Renovated Chinese and Hunter's Rooms
Visitors to the Wilanów Palace can admire newly renovated Chinese and Hunter’s Rooms. The 19th-c. rooms, located in the right wing of the Palace, underwent conservation and restoration works, as part of a 3-year-long project entitled ‘Restoring the interiors of the Wilanów Palace Museum – the very first museum of fine arts in Poland’. Research and conservation works were possible thanks to financial resources obtained for the purpose from the European Union. The total cost of the project, including works inside the Queen’s apartments, amounted to 6,000,054.98 PLN, of which the EU Integrated Regional Operational Programme funding equalled 72.50% of qualified costs, i.e. 4,097,274.82 PLN. The renovated interiors feature a temporary exhibition of unique collections amassed by subsequent Wilanów Palace owners.
The achievements of the Wilanów-employed conservators were awarded Grand Prix in the competition entitled MUSEUM EVENT of the YEAR – SIBYL, organised annually by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Each year the jury of the SIBYL competition gives distinctions to the best exhibitions, catalogues, conservation works and education-promoting activities, carried out in museums across Poland. As employees of the Wilanów Palace Museum, we are all proud of the highest award for 2007 that was bestowed on our institution!
A description of a Chinese Study in His Royal Highness’s Apartment is already found in the oldest inventory of the Wilanów Palace furnishings, drawn in 1696 after King Jan III Sobieski’s death. Far-East porcelain, lacquer objects and artefacts produced in Europe that imitated Chinese and Japanese art, alongside those decorated the ‘Chinese style’, embellished the Wilanów Palace interiors ever from its beginnings. Subsequent Palace owners, Augustus II the Strong, Izabela Lubomirska née Czartoryska, Stanisław Kostka Potocki, furnished their studies and apartments with decor inspired by, or imitating, motives taken from the Far East. On establishing in Wilanów one of the very first museums in the whole of Poland at the turn of the 18th and the 19th c., Stanisław Kostka Potocki created an extraordinary Chinese Apartment, which housed his collection of Hinese goods – as the contemporary inventory reads. The said apartment was decorated with Chinese paintings, wood engravings and wallpapers, and furnished with European pieces of furniture that imitated Chinese style. The collection of Far-East works of art amassed by Potocki was that of a true art admirer and a scholar, as he collected miscellaneous objects and products. S.K. Potocki’s collection of European painting, made available to the public in the Wilanów Museum, presented works of the finest artistic circles; likewise, the collection of artefacts from the Far-East was meant to give the best possible representation of achievements and distinctive features of the Chinese and Japanese art. A large number of the objects have been preserved to his day and form part of the contemporary Museum collection. Potocki’s former Chinese Apartment, located in the past on the first floor of the main Palace building, is non-existent today.
The decorations of the Chinese and the Hunter’s Rooms date back to the 1880s, when the rooms formed a private apartment of the contemporary Palace owners. They mirror the tradition of Wilanów interior arrangement, with motifs inspired by oriental art. At present the premises house Chinese-style furniture and a Wilanów-based collection of art from the Far-East. The rooms refer to former, 19th-c. collectors’ studies, filled with rich collections of various objects, which raised interest and fascinated collectors and scholars. Contrary to period customs, these exhibits were frequently displayed in large numbers, even a multitude, inside special cabinets fitted with glass or placed on shelves and console tables, small cupboards or tables. Unlike today, little attention was paid to single out individual, selected items; usually they were not grouped according to their origins or manufacturing technique, as is common practice in museums these days. Collections of objects from the Far-East were valued for their diversity, variety, exotic or even colourful nature; the size of a given collection was also significant. Chinese or Japanese products were appreciated and searched for in Europe. They were fashionable, yet luxurious and not easily available. Among exhibits representing the art of the Far-East found in today’s collection of the Wilanów Palace Museum there are examples of artefacts of distinctive manufacturing technique, set of colours and motifs used in decoration, raw material and origins. One can say the collection is cross-sectional, as it encompasses all typical examples of products from the Far East, collected in Europe at that time. It also testifies to possible knowledge of oriental art, represented by admirers and scholars who lived at the turn of the 18th and the 19th c.The majority of exhibits amassed here are goods that were meant for export. Made in the Far East and targeted specifically for the European market, they were to satisfy European tastes and expectations. A large number of objects show traces of mutual influence and inspiration that took place in the realm of art between Europe and the Far East.
