Maria Teresa Michałowska-Barłóg

Collection of Leon Wyczółkowski at the National Museum of Poznań

Leon Wyczółkowski’s collection, preserved to this day in the National Museum of Poznań, comprises primarily artistic handicrafts such as Eastern fabrics, ceramic objects, furniture, bronze exhibits, as well as an extensive collection of graphic art, including colorful Japanese woodcut and the artist’s own works. The Book of Acquisitions of the Wielkopolska Museum in Poznań dating from 1919-1922 [1], renamed the National Museum of Poznań in 1950, reports 179 inventory items of the Collection of Professor Leon Wyczółkowski. During the war, the collection suffered significant losses and damages, and after the war it was spread out between Galleries and Branches. It probably contributed to the fact that it has not been shown in its full range to this day. Therefore, the idea of Director Michał F. Woźniak, PhD of its representative presentation in the Leon Wyczółkowski Regional Museum of Bydgoszcz, known for its magnificent collection of the works of the artist, who is its patron, became not only an honor, but a great challenge for the National Museum of Poznań. So far, the most frequently exhibited objects were Wyczółkowski’s artworks and Japanese woodcuts; sometimes, single objects had been shown at national exhibitions of Eastern art. More exhibits from this collection were displayed at an exhibition organized in the Applied Art Museum, a branch of the National Museum of Poznań prepared in 2005 [2]. That “spontaneous” show, hosted on the anniversary of the artist’s death, became an impulse to present the entire collection of Wyczółkowski’s collection, requiring first of all verification of the inventory data, since after the war some of the objects contained in other collections were assigned to it. Proper identification is difficult due to lack of descriptions and sometimes dimensions in the Book of Acquisitions of the Wielkopolska Museum; in addition, these days it is hard to determine the original number of objects, since files related to Wyczółkowski’s collection were destroyed during the war [3]. Before the entire collection of the artist along with his works came to Poznań in 1921, it was supposed to be donated to the National Museum of Krakow and displayed in a separate room named after him [4].

Why the idea was not finalized is mere speculation. It’s worth mentioning that Wyczółkowski’s collection, featuring predominantly Oriental objects, such as fabrics, ceramics and woodcuts, could not have been attractive to the National Museum of Krakow due to objective reasons, since in 1920 it received a great donation from Feliks Jasieński, abounding in these types of objects. In addition, it had in deposit precious exhibits of Eastern carpets owned by Erazm Barącz since 1914.

Therefore, the abundance of exhibits and an urgent problem related to insufficient exhibition space of the Krakow Museum made impossible meeting of Wyczółkowski’s expectations with a separate room for permanent presentation of his collection. We can assume that for the Wielkopolska Museum in Poznań, which was solemnly open to the public on May 3, 1920 and had no exhibits of this type, collection of that prestige owned by a well-known artist was more meaningful. It is believed that the donation of the artist to the Poznań Museum was influenced by his earlier ties with Poznań and Wielkopolska, artistic plans related to this area and Pomerania, as well as his dreams about having a “piece of land.” In the first guide to museum collections published by the Wielkopolska Museum we can read that the collections of Professor Leon Wyczółkowski were stored together in a separate room on the second floor [5]. Shortly after that, on May 18, 1922, the first temporary exhibition displaying the collection was opened [6], before it was listed in the inventory of the Wielkopolska Museum on September 9, 1922. It’s worth mentioning that the Poznań exhibition of the collection donated by the artist who was still based in Krakow was immediately reported in the chronicle of events, in a popular periodical published in Krakow under the name Przemysł, Rzemiosło, Sztuka [7]. Undated notes in the inventory of the Wielkopolska Museum inform about the way of acquisition: “Collections of Prof. Leon Wyczółkowski from Krakow were acquired by the Wielkopolska Museum through exchange” and refer readers to proper files, which as we know have not been preserved. Lack of these documents leads to contradictory opinions related to this matter. In the literature of the subject matter, the way of acquiring the collection is treated in general as a donation – however it is not reflected in this way in the inventory records – or transfer; and a statement that it was a purchase is an isolated one.

