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"The Return of The Polish Treasures"
2001-02-05 until 2001-05-06
Musee du Quebec
Quebec, QC, CA

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.

Wawel Castle
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.


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