The rooms are typical male apartments. Their specific character lies in their function, namely that of a shrine to the culture of hunting, as old as human history itself. Successful hunts provided abundant food supplies and were a reason for the hunter’s pride. In peaceful times, devoid of war, hunting served as a field of male competition, an opportunity for men to prove their will to fight and to win.Hunter’s rooms were used by enthusiasts of the sport for collecting and displaying their hunting gear – the most precious trophies, favourite weapon, as well as paintings and prints that represented dramatic scenes of tracking and fighting game. In the privacy of their rooms, hunters would spin a tale and live anew the emotions of victories abundant in trophies. Hunting became an immanent part of the Polish culture. It was a social imperative for men; it was a measure of their courage, intelligence and fitness, an entertainment and a sport, a part of the court etiquette and a popular form of social life. In accordance with an act issued in 1775 in the reign of Stanisław August, the hunting season lasted from 1 September to 1 March. Monarchs only were allowed to hunt within a three-mile radius from Warsaw; representatives of aristocracy could only go hunting in their own properties. Court hunts were famous for their grandeur: they astonished with the number and a selection of honourable guests and attractions offered. Items of hunting weapon were imported from abroad, alongside packs of fine hunting dogs, horses and their attendants. Trophies were calculated in hundreds of killed animals. The most exciting events were portrayed in painting and literature.
Such stories were also related within four walls of the Hunter’s Rooms inside the Wilanów Palace. At present the name of the rooms refers chiefly to the stylized decor, associated with the aesthetics of 19th-c. hunting palaces. The walls were covered with painted imitation of wood panelling. The cornice circling the room is composed of a row of three-dimensional heads of stags and hunting dogs. In the 2nd half of the 19th c. the room served as a study of August Potocki; like most men of his times, Potocki considered hunting one of the most enjoyable pastimes. In October 1858 during a hunt organized by the Potockis in Wilanów forests, the Polish monarch himself killed 10 pieces of pheasants, 5 hares and 2 fallow deer. The game was supplied by the Wilanów Zoo, set up ten years earlier; according to the annual reports of 1858, it contained more than 200 fallow deer, 14 stags, a couple of roe deer and wild boars and finally golden pheasants from the Pheasantry, located in the nearby Natolin.The furnishings of the Hunter’s Room have not been preserved in the Wilanów Palace. The present Room arrangement makes use of works of art and artefacts pertaining to hunting, created in various periods, which form part of today’s Wilanów collection. The viewer can admire paintings such as the adolescent portrait of Józef Sapieha, dating from the 18th c., attributed to Mirys; genre scenes by Wouwermann and French engravings from the 19th c. Special attention should be paid to two Saxon oval tables with hunting scenes painted on tops, and also a French set of three armchairs and a sofa, dating from the mid-18th c.; upholstered with Beauvais Gobelin fabric and decorated with scenes taken from La Fontainne’s fables, the set was purchased from the Paris-based Cresson company. The hunting gear consists first and foremost of firearms dating from the 17th, the 18th and the 19th c., namely powder boxes, canteens and hunting horns.The Hunter’s Rooms are the last in a suite of connecting rooms that were preserved thanks to painstaking conservation works, financed by European Union grants.
EUROPEAN CERAMICS AND GLASS
The Chinese and Hunter’s Rooms, made available to the public after thorough conservation works, are adjacent to the entrance hall that houses a rather small, yet representative display of the Museum’s collection of European ceramics and artistic glassware. Selected items reflect the structure of the collection; its prominent exhibits are examples of Johann Friedrich Böttger’s red stoneware, unparalleled in number nationwide; examples of Meissen porcelain, delicate and enchanting by precision of biscuits and excellent artistic class; examples of early luxury glassware, created by Polish manufacturers. The newly acquired space made it possible to enrich the permanent exhibition of the Wilanów Palace by more than 120 objects, dating from the end of the 15th c. until mid-19th c., i.e. works of art made by artisans employed in renowned ceramics and glassware centres.
