2023 has been declared the Year of Jan Matejko, a nod to the renowned artist's profound influence on Polish art and culture.
The exhibition at the Kordegarda gallery, which is run by the National Center for Culture (NCK), brings to light 43 drawings and sketches that laid the foundation for some of Matejko's most iconic, large-scale historical paintings.
Among the showcased sketches are preliminary works for such famed paintings as The Prussian Homage, Skarga's Sermon, The Union of Lublin, and The Battle of Grunwald. Some sketches precede the actual painting by as much as 30 years.
Jan Matejko's "The Prussian Homage." Photo: PAP/Rafał Guz
These sketches are borrowed from the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw, and the curator of this exhibition is Katarzyna Haber. A wide selection from these collections has only been exhibited twice before, in 1938 and 1993.
Prof. Rafał Wiśniewski, director of the National Centre of Culture, highlighted Matejko's diligence, saying that "Matejko, always with his sketchbook, reportedly produced some 6,000 sketches."
Matejko was a prolific painter and illustrator. He created a large number of works, including portraits, a gallery of Polish monarchs, murals in St. Mary's Basilica in Kraków, southern Poland, and a major work documenting Polish clothing styles, among other masterpieces.
He is considered by many as the "national painter" of Poland, in particular due to his support of Polish independence. The 19th century, in which he lived, was a period of partitions, with Poland's territory divided between its neighboring powers.
Piotr Gliński, the Polish minister for culture and national heritage, emphasized that Matejko was not only an illustrious artist but also "a great historian."
Gliński remarked: "Matejko wasn't just a representative of historicism in art; he was an exceptional analyst of Polish history. Very insightful. He chose the most pivotal subjects, reflecting both on significant moments in Polish history and on its transformative events—those that were deeply sorrowful and tragic, but also those intertwined with our national story."
Gliński further noted how Matejko incorporated these themes into his patriotic endeavors.
In addition to his Polish legacy, Matejko left an indelible mark on European culture, having won a gold medal for Skarga's Sermon at the Paris Salon at just 26 years of age.
The exhibition is open to the public at the Kordegarda gallery in central Warsaw until October 15.