Matejko. The Painter and History

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  • Friday, June 23, 2023 - Sunday, January 7, 2024

Among Polish painters, there is perhaps none more universally known than Jan Matejko. His works have accompanied generation after generation of Poles, at the very least from the beginnings of their education in the field of history, though mainly through reproductions in history books at that time. It is no exaggeration to say that the paintings of Matejko have shaped the imagination of the Polish nation on the greatest events of its own history. The painting The Battle of Grunwald by this artist is the Polish painting most forcefully etched into the shared consciousness.

Yet Jan Matejko did not simply tell the story of episodes from (mainly Polish) history; he did so in a way that amazed viewers both in Kraków and Warsaw, as well as in Vienna and Paris.  His “The Sermon of Piotr Skarga” and “Rejtan” were hailed in France’s capital as the rebirth of grand historical painting, a genre which in the mid-19th century was undoubtedly undergoing a crisis. But Matejko’s works were not merely a rehashing of established, if nonetheless outstanding, formulas; he proposed instead a new and innovative conception of the portrayal of the “historic turning point”, building a story that Poles can still today look to today when they ask themselves the question “Where do we come from?”, “How is it possible that we have survived as a community for more than a thousand years?” and when trying to understand the grave threats to that survival that have occurred over the years.

The exhibition Matejko. The Painter and History presents an intimate look at fascinating aspects of the work of this Cracovian artist, displaying both the aforementioned paintings of grand historical cycles, as well as dozens of other smaller format works which feature contents no less grand for their smaller size (including works from private and foreign collections), and also sketches and props used during Matejko’s creative process. In total, there are more than 300 works which illustrate the richness of the artist’s accomplishments. The exhibition will also bring light to Matejko’s social activism, presenting numerous certificates of gratitude and recognition addressed to him.

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