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3 April 2014

Francesco Guardi ‘Palace stairs’ returns to Poland after 75 years

“I am very happy that thanks to the work of Polish diplomats and the Ministry of Culture another work of art returns to its rightful owner,” said Minister Radosław Sikorski to Agnieszka Morawińska, Director of the National Museum in Warsaw, at a ceremony returning Francesco Guardi ‘Palace stairs.’ Its restitution was made possible thanks to cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Museum and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

“We all know this is just a fraction of Poland’s war-time art losses. We estimate that during WW II we lost about half a million works of art and that we have successfully restituted several dozen in the last few years,” stressed the Minister.

 

The painting titled ‘The Courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale with the Scala Dei Giganti, seen through the Arco Foscari.,” known as ‘Palace stairs’ was looted from the National Museum in Warsaw in 1939. Thanks to Minister Radosław Sikorski and Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, today Guardi’s painting retuned to its rightful owner - the National Museum in Warsaw. Returning the ‘Palace Stairs’ to Minister Sikorski during his visit to Berlin on Monday, Germany’s foreign minister noted that “its long odyssey has finally ended.”

“During less than three years, thanks to Minister Radosław Sikorski and German’s ministers of foreign affairs and culture, it was possible to return the painting to the National Museum in Warsaw, which makes us very happy,” said Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski talking about the history of the painting’s restitution.

 

“I am grateful to you ministers and all those who helped return the painting,” said Director Agnieszka Morawińska during the return ceremony.  “Guardi was the most romantic of the late Venetian School of painters. He painted Venice, often repeating the same motifs. It is good that such painting was purchased by the Museum in 1925 and we are very happy that it now returns to the Museum,” she noted.

The relatively small work (32.8 x 25.8 cm) of the 18th-century Venetian painter Francesco Guardi was bought by the Museum in 1925.  The price - PLN 8500 - was relatively high, but the artistic value of the canvass was worth the expense. Four years later ‘Palace stairs’ was published in a selection of the National Museum’s 48 most precious foreign paintings.  In 1939, Germans likewise appreciated the value of Guardi’s work and classified it as the so-called first choice (erste Wahl) work selected for transport to the Third Reich. The painting was given number 130 in “Sichergestellte Kunstwerke im Generalgouvermement” (catalogue of over 500 of the most valuable works of art “secured” in German occupied territories) grouped together with  such works as Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine, Rembrandt’s ‘Landscape,’ or Rafael’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man.”

 

Francesco Guardi’s canvas, looted during WW II, was listed in the Polish- and English-language catalogue of lost foreign paintings dated 1950. Poland obtained information about the painting’s possible whereabouts – the German University of Heidelberg’s collections – in the second half of 1990s. In 2003, Germany informed Poland that the painting was in Stuttgart. Since then the Polish MFA in cooperation with the National Museum in Warsaw and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage tried to get back the work of art.

 

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During WW II Poland lost almost half a million works of art estimated to be worth approximately US 20 billion. This year alone, thanks to Polish diplomats, almost 80 precious drawings and graphics by Ignacy Łopieński and Alfred Schouppé, Johann Conrad Seekatz’s ‘St. Philip Baptising the Eunuch of Queen Candace,’ a collection of 42 precious drawings and lithographs by Aleksander Orłowski, Carel Fabritius, Juliusz Kossak, Kazimierz Wojniakowski, Józef Chełmoński, Piotr Michałowski, Michał Płoński, Zygmunt Vogel and Leon Wyczółkowski, and a sculpture that was lost during WW II ‘Madonna and Child’ from Saint Jacob and Saint Agnes Church in Nysa returned to Poland.

The most important works of art returned in recent years include: 16th-century painting ‘Madonna under the Fir Tree’ by Lucas Cranach the Elder (similar paintings by Lucas Cranach were sold at auctions for EUR 6-8 million); 17th-century work by Pieter de Grebber “Portrait of a man reading’; two paintings by Julian Fałat originating from former collections of the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts; two Medieval richly illustrated manuscripts (missal and Liber de natura rerum);  ‘Retinue” a painting by Witold Wojtkiewicz dated 1908 and ‘Portrait of Karol Podlewski’ by Jan Matejko.

 

MFA Press Office

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs