The Louvre of Łódź: Once a faded jewel, Poznański Palace has regained its perch as one of the nation’s most magnificent urban structures
The results of an annual vote to determine the architectural “Pearls of Łódź” have been revealed with the winning entries spanning a range of styles and epochs.
No accolades, however, have been as richly deserved as that bestowed on the city’s Poznański Palace.
Held for the fifth year running, and sub-divided into seven categories, the latest edition pitted the landmark against nine other properties in the Urban / Public category, among them the Steinert Palace, the Łódź House of Culture and an array of fin de siècle tenements recently restored to their former glory.
Despite the strength of the competition, the outcome never felt in doubt. Subjected to one of the most meticulous renovation projects in the city’s history, what many locals refer to as “the Louvre of Łódź” has reaped the benefit of multi-million project jointly financed by the EU and the city to return it to its previous form.
“When Izrael Poznański bought this plot in 1877 he dreamed of building a great empire,” said Krzysztof Piątkowski, Vice President of Łódź last year. “He also dreamed of creating a big city. Thanks to him and others like him those dreams came true and his palace became a symbol of our city.”
Specifically renovated to coincide with the 200th anniversary of “modern” Łódź this year, what had become something of a faded jewel has regained its perch as one of the nation’s most magnificent urban structures.
A prototype oligarch, Poznański – a Polish-Jewish entrepreneur – was one of the key industrialists that drove the textile revolution in Łódź; little more than an insignificant backwater town of 800 people in the 1830s, by the turn of the century it was a teeming cosmopolitan city that had become the beating heart of the Russian Empire’s manufacturing trade.
Playing a major role in this transformation was Poznański’s factory, a sprawling redbrick mass of workshops that started operations in 1872. Featuring its own gasworks and fire station, the complex was viewed as a city within a city. With this in mind, it made sense that Poznański chose to build his personal palace overlooking the Neo-Gothic archway that marked the principal entry to the kingdom that he’d built.
Taking his inspiration from the French neo-Renaissance, architect Hilary Majewski designed a suitably lavish abode whose excesses knew no bounds. Built to underscore the status and financial might of the Poznański dynasty, it included gardens filled with “botanical phenomena” so rare to the country that their Latin names had no Polish equivalent, a shooting range and exteriors boasting majestic domes and fancy embellishments. Inside, a ballroom, a chamber of mirrors and a glass-ceilinged winter garden were also added to the labyrinthine layout.
To this day, it oozes with the splendour of the age.“It’s a monumental residence, easily the most recognizable building in the city, as well as a testimony to the 19th century history of Łódź,” says Paulina Długosz of the Muzeum Miasta Łódź, which today has its seat in the palace.
“It’s like a time machine,” she tells TFN, “with its elegant interiors and beautiful works of art transferring visitors to the 19th century – and where else can you find a palace whose decorative motifs number electromagnets, gears and weaving tools: it captures the essence of our city’s history.”
The renovation has allowed the building to regain its splendour, says Długosz, with the work seeing the original colours of the façade restored and many of the rooms returned to their historical appearance – an appearance that Poznański never truly enjoyed.
“Few people know that Poznański never actually lived here,” adds Długosz. “He died in 1900, just as the final stage of construction was taking place.”
Though benevolent and charitable during the autumn of his life, the industrialist was a notoriously hard taskmaster in his younger years. Known for paying his employees the lowest rates in the city, some sources even claim the factory clock was set 15-minutes early at the beginning of each day to squeeze extra productivity from the workers.
Doubtlessly, this parsimony contributed to his enormous wealth and one exhibit inside museum – a horde of commemorative coins – directly references a common legend associated with the palace.
“During construction it’s rumoured the Poznański wanted to pave the floor of one of the rooms entirely with gold rubles,” says Długosz. Unsure whether to lay the coins heads up or down, and cautious of offending Russian sensibilities, he wrote to the Tsar asking his advice on the matter. “The Tsar responded by telling him to lay the coins edge upwards, at which point Poznański abandoned the idea.”
Though his death in 1900 meant that the commonly-proclaimed King of Cotton never saw the completion of his grandiose indulgence, his sons continued the project and, in the process, added a distinct Neo Baroque aesthetic that defines it to this day.
Changing hands in the inter-war years, the palace later served as the home of the wartime offices of the German Civil Administration and thereafter as the city’s tax office.
In 1975, a large swathe was given over to the city’s museum, a function it has continued to fill to this day only now, the difference is that the rich collection has finally been given the backdrop it deserves.