From the notes made by Wyczółkowski’s friend, Adam Kleczkowski, German specialist, professor of the Poznań University, and talks with the artist conducted in 1928-1933, we can find out that “For the collections donated to the Wielkopolska Museum in Poznań [in 1922], he [Wyczółkowski] received from the Ministry of the former Prussian District 10 million [Polish marks, note made by the author]; he spent 3 million on a piece of land remaining after parceling out of a landed estate in Gościeradz near Bydgoszcz, several million for renovation of the house which was falling into ruin, and the remainder was deposited by Wyczółkowski in the Bank Spółek Zarobkowych, in which after a short time the remaining millions were completely devaluated” [8].

Marian Gumowski, the first director of the Wielkopolska Museum, presenting the history of the Museum collections in 1923 mentioned that Wyczółkowski’s collection was purchased [9]. After years, in his memoirs, Gumowski said that, “…the collection of Leon Wyczółkowski, a great artist from Krakow who sent his entire collection in 1922 was more considerable than other ones (...). Evaluating properly the high value of the donation, the Poznań County Office decided to honor the famous artist by giving to him a small manor house in Gościeradz near Bydgoszcz.” Further, this author – fortunately erroneously - laments that “…after World War II no trace has been left after the collection of the great artist in the Poznań Museum, whereas the Bydgoszcz Museum is overfilled with his works” [10].

Nikodem Pajzderski, another director of the Wielkopolska Museum, wrote about acquiring this valuable collection, particularly Eastern art exhibits and artist’s own works [11]. Jerzy Koller, a custodian of many years in the museum, spoke greatly about the donation to the Wielkopolska Museum on the occasion of the solemn celebration of the 80th birthday of Leon Wyczółkowski organized in Poznań. Recognizing the real treasures donated generously by the artist, and in particular precious exhibits of Eastern carpets and kilims, he highlighted that the National Department of Poznań sent to the artist a thank you letter and in order to strengthen his ties with the region of Wielkopolska, it gave to Leon Wyczółkowski a piece of land in Gościeradz. Koller mentioned that “The value of the donated collection was obviously not an equivalent of a piece of land with a small manor given to the artist” [12]. Several years earlier, Edward Chwalewik, an indefatigable researcher of Polish collections from outside the Poznań community, was informing about the generous donation of Wyczółkowski to the Wielkopolska Museum [13]

The Wielkopolska Museum had exhibited Wyczółkowski’s collections until 1939. They were displayed on the entire first floor; in the rooms of the Far Eastern Art, Religious Art, Artistic Industry, and the Sculpture Gallery (with large-size fabrics), whereas the artist’s works were shown in the Painting Gallery upstairs. Drawings and graphic art were displayed at temporary exhibitions. The Poznań collection of this outstanding artist, just like every collection, raises questions about “acquisition” of objects. Did Wyczółkowski acquire these objects as a “bargain,” since he enjoyed being surrounded by beautiful things, but also valuable works of art? It seems to be confirmed by rather accidental character of the collection, which in no way diminishes its prestige or value. Confidences of the artist at the end of his life didn’t shed too much light on his “treasures.” His friend, Adam Kleczkowski noticed that Wyczółkowski did not want to reveal his soul. He was rather reserved [14]. However, he had a special relationship with objects, treating them as individualities. They stimulated his sensitivity, but he did not want to acquire them at any price, which is typical of passionate collectors. Therefore, he was not a collector par excellence, knowing the value of his collections. As noticed by Maria Twarowska, Feliks Jasieński known as Manggha, an expert and sophisticated art collector, great enthusiast of Japanese art was the one who fired his enthusiasm to collect art. They traveled together across Europe, visiting towns and museums. In the notes mentioned above, there are only single traces related to collecting objects.

Staying in Berlin, [at the turn of the 20th century, note made by the author] at an art handler, Wyczółkowski spent a lot of money on Oriental carpets, but mostly for Jasieński’s collections. Another time, he also gave him a Slutsk sash purchased by him and several other “kontusz” sashes to his valuable collection of cloth sashes. Manggha had a magic influence on the artist. This legendary collector was bragging about having around a thousand of works made by Wyczółkowski, for which he sometimes was paying with Japanese tapestries or woodcuts. The artist himself was saying “…Jasieński was making strange deals with me, always ripping me off. Once he gave me Japanese tapestries, and later he took them away; the same was with other things” [15].

