Indepth Arts News: |
"The Return of The Polish Treasures"
2001-02-05 until 2001-05-06
Musee du Quebec
After having inflamed passions and caused much ink to flow
more than half a century ago, the Polish treasures
return to the Musee du Quebec for a major exhibition
organized in conjunction with Wawel Castle in Krakow.
The exhibition will feature more than 80 works and art objects
allowing visitors to discover one of the great periods in Polish
history (16th to 18th century), and to situate a rich artistic
production influenced by Oriental and Occidental tradition.
The selection shown includes sumptuous Flemish tapestries
from the collection of King Sigismund Augustus, rare portraits
of royal families and members of the nobility, canvases
depicting religious and historical scenes, landscapes and genre
scenes by Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists, including Rubens.
Numerous decorative art objects will also be displayed, for
instance, articles made of gold, pottery, furniture and, of
course, the exhibition will offer an incursion into military history
and the age of chivalry, with armour, shields, swords, cartridge
belts and saddles.
The odyssey of the Polish treasures
The growing threat of a German offensive in 1939 forced the
Polish authorities to send the treasures of the precious royal
collection of Wawel Castle out of the country. This was the
beginning of a long, eventful journey by water and land, which
took a portion of the valuable collection through numerous
adventures to Rumania, France, England and, finally, Canada,
near Ottawa. At the end of the war, many nations officially
recognized the new Communist government in Warsaw, which
demanded the repatriation of the national treasure. Former
Polish leaders in exile nevertheless managed to hide the riches
in different locations. After various misadventures, the bulk of
the treasure made its way to the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec
hospital in late summer 1946. It was located by the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police only in January 1948.
The Premier of Québec, Maurice DUPLESSIS, a fierce
opponent of Communism and staunch defender of the Catholic
faith, had the works transferred secretly by unmarked vans to
the vault of the Musée de la province de Québec (today’s
Musée du Québec) right under the noses of federal agents!
Despite diplomatic pressure and legal proceedings, the royal
treasures of Wawel Castle were restored to Poland only in
1961, sixteen months after DUPLESSIS’ death.
Located in Krakow, on a rocky outcropping overhanging the
Vistula, Wawel Castle is composed of a series of historic
buildings: a Gothic castle transformed into a Renaissance
residence by Sigismund I, a Gothic cathedral (1320-1364) and
a system of fortifications.
Today, Wawel Castle is a museum whose main purpose is to
reconstruct Wawel’s past and its inception into the national
culture. Due to the exceptional historic role played by Wawel
hill, considered the beacon of Poland’s past, but also due to
the historical and artistic value of the royal residence and the
collection it houses, the museum is one of Poland’s best known
and most respected national institutions.