Losses incurred by the Royal Łazienki as a result of the Second World War. Research project

In 2022, the Royal Łazienki Museum continued its archival research on the losses in the furnishings of historic buildings incurred during the Second World War (1939-1945).

The participants in this year’s programme were: Krystyna Mikucka-Stasiak and Aneta Czarnecka (The Royal Łazienki Museum), Maciej Choynowski (The Royal Castle in Warsaw – Museum), Dr Tomasz Szwaciński and Dr Krzysztof Kossarzecki (The National Library of Poland). The research covered selected archival materials in: the Archives of New Records, the Central Archives of Historical Records, the Academic Archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences in Kraków, the Archives and Inventory Department of the National Museum in Warsaw, the Wawel Castle Archives in Kraków, and the Special Collections at the Art Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

A brief history of wartime losses at the Royal Łazienki

As a result of the deliberate and intentional activities of the occupying German forces, the main building at the Łazienki – the Palace on the Isle – was burnt down in 1944, and the other historic buildings were severely damaged. The Germans began looting the collection almost immediately after the occupation of Warsaw. By the spring of 1940, almost all of the valuable tangible movable property from the second floor of the palace, as well as a large number of objects from the first floor, had been taken away and distributed among German dignitaries residing in the capital. Items from the Łazienki, which had been successfully deposited at the National Museum during the siege of Warsaw in 1939, were also taken by the Germans. The occupying forces treated the building of the National Museum as the main storehouse for collections looted throughout Poland, which were then taken to Germany, or to Kraków – to Wawel Castle and to the palace in Krzeszowice – the seats of Hans Frank, governor general of occupied Poland. A list of the most valuable works of art looted by the Germans in Poland was published in 1940, in a study entitled Sichergestellte Kunstwerke im Generalgouvernement. Seventeen objects from the Łazienki collection are listed, including eight paintings and nine objects of artistic craftsmanship, with suites of furniture and candlesticks recorded under one item. At the end of the war, in view of the approaching front and the Soviet Army, the Germans decided to transport the looted works to Austria, to Fischhorn Castle near Salzburg where not only objects coming from the Łazienki were amassed but also those from the Royal Castle in Warsaw and from Wilanów. It is known that just after the end of the war, before the arrival of the Poles there, Fischhorn Castle was penetrated by the local population, and later also by the occupying American troops. Part of the collection could not be found. Of the sixteen wagons with the collections sent from Warsaw to Austria in July 1944, only ten returned to Poland. The recovered works of art were taken to Kraków’s Wawel Castle, where they were repacked and sent to the National Museum in Warsaw.

The problem of the losses incurred at the Royal Łazienki during the war did not end in the years 1945-1946. At that time, most of the buildings of the residence were damaged, which is why the former collections went to the National Museum, which in turn distributed them to various institutions: the State National Council, the Office of the Council of Ministers, the Council of State, ministries, universities, and even the Polish Theatre, where, for example, seventeenth-century furniture – a desk from Stanisław August’s study and a set of Parisian seats from the Salle de Salomon – were used on the sets of the theatrical performances.

After the reconstruction of the Palace on the Isle in 1960, the Łazienki became a branch of the National Museum. A search began for the scattered collections that had once filled the royal apartments. Not everything was recovered. Some of the objects that returned from Austria could not be found after fifteen years. Some elements of the Łazienki collection were taken over by the National Museum for their exhibition in the main building, while some also ended up in storage.

Years later, it can be somewhat sarcastically summed up that it is easier to recover a lost object from abroad that to retrieve it from other institutions in one’s own country.

Archival searches – programme and problems

One of the biggest challenges of the current search for war losses was the lack of a complete list of the Łazienki collection up until 1939. During previous searches, we managed to find Spis inwentarza Łazienek Królewskich – the 1937 inventory of the Palace on the Isle – in the Central Archives of Modern Records (AAN). This year we consider it a success to have found Listy inwentarzowe Białego Domku – the 1933 inventory of the White Pavilion – there. In the interwar period, both these buildings served predominantly as actual museums, which is why the most valuable works from the Łazienki collections were amassed in their interiors. However, we still lack information about the furnishings of the Myślewicki Palace, the Officer Cadet School (Podchorążówka), and the Old Orangery. It is known that the possessions of these buildings were inventoried in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the interwar period, they were used mainly for residential and official purposes, so perhaps their furnishings, which were of a more utilitarian nature, did not come under the aegis of the State Art Collections. The inventories that have been found, unfortunately, are more in line with a modern day ‘physical inventory’. The objects are often described using one word. Their inventory number and location (interior) – where they were displayed – are given. This is often insufficient to identify the object or to match it with the known iconography.

