Plaster mould for assassinated president’s death mask found in Warsaw attic
The original plaster mould used to create the death mask of murdered pre-war president Gabriel Narutowicz has been found in a disused warehouse.
The discovery, along with 130 moulds made by a historical firm of famous artisans, was made in a private storage unit near Warsaw’s East Station in the Praga-Północ district where they had been lying forgotten for over 20 years.
Stunned heritage officials said the fragile moulds which survived two world wars, including the Warsaw Uprising, and the subsequent decades of Communism, are in almost pristine condition.
The moulds were made by the Łopieński Brothers, an esteemed family business that for several generations produced bronze medals, sculptures and monuments, including the famous Chopin monument, which sits in Łazienki park.
Warsaw’s chief heritage conservation officer Michał Krasucki said: “Narutowicz's death mask, Reymont's commemorative medallion, a medal celebrating the erection of the monument to Prince Poniatowski, Korfanty's commemorative plaque, an exhibition sculpture of a boxer, medals, utilitarian art. […] Nobody knew about them. Until now!”
How the collection arrived at the site on Boruta street is convoluted. The warehouse space was rented twenty years ago by a company called Regnum, a wholesaler of decorative goods.
Previously, its owners, Małgorzata and Janusz Nadolski, had rented warehouse and office space , between 1996 and 2000 from the city council at 55 Hoża street in Warsaw, a red-brick, city-centre light industrial site, where the Łopieński Brothers had once had their metal forging factory.
There, the Nadolski’s discovered a small attic space where they found a huge number of abandoned plaster sculptures.
Janusz Nadolski said: “We didn't move them, but when we moved out in 2000, we thought that whoever came after us might destroy them.
“My daughters and I packed the plaster moulds in bubble wrap and brought them here, to Boruta Street.”
The moulds stayed there untouched until a television programme about the Łopieński Brothers prompted Nadolski to contact the granddaughter of the famous artisans, Anna Łopieńska-Lipczyk.
The plaster mould for the death mask of Gabriel Narutowicz was created immediately after his murder on December 16, 1922, just days after becoming Poland’s first president after regaining its independence.
The resulting bronze death mask is now an exhibit at Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Museum.
The Łopieński Brothers are synonymous in Poland with specialist bronze medals and monuments.
Their origins go back to 1862, when Jan Łopieński set up a forging workshop in Warsaw.
His work soon gained recognition, winning the silver medal at the exhibition in Paris. In 1880, due to financial reasons, he had to close the business, which was reactivated a few years later by his sons.
The firm’s greatest successes came between the wars. Out of 140 such companies operating in Warsaw, the Łopieńscy Brothers enjoyed the best reputation.
Shortly after the war, the company was commissioned to rebuild the Fryderyk Chopin monument, which had been destroyed in 1940 on the orders of Nazi strongman Hans Frank.
In 1950, the family business was taken over by the state-run Bronze Decorative Cooperative.
The firm’s home at 55 Hoża Street was bought by a developer in 2006. Now, only the front wall exists. A modern apartment building was built on the site.
The traditions of the Łopieński Brothers are continued by the bronze workshop of Anna Łopieńska-Lipczyk, and her husband, Wojciech Lipczyk, which is just round the corner on Poznańska street.
Anna Łopieńska-Lipczyk has donated the entire collection of 130 moulds to Warsaw City Hall.
Heritage boss Michał Krasucki says that talks are now underway to find a home for them in one of Warsaw’s museums.