Wawel Castle boosts its art collection with most expensive masterpieces to date

The acquisitions from a private French seller of The Inn at Saint Michael's by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and Still Life by Willem Claesz Heda are set to take the castle’s already impressive collection of Dutch paintings to a new level. Łukasz Gągulski/PAP

Wawel Castle has made its most expensive ever purchase and boosted the reputation of its art collection by buying works of Dutch Golden Age masters Brueghel the Younger and Willem Claesz Heda.

The acquisition from a private French seller of The Inn at Saint Michael's by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and Still Life by Willem Claesz Heda are set to take the castle’s already impressive collection of Dutch paintings to a new level.

The price paid for the two pieces from the start of the 17th century has not been revealed but the culture ministry, which helped finance the purchase along with the prime minister’s chancellery, said that the art acquisition is one of the largest ever made by Poland.Danuta Matloch

Castle boss Prof. Andrzej Betlej said: “These are works that completely reposition the Wawel Royal Castle collection.

“At the same time, it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest purchase in the history of the Royal Castle.”

The Inn at Saint Michael's by Brueghel the Younger is significant as the artist was better known for copying his father's works, whereas the Wawel's acquisition is a unique work by Brueghel.Public domain

The price paid for the two pieces from the start of the 17th century has not been revealed but the culture ministry, which helped finance the purchase along with the prime minister’s chancellery, said that the art acquisition is one of the largest ever made by Poland.

The Inn at Saint Michael's by Brueghel the Younger is significant as the artist was better known for copying his father's works, whereas the Wawel's acquisition is a unique work by Brueghel.

Wawel Castle

Dr Joanna Winiewicz-Wolska, curator of the Wawel Royal Castle painting collection, said: “Through the artist's eyes we observe a scene taking place in front of an inn – everyday life in the Flemish countryside, chronicled with accuracy.Wawel Castle

The painting is one of Brueghel’s most important works. The signature, spelled ‘Breughel’, and not like his father’s spelling ‘Bruegel’, shows that he painted it during the mature period of his work, probably between 1619 and 1625.

Dr Joanna Winiewicz-Wolska, curator of the Wawel Royal Castle painting collection, said: “Through the artist's eyes we observe a scene taking place in front of an inn – everyday life in the Flemish countryside, chronicled with accuracy.

“This is one of several versions of this composition, differing in the details, but it is the one with the highest artistic level.”

According to Winiewicz-Wolska, although Pieter II Brueghel was known primarily as a copyist and imitator of his father's work, in The Inn at Saint Michael's he displays an individual style, a wealth of invention and a love of detail.Łukasz Gągulski/PAP

The composition depicts a building surrounded by trees, covered with a straw roof over a pond, and many figures.

According to Winiewicz-Wolska, although Pieter II Brueghel was known primarily as a copyist and imitator of his father's work, in The Inn at Saint Michael's he displays an individual style, a wealth of invention and a love of detail.

“This painting is one of the first he painted as an independent artist, without referring to any of his father's known works,” she said.

Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

The acquisition of a painting by Brueghel is highly symbolic for Kraków. Until World War II, the National Museum in Kraków housed the painting The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, a copy by Brueghel the Younger of his father’s work from 1559.Kunsthistorisches Museum in ViennaThe acquisition of a painting by Brueghel is highly symbolic for Kraków. Until World War II, the National Museum in Kraków housed the painting The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, a copy by Brueghel the Younger of his father’s work from 1559.

The museum has claimed that Charlotte von Wächter, the wife of Krakow’s Nazi governor Otto von Wächter during the German occupation of Poland, walked into the museum in 1939 and took the painting.

It said that the canvas valued at USD 77 million ended up in the art market in Vienna.

Willem Claesz Heda's Still Life, meanwhile, is a global art market discovery, as the work had previously been unknown to exist.Wawel Castle

The original painting by Bruegel the Elder hangs in the prestigious Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The National Museum in Kraków has claimed that the painting in Vienna could in fact be the one that was stolen from Kraków, though the Austrian institution has said that its Bruegel has been in its collection since the 17th century .

Willem Claesz Heda's Still Life, meanwhile, is a global art market discovery, as the work had previously been unknown to exist.

In 1637, Heda painted nine still lifes. Eight are held in renowned collections around the world. However, the existence of the ninth was not known until now.Wawel Castle

In 1637, Heda painted nine still lifes. Eight are held in renowned collections around the world. However, the existence of the ninth was not known until now.

The two pieces will expand the already impressive collection of Dutch paintings held at Wawel Castle, which amounts to about 100 works.

They will soon go on display in the Senator's Room, and then later in the Royal Chambers alongside the tapestries of Sigismund Augustus and Italian paintings from the Lanckoroński collection.