonia in the United States has assumed the re­sponsibility of rescuing, gathering and preserving Polish national art and relics.

Year after year many strayed art items, old books and national relics find their way to the United States. They are bought and saved from destruction by both private individuals and by organi­zations. In 1952 the Central Citizens Committee of Detroit bought the thirty-seven (37) volume work, the famous “Polish Biblio­graphy” of the Professors Estreichers, and presented it to the Detroit Public Library. This bibliography describes all Polish publications from 1470 to 1900.

In the Detroit Institute of Arts there are a few Polish exhibits. These are the “Wounded Stag” by Elie Nadelman - Poland 1885, purchased in 1919, and the desk belonging to Queen Maria Lesz­czynska, wife of King Louis XIV. The friends of Polish art donated to the Detroit Institute of Arts a tapestry, “Hocul Dance”, by Eleanor Plutynska, a miniature of Chopin by Sowy Sowinski, min­iature portraits (of unknown origin), depicting Stanislaus Ponia­towski, the father and Andrew Poniatowski, the brother of the last Polish King, as well as a royal chalice which belonged either to King August II or his son, King August III. While the painters the above mentioned miniatures are unknown, it is believed they were painted by either Karol Bechon, Violant, Vincent Lesseur, or Anthony Kucharski, as all of these artists painted for the last Polish King.

To Be Continued Next Friday...