It’s back! Zaleski’s 19th century oil painting of Milan Cathedral returns after disappearing during Warsaw Uprising
A lost oil painting by the ‘Warsaw Bellotto’ that disappeared from the capital during the Second World War has returned home after being handed over to the National Museum in Warsaw at an official ceremony.
The painting ‘Interior of the Cathedral in Milan’ by nineteenth-century Polish artist Marcin Zaleski was most probably housed in the vaults of National Museum until the Warsaw Uprising erupted in August, 1944.
After its fall, many of the museum’s collections still remaining in the city fell victim to looting, theft or destruction. Other items were taken to special German warehouses in Lower Silesia, Austria and Germany.
The precise circumstances in which the painting left Warsaw are unknown.
All trace of the painting was lost until January 2018 when the Polish culture ministry received a tip off that it had been deposited in the Dorotheum, which is a large auction house in Vienna.
The oil on canvas shows the vast knave and impressive vaulting inside Milan’s cathedral, which is the largest church in Italy, the third largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.
Presented alongside the painting at the official handover ceremony was the picture’s original frame specially selected by the artist, which has been held at the museum since the war.
Due to damage to the painting in the intervening period, it’s dimensions are smaller and it no longer fits. The frame will now be used to display another painting by Zaleski.
Speaking at the official handover of the painting, National Museum director Prof. Jerzy Miziołek said of Zaleski that, “he is in truth the Warsaw Bellotto,” referring to the 18th century Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto, also known as Canaletto, who is famous for painting many large canvases of Warsaw during the reign of the last king of Poland Stanisław August Poniatowski.
He added: “Zaleski is a very important Warsaw artist. The museum has 40 of his paintings, but this one is the jewel in the crown.”
Miziołek said that the painting is unique as it shows the interior of Milan Cathedral at a time earlier and bathed in more light than other known paintings of the interior of the cathedral that are held in Milan.
He added that the Warsaw museum is in talks with Italian cultural institutions to organise a joint exhibition about the cathedral at which the Zalewski painting will be a headline attraction.
Zaleski was one of Poland’s most eminent urban landscape painters of the nineteenth century. His painting Interior of the Cathedral in Milan was presented to the public for the first time 1838 at an exhibition organised in Warsaw.
In 1867, the work was brought by the Museum of Fine Art, where it was display. It was moved to the newly opened building of the National Museum in 1936.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński said at the handover ceremony that further successful repatriations of lost Polish art from World War II can be expected, adding that around 80 restitution cases are underway at present.
He said: “Over half a million works of art and items of national heritage were destroyed during World War II or simply stolen, mainly by our neighbours.”
Gliński said that in the last four years, 500 works of art have been recovered. However, he added that despite these successes compared to the scale of lost art, “it is still sad”.
Marcin Zaleski’s recovered painting will be on display in the Gallery of 19th-Century Painting in the Hall of Classicism and Romanticism from 10 September.