Malczewski’s The Piano Lesson looted during WWII finally returns to Warsaw

The Piano Lesson by Jacek Malczewski shows the artist’s sisters at a piano in Radom. Danuta Matloch/Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

A painting by one of the greatest and most acclaimed artists in the history of Polish art which disappeared from the National Museum in Warsaw after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 has finally returned home.

The Piano Lesson by Jacek Malczewski showing the artist’s sisters at a piano in Radom, came up for auction in November last year at Roseberys auction house in London with an estimate of £6,000–8,000.

Upon its arrival at the museum from London, the package was thoroughly disinfected and then opened by a team lead by the culture minister.Danuta Matloch/Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

According to the auction house, the oil on canvas was owned by Helena Karczewska (née Malczewska) up to her death in 1933.

The painting was sold in 1997 at Christie’s in New York for USD 19,000.

The painter's signature and the name of the place where he painted his sisters at the piano, Radom, also helped to identify the work, along with the date 1877.Danuta Matloch/Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

However, when its true provenance was identified, the painting, which is one of over 63,000 Polish works of art stolen during the war, was withdrawn from the auction and secured by the UK authorities.

Culture minister Piotr Gliński said in a television interview on Polsat: “The owner of the painting, when presented with arguments behaved decently and did not make any problems.” 

According to the auction house, the oil on canvas was owned by Helena Karczewska (née Malczewska) up to her death in 1933.Roseberys

The painting was held in the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw before the outbreak of the war. On its reverse is the museum’s familiar marking ‘MN’.

The painter's signature and the name of the place where he painted his sisters at the piano, Radom, also helped to identify the work, along with the date 1877.

The artwork disappeared from the National Museum in Warsaw after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.Danuta Matloch/Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

Upon its arrival at the museum from London, the package was thoroughly disinfected and then opened by a team lead by the culture minister.

The painting is now in strict quarantine for a week. After the quarantine, it will undergo conservation. It has a damaged frame, a badly stretched canvas and slightly faded colours. Later, it will be hung in the gallery among other paintings by Malczewski.

Malczewski was just 23 when he created the painting the conventional style of which offers little hint that he would become revered as the father of Polish Symbolism. Public domain

Malczewski was just 23 when he painted his sisters Bronka and Helena at the piano in his family home in Radom just after returning from Paris.

The conventional style of the painting offers little hint that Malczewski would become revered as the father of Polish Symbolism.

Culture minister Piotr Gliński said: “The owner of the painting, when presented with arguments behaved decently and did not make any problems.” Danuta Matloch/Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

His later work combined ideas of patriotism and national messianism with a sensitivity to the beauty of Poland’s landscape.

After quarantine, it will undergo conservation and will later be hung in the National Museum’s gallery among other paintings by Malczewski.Danuta Matloch/Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

Posting on Twitter, the National Museum wrote: “Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Culture, Polish museum staff and the former owner of the work, Jacek Malczewski's painting ‘The Piano Lesson’, which was lost during World War II, has returned to the National Museum in Warsaw today.”