Valuable and fragile objects, frequently unique today, are amassed in 10 display cabinets, arranged according to their material and chronology. For this reason the viewer gets first acquainted with faïence ware, representing the type of ceramics that was made in Europe already at the close of the Middle Ages, with the influence of Arabic workshops. The subsequent cabinets contain respectively: the Rhine stoneware, created as a result of local achievements in ceramics production, its imitations and red stoneware, influenced by the Far East. Porcelain shares the same roots; European manufacturers learnt the secret of firing porcelain no sooner than in the early 18th c. Exhibits of porcelain are displayed in three cabinets, two of which are located at the entrance to the Chinese Rooms and contain masterful works of art from Meissen that was the first porcelain manufacturing centre. At the far end of the hall the viewer can admire compositions of white, matt and glaze-free biscuit material, unequalled in fine details. Collected by the creator of the Wilanów Museum, Stanisław Kostka Potocki and his son, the exhibits originally referred to Rococo aesthetics, and later to Classicism, by adapting into ceramics masterpieces of Antique sculpture. Selected items of glassware were limited to a single cabinet, located near the Hunter’s Rooms. Items of glassware were artistically arranged and divided into two groups, representing different manufacturing techniques. The first one contains glassware whose shapes, colours and ornaments were created at a furnace. The other one is composed of products wherein cold decorations were applied in specialized cutting and wheel-engraving workshops. This studio-type exhibition enables the viewer to get acquainted with most valuable artefacts in the Wilanów Museum collection today, i.e. objects that former Palace owners used in everyday life or purchased in order to enrich the contemporary exhibition. The new arrangement of the exhibits also helps to take a closer look at details of sophisticated works of decorative art, to compare manufacturing techniques, and to recognize differences in the finished surface. To help unravel the secrets behind specific objects there are two publications of the ‘200 years of the Wilanów Museum’ series, dedicated to ceramics and glassware. Enthusiasts of ceramics and glassware will be able to admire a considerably bigger exhibition in future; the current display foreshadows a much larger gallery of handicraft that is scheduled to be organized on permanent basis.
One of the restored Hunter’s Rooms hosts a temporary exhibition of silverware from the Wilanów collection. The said exhibition constitutes an element of the gallery of handicraft. Silver and gold are both noble metals, which from time immemorial have been a synonym of wealth, an attribute of power, while their glitter – a symbol of divine nature, ascribed to rulers. Due to scarceness of both precious metals, goldsmith’s valuables were craved by many, but available to few. Throughout the history, search for deposits of silver and gold was at the root of countless wars but also discoveries. Easy to treat and malleable, the two metals helped artisans to achieve diversified forms with the use of numerous artistic techniques. At the same time, they were durable, resistant to oxygen, air and acids, as well as easy to clean. Their soft yet malleable structure made them valuable raw materials for manufacturing objects of cult, sophisticated in form, and also works of art. With time the metals became useful in manufacture of exquisite tableware and everyday items, which emphasized the owner’s social standing, splendour and power. The unique feature of silver and gold, that rendered them different from other raw materials, was the possibility to re-use the metal without losing its value; this, among other reasons, accounts for the loss of so many early historic objects, which were melted when out of fashion or damaged. ill.: Oval vase, France, Paris, Martin Guillaume Biennais, 1793-1819, cast, chiselled and engraved silver with three-dimensional decoration appliedDue to limited exhibiting space, the display features only selected items, which represent larger groups. They are exclusively functional objects dating from the turn of the 18th and the 19th c., created in workshops of outstanding French and Polish goldsmiths. Two wall display cabinets and one free-standing, present silverware in the following layout: I. – a set of tableware made by M. G. Biennais in 1793-1819; II. – a toilet set made in Q. Baschelet’s workshop in 1809-1819; III – a table-set arrangement, with the use of vessels from period sets owned by the Potocki and Branicki families, created in workshops of such goldsmiths as: F.D. Naudin, J.B.C. Odiot, F. Froment, and J.A. Berel. These goldsmiths, particularly M.G. Biennais and J.B.C. Odiot, belonged to the circle of the greatest masters in Paris. Thanks to their technical brilliance and maintained quality of offered products, they won the title of suppliers to the court of Emperor Napoleon I. They also received commissions from rulers and wealthy aristocracy. It is worth paying attention to, and admiring, perfectly-proportioned forms of individual vessels, unparalleled precision of finish as well as delicate and tasteful detail of decoration. The display cabinet located between the windows contains artefacts manufactured by Warsaw goldsmiths, which do not form part of the historic Wilanów collection. Preserved archive materials testify that the Palace owners valued works of native artisans, hence lacking examples of such handicrafts were replaced in the post-war period by objects purchased from this important goldsmith’s centre. Items made in Warsaw were signed by masters such as: K.F. Malcz, K. Lilpop, M. Nowakowski, J. Pogorzelski, and E. Radke. When viewing the exhibits on display, one must bear in mind that alongside painting, furniture and ceramics, items created in goldsmiths’ workshops fulfilled a representative as well as decorative function. You are welcome to visit the exhibition held in the royal apartments of the Wilanów Palace Museum.
The exhibition on display in the Chinese Rooms arranged by: Anna Ekielska-Mardal, Anna Kwiatkowska
The exhibition on display in the Hunter’s Rooms arranged by: Anna Kwiatkowska
The exhibition of ceramics and glassware arranged by: Barbara Szelegejd
The exhibition of silverware arranged by: Joanna Paprocka-Gajek