Another important finding from the point of view of the direct documentation of war losses are the inventories of furniture taken from the Palace on the Isle by the German authorities to furnish apartments at ul. Szopena (the flat of a former Czechoslovak deputy) and 2 Aleja Róż. This source lists the objects confiscated by the Germans from 1 February to 15 April 1940. In addition to the building on ul. Szopena, objects were also taken to the Brühl Palace and the building of the National Museum. There is a note about the confiscated objects dated 15 March 1944 – with a receipt signed by Josef Mühlmann, the special commissioner for the protection of works of art in the eastern occupied territories. Among the items listed were fifty-four paintings, including works by Angelika Kaufmann and Hubert Robert, and seventy-five objects of artistic craftsmanship, including valuable furniture and objects made of gilded bronze.

In many documents, inventories, and on lists, there are numbers or ownership marks found by chance by the people recording the objects, such as a nineteenth-century number or restitution numbers (from Russia) dating from 1922. That is why we decided it was necessary to systematically extend the database of collection designations from the different years. This year, we began recreating the 1922 collection inventory, which has not survived, based on lists made when the crates brought from Russia after the Treaty of Riga were opened. This will allow us to reconstruct the Łazienki’s collections at the beginning of the interwar period. Creating a database of all the designations (markings) and numbers found on the objects would, in the future, make it possible to assign individual objects to a specific type of marking and numbering.

One of the important points of our research was our cooperation with the National Museum in Warsaw and the searches conducted at that institution. Their inventory section houses, among other things, the inventory cards of the Łazienki’s Picture Gallery (1922–1939). This is mainly the collection of King Stanisław August, supplemented by several canvases transferred from Russia in 1922 as equivalents for seized objects. These cards have already been used by the Łazienki Museum to complete the iconography of the paintings. We have now focused on photographing and writing down all the markings and numbers that may appear on the lists of missing or restituted objects.

We have also studied the topic of restitution in the Archives of the National Museum in Warsaw. There are lists and inventories that have survived of objects brought to Warsaw in 1945 and 1946, mainly from Kraków (Wawel), and also from Silesia and Austria. The lists of objects brought from specific locations include their various markings, such as: a list – dated 24 March 1945 – of items brought from the palace in Krzeszowice includes two Łazienki vases by Thomire marked with the restitution number rew. nr 0714 (now missing from the Łazienki); a document – dated 4 June 1946 – from Wawel which describes a mahogany card table contains the annotation: sygn. Ł.K., tymcz. nr wawelski 3334 (mebel nie rozpoznany) [ref. Ł.K., temporary Wawel no. 3334 (unknown piece of furniture)]; another document from the Wawel – dated 12 June 1946 – lists: konsolka mahoniowa, sygn. I-i-39 Ł.K. (obecnie brak w Łazienkach) [mahogany console, ref. I-i-39 Ł.K. (now missing from Łazienki)]. The markings: ‘I Ł’, ‘Ł’, ‘M Ł’, ‘Ł B’ (corresponding to their place of origin: Łazienki, Belvedere?) also appear on the aforementioned lists. A shipment from Salzburg on 24 April 1946 contained, among other things, forty-six pieces of furniture from the Łazienki and thirteen pieces from the Royal Castle, with the information that ‘all furniture originating from the Łazienki was transferred to the State National Council’.

At the Wawel we were able to identify a set of seats that were sent to the Łazienki in the interwar period from the palace in Racot, and whose shipment to Kraków in 1940 was recorded by the National Museum in Warsaw. The Wawel Archives contain restitution documentation which essentially is similar to that of the National Museum in Warsaw. The Wawel records their ‘shipment’ to Warsaw, while the National Museum records their arrival.

To summarize – the extensive materials that have been collected require sorting out. Given the variety and scale of the documents obtained, the work on their classification and processing will take many more months. Firstly, as part of the ministerial programme, by the end of January 2023, all missing objects will be registered in the War Loss database of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, including those from the 1933 inventory of the White Pavilion, whereas the records already entered in the computer program of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage will be supplemented with missing iconography and bibliography.

Subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage from the Culture Promotion Fund.