Artistic Brotherhood's 1939 paintings for New York World Fair return to Poland after 83 years
A series of historically significant Polish paintings completed on the eve of WWII as a commission for the Polish Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, will make their return to Poland after 83 years housed at a US college.
Depicting scenes from Polish history such as the Constitution of the 3rd of May, the founding of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Battle of Vienna, the series was painted by 11 artists from one of the most important Polish artistic groups of the inter-war period, the Brotherhood of St. Luke.
Associated with the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, the brotherhood was centred around the popular, larger than life figure of artist and professor Tadeusz Pruszkowski who founded the collective inspired by medieval guilds which worked collaboratively under the eye of a master.
Meeting at Pruszkowski’s private villa turned studio on the Castle Hill in Kazimierz Dolny, still standing today, or gathering for outdoor painting sessions popularised by Pruszkowski, the group, which included the prominent names of Antoni Michalak, Bolesław Cybis, Jan Zamoyski and Jan Gotard would regularly come together to paint in a spirit of artistic freedom.
In 1938, the group was commissioned by a Polish historical committee to produce a series of paintings to decorate the hall of honour at the Polish Pavilion during the upcoming World’s Fair in New York which opened on the 30th April 1939.
The theme of the World Fair was the future, intended to allow visitors an insight into "the world of tomorrow” and the opening slogan being the “Dawn of a New Day".
Accepting the commission, the Brotherhood of St Luke created seven paintings at Pruszkowski’s villa studio, focused on scenes from Polish history and designed to fit with the idea of the commissioning committee that they should showcase Poland’s input into the development of civilisation.
Painted as a collaborative effort by all 11 artists, the paintings were created using traditional methods of tempera on board and special paints, with recognition for the appropriate colours and clothing of the time period being depicted.
The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the paintings could not return to Poland, and the curator of the Polish Pavillion at the World Fair, Stephan Ropp, sold some works and gifted others, including the paintings of the Brotherhood, to Le Moyne College in New York’s Syracuse, where he was a lecturer.
After many years of efforts by Poland's culture ministry, the return of the paintings from Le Moyne College was confirmed after the signing of an agreement between the college and Piotr Glinksi, Poland's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage on the 4th of May.
Speaking to the Polish Press Agency, Glinski described the works of the Brotherhood as having a particularly interesting history and interesting form of historical and artistic perspective.
He said: “The World’s Fair in New York was intended to talk about the future of civilisation.
“As a result, we wanted to show what we had contributed to the history of civilisation, such as the Christianisation of Lithuania, or The Warsaw Confederation, which introduced tolerance.
“These paintings demonstrated that Poland was progressive, not only in its military might, but also through its political thought.”
He added: “All artworks which return to us in such circumstances, are important, because Poland lost a large amount during the war: 70 percent of libraries were burned down and it is estimated that we lost half a million works.”
The seven artworks of the Brotherhood of St Luke for the New York World’s Fair will return to Poland alongside four tapestries by Mieczysław Szymański, also produced for the same occasion.