Vol. 10, Issue No. 29/2003

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Legion of Honor
8 March - 18 May 2003

Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland.

Leonardo da Vinci's magnificent Famed Lady with an Ermine, one of Europe's most celebrated paintings, is the centerpiece of the exhibition of 77 masterworks by European painters. This exhibition marks first showing in San Francisco of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

The arrival of this exhibition marks the first time that a painting by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) has been on view in San Francisco. Many of the exhibition's other 76 paintings by outstanding European masters of the 15th and 16th centuries make their debut showings in America and the Bay Area as well. These works and the portrait by Leonardo are drawn from Poland's leading national collections and include stand-out paintings by Jan van Goyen, Ferdinand Bol, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernardo Bellotto, Mattia Preti, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Carl Wilhelm Wach, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

In addition to these and other well-known artists, an exceptional group of Polish masters, principally of the 19th century, will be represented, including: Jan Matejko, Olga Boznanska, Józef Mehoffer, and Aleksander Gierymski. The overall selection reflects the interests of Polish collectors, who built amazingly rich and, today, relatively little known collections of European old master paintings. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue serve to illustrate Poland's rich culture from the Renaissance into the 19th century, a hitherto under appreciated aspect of European cultural history.

Institutions lending to the exhibition include: the Wawel State Collection in Cracow; the National Museums, Royal Castle, and the Palace at Wilanow; the National Museum and the Raczynski Collection in Poznan; the National Museum in Gdansk; and the Czartoryski Museum in Cracow, which generously made the Leonardo Lady with an Ermine available for the exhibition. Organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum, the exhibition opened there (13 September-24 November 2002), and traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (8 December 2002 through 16 February 2003) before arriving in San Francisco.

Exhibition Illuminates Rich Period of Collecting and Patronage in Poland
The exhibition highlights Poland's position in history as a cosmopolitan gathering place for artists and intellectuals of diverse nationalities, and a flourishing center for lavish and varied forms of royal patronage incorporating Italian, French, and Netherlandish influences. Poland was also a nexus for international trade that fostered sophisticated tastes on the part of collectors and patrons. Home to one of the liveliest cultures in Europe - particularly from the late 16th through the late 18th centuries - Poland's determination to preserve its artistic heritage despite the geopolitical upheaval it endured throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries can be refracted through the exhibition.

The 77 paintings on view include important Italian Renaissance works, 18th-century cityscapes, and works by Polish masters from five centuries. The glowing and luminous Lady with an Ermine, Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, (c. 1490) one of Leonardo's 12 completed paintings and a work that fore - shadows the Mona Lisa of 1503-1506, is a measure of the level and quality of collecting achieved by Poland. Five of Bernardo Bellotto's famous views of Warsaw document the beauties of the pre-war city. His View of Warsaw from the Terrace of the Royal Castle, commissioned in 1773 by King Stanislaus Augustus for his personal collection, was rendered in such precise detail that it was used as an important reference for rebuilding the city after it was destroyed in World War II. Two portraits by Elisabeth-Louise-Vigée Lebrun, Portrait of Princess Pelagia Sapieha, née Potocka, 1794, and Portrait of Prince Adam Czartoryski, 1793, were produced by Vigée Lebrun during her stay in Vienna from 1792 though 1795, a period during which she attracted a large number of Polish clients and painted at least 10 portraits of members of the nobility.

In the 19th century, in the face of more than 100 years of occupation by foreign powers and the concurrent loss of economic, cultural, and political independence, works by Polish masters frequently incorporated themes of political oppression as well as atavistic depiction's of the Polish national character. Olga Boznanska's Two Boys (1903) is an example of the celebration of the Polish national spirit, while Jan Matejko's Stanczyk, the King's Jester (1862), presents the clown as a tragic personification of civic conscience, a representative of the Commonwealth and the causes of its fall.

Poland's efforts over the past 50 years to recover and restore national treasures that were stolen or displaced during World War II - including Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine - add poignancy and power to Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland. The exhibition and its catalogue will tell, for the first time, the story of the fate of important collections of European paintings in Poland as well as works by late 19th-century Jewish artists. A number of the paintings will be on view for the first time since recovery and conservation.

The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue published by the Milwaukee Art Museum and Yale University Press. The book chronicles Poland's cultural contact with Italy, the history of collecting throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Polish art through the 19th century, restorations and collecting in Poland, and the current state of Poland's museums. The essayists include Laurie Winters, Curator of Earlier European Art, Milwaukee Art Museum; Paul W. Knoll, Professor of History, University of Southern California; Andrzej Rottermund, Director of the Royal Castle, Warsaw; Wojciech Kowalski, Professor of Law, University of Silesia, Katowice; Piotr S. Wandycz, Bradford Dufee Professor of History, Yale University; Dorota Folga-Januszewska, Director of Collections and Research, National Museum, Warsaw; Janusz Walek, Deputy Director and Curator of Foreign Paintings, the Czartoryski Museum, Cracow; and Antoni Ziemba, Curator of Dutch and Flemish Paintings, National Museum, Warsaw. Available in the Museum Stores, $39.95.

Admission and Ticketing
Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland is a ticketed show. Admission for the general public is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $9 for youths ages 12-17, and $4 for children ages 5-12. Children under age 5 are free. Ticket prices include the regular admission fee to the Legion of Honor. General admission is waived every Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., thanks to Ford Motor Company. However the $4 special exhibition fee is still in effect. There is a $2 discount off paid admission upon presentation of a valid MUNI transfer or Fast Pass.

Tickets may be purchased at the Legion admissions desk, or may be purchased in advance online through TICKETS.COM, by telephone by calling (415) 478-2277, or in person at any TICKETS.COM retail outlet.

Credit and Organization
Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and curated by Laurie Winters, Curator of Earlier European Art, Milwaukee Art Museum.
Legion of Honor General Information: Museum 24-hour hotline: (415) 863-3330
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Splendor of Poland Cultural Events Committee

Vol. 10, Issue No. 29/2003

The Summit Times

© Copyright 2002 by Andrzej M. Salski