New Portrait Gallery of Polish Kings at Wrocław City Museum

Inspired by Andrzej Pągowski, The New Portrait Gallery of Polish Kings features as many as 49 representations of Polish rulers painted by Professor Waldemar Świerzy, an eminent Polish poster artist.

The idea to paint a gallery of portraits of Polish kings that is different from that of Matejko’s, the nation’s  favourite classic, came from Andrzej Pągowski, Professor Świerzy’s friend and student.  Jan Matejko created his portrait gallery in two years between February 1890 and January 1892, whereas Waldemar Świerzy’s gallery was made in 2006-2013 following the advances from modern historians.

Jadwiga of Poland in make-up

Pągowski’s idea was to provide a new, colourful and modern portrait gallery, the collection featuring a dazzling depiction of King Jan III Sobieski or Queen Jadwiga of Poland in make-up. Bezprym, the eldest son of King Bolesław the Brave, is one of the seven rulers skipped by Matejko. Świerzy provides a complete and revisited gallery including the underdogs of Polish historiography such as Bezprym, Zbigniew, Mieszko I the Tangle-Foot, Bolesław II the Horned, Henryk IV Probus and Wenceslaus III. Each portrait comes with a vivid description by historian Marek Klat, who supported Waldemar Świerzy throughout his creative process to find out more about the subject and make his depictions historically valid. 

Polish poster school guru

“The goal was to open the eyes of the Polish audience on kings and dukes as real people and not stiff and monumental figures. Right from the outset, the portrait gallery was designed to provide a complete, vivid and signature description of Polish rulers in contemporary visual form. Only Professor Waldemar Świerzy was able to meet the challenge,” explains Andrzej Pągowski, the exhibition’s curator and the author of more than 1200 posters.  
Waldemara Świerzy was one of the most celebrated representatives of the Polish poster school; he is often said to have been its co-originator. He was also one of the most gifted portrait painter in recent history, leaving a gallery of celebrated Poles, including Czesław Miłosz, Wisława Szymborska, Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Maria Skłodowska-Curie, and a wonderful series called Jazz Giants. Świerzy was the first artist in 120 years to rise to the challenge of Matejko’s portrait gallery and revisit the canonical representations stored in Poland’s collective memory. Świerzy completed the last work in the series, a portrait of King Stanisław August Poniatowski, on the eve of his death. He passed away on 27th November 2013.

Ground-breaking exhibition premières in Wrocław

The collection was first presented to the public in May 2015 at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Subsequently, the gallery was featured by the National Museum in Gdańsk at the end of 2016. From 8th August until 15th November 2017, the full gallery will be available to the public in Wrocław, at the Royal Palace, Wrocław City Museum. Original portraits by Świerzy bill be juxtaposed with 42 reproductions of pencil sketches by Matejko. 
Additionally, the education area is going to feature a collection of coins, notes, stamps and envelopes with Polish monarchs’ representations. The exhibits from the Wrocław City Museum will also be on display, including medals depicting Polish rulers by J.F.  Holzhausser and J. Reichl, representations of Polish dukes and kings by W.E. Radzikowski and lithograph reproductions of Matejko’s portrait gallery of Polish rulers with historical commentary.
The venue was selected on purpose. The Royal Palace in ul Kazimierza Wielkiego dates back to 1717 and is one of the major historical sites in Wrocław as well as an exhibition centre, its spacious halls featuring an exhibition called Wrocław’s Millennium.

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