Kept in a vault under armed guard, TFN gets exclusive glimpse at ‘hugely important’ painting hidden from public view for 200 years
A rare painting by the last king of Poland’s court artist, which hasn’t been seen in public for over 200 years, has been bought by the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
The triplet portrait by Marcello Bacciarelli shows Lithuanian Court Marshal Jerzy Mniszech with his daughter and King Stanisław August Poniatowski’s favourite dog, Kiopek.
The purchase of the charming picture was negotiated in October this year and it arrived in Warsaw from Paris on December 20.
Royal Castle director Professor Wojciech Fałkowski who was personally involved in the process to buy the painting, told TFN: “Bacciarelli created the painting in 1795; however, since the beginning of the nineteenth century it has been in private hands in an aristocratic family in Italy and it has not been shown in public for over 200 years. This means that it is particularly special to have it now in the castle here in Warsaw.”
When word was received from art market contacts that the painting was available to purchase, the castle had to act quickly. “If we hadn’t acted as fast as we did, the painted could have ended up somewhere else,” professor Fałkowski noted.
“We first heard that the painting was available in Paris in September. I happened to be in Paris at the time so I went to see it. We reserved the painting in October and negotiated an option to pay for it up to December 20. We made the payment a bit before this and the painting arrived at the castle on December 15,” Fałkowski explained to TFN.
On the cost of the painting, funds for which were allocated by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the director was more discrete: “The seller wishes to keep their identity and the sale price confidential. However, we paid no more than the market rate for a painting of this type and even achieved a slight discount,” he revealed.
For TFN’s exclusive viewing, the painting was standing on an easel under armed guard in the castle’s ornately decorated Council Chamber. The plan though is that it will eventually hang in the Royal Apartment. Before that, however, it must first undergo examination by castle art conservation specialists.
“What we know initially is that the painting is stable and is has not started to crumble. We have to examine it thoroughly before making any decision about how much work needs to be done, but it should be a matter of months not years,” explained Maria Szczypek, castle art conservator.
Asked about the paintings importance, the castle director replied: “Huge, it was painted in 1795, so in the year of the final partition when Poland ceased to exist and when Stanisław August Poniatowski ceased to be king, so it was one of the last paintings that Bacciarelli made at court.”
“It forces us to reflect on the familial relations at the time. We can see a high court official dressed in formal dress, yet he is also a father playing endearingly with his five-year-old daughter.
“What makes the painting particularly special is that the last king’s favourite dog Kiopek takes centre stage,” the director enthused.
There is indeed much to enjoy in the painting. Jerzy Mniszech, dressed elegantly in a dark blue frock coat with an elegantly knotted ruffle and a powdered wig, looks lovingly at his young daughter, who is clothed elegantly in a white dress with a blue sash and is sitting on her father’s desk on a red tasselled cushion. She stares inquisitively at the artist while the unruly Kiopek paws at the young girl with pricked ears seeking her attention.
The director revealed to TFN that the Bacciarelli purchase is just the first in a series of large purchases planned by the castle. “We are keeping our fingers crossed that these purchases will work out, but if they do they will certainly be major artistic events, and they will not be limited to paintings,” professor Fałkowski heralded.
Marcello Bacciarelli was the court painter and portraitist of the last king of Poland Stanisław August Poniatowski and it is through his portraits that we are familiar with the image of the king today. He also worked closely with the king to build the extensive Royal art collection, which to a large extent ushered in the Enlightenment in Poland.