Not discouraged by it, Wyczółkowski admired the passion of his friend and in some way he tried to copy it. Eastern fabrics and clothes, just like ceramics, which are so frequent in the artist’s oeuvre, treated by him in a painterly way thus hard to recognize, were sometimes from Jasieński’s collection or later acquired by him. Living in Warsaw, the artist was also borrowing props-costumes from actress Maria Wisnowska to, among others, the famous painting Confidences, which he started making in 1890, staying in the Ukraine at the Podhorski family. Furnishings of that family palace in Berezne, in particular the “marvelous carpets” as described by him, made a great impression on the artist. He received “shirts and a Chinese tuxedo” from Konstanty Podhorski (sic) [16].

Similar confidences of Wyczółkowski are rare; therefore, we do not know the origin of objects collected by him, which became later part of the collection of the Wielkopolska Museum. The museum inventory only features names of villages from the Hutsulschyna area at a dozen or so embroidered parts of clothes (cat. 19-33). Among the mentioned notes from conversations with the artist we can find a small description that says “Handmade embroidery (unspecified, note by the author) from the Holy Cross Church of Krakow is now in the possession of the Poznań Museum” [17], which cannot be confirmed due to lack of data. There is also a mention about Piranesi’s drawings donated to the museum, the majority of which has fortunately survived.

A very important role in studies on the artist’s collection is played by Wyczółkowski’s handmade list of 63 objects, fabrics and clothes, described mainly by him as Eastern, which is part of the collection of the Leon Wyczółkowski Regional Museum in Bydgoszcz, donated in 1937 along with the artist’s works and memorabilia after the death of Leon Wyczółkowski by his wife Franciszka. This precious handwritten list, undated and untitled, treated as a list of fabrics designated for the Wielkopolska Museum [18], allowed to identify 19 various fabrics, including 2 assumed items, which became part of the collection of the Poznań Museum in 1922 and survived the war. This list mentions objects by name, adding sometimes colors or a concise description of pattern, showing no dimensions. Only two of the mentioned objects indicate provenance: no. W-22 “Silk brocade in raspberry color, shot with silver threads featuring the coat of arms, 3 crowns and the coronation cross (....) comes from Matejko’s collection” (cat. 30) and no. W-51 “Fragment of a red velvet tapestry with traces of applique embroidery featuring letters and coats of arms J.S.P.R. Joannes Sobieski Poloniae Rex. The background of the throne of John Sobieski” (not preserved). The preserved brocade from Jan Matejko, just like Matejko’s 16th-century velour quoted by Maria Twarowska, which was protected by Wyczółkowski against Manggha [19], was probably the Italian brocade in the collection, mentioned on the list under the number W-37 as “velour de Genes” (cat. 31) confirms clearly that the former student (Wyczółkowski) valued greatly all things related to his Master (Matejko). In 1877, he lived in his house on Floriańska Street and was using Matejko’s studio on Gołębia Street along with Jacek Malczewski and Antoni Piotrowski. It should be mentioned that Matejko’s studio, radiating with “antiquity” and spiritual aura, famous in Krakow, was nothing special in comparison to studios with props of other artists depicting historic events in that time. The most popular studio of that period was the Munich studio of Józef Brandt, emanating the Eastern spirit, filled with weapons, horse trappings, fabrics, and paintings. Picturesque clutter of all kinds had been seen in some studios until the early 20th century. The Parisian studio-flat of Olga Boznańska was filled to the brim with various objects, pieces of fabrics, books, letters, and faded flowers. On the other hand, Jacek Malczewski’s studio looked empty with no trace of so-called artistic disorder [20].

However, we can understand that the poetry of Krakow’s apartment and studio of Master Wyczół perceived by his students and friends was a very unique place.

According to the letters written by Teodor Grott, a student of the artist and his everyday guest we can find out that “…furnishings of the large studio looked magnificent, with great splendor... antic furniture, beautiful carpets, a lot of fabrics, which were flowing down from both galleries, and many valuable Persian, Japanese and Italian majolica, ...Dutch delftware, sculptures, Japanese bronze objects, and a myriad of paintings on easels” [21].

Probably the majority of these objects from Wyczółkowski’s studio were later handed over to the collections of the Wielkopolska Museum. Unfortunately, during the war the collection suffered severe losses. Paintings made by Polish artists disappeared, including works of Józef Pankiewicz, Jan Stanisławski, watercolor studies of Piotr Michałowski, Wojciech Gerson, and Wyczółkowski as well as many objects of artistic handicraft such as Meissen porcelain, group of majolica, Polish and antic glass [22], furniture, Eastern carpets and kilims, and Judaica.

How this collection looks in comparison with other groups of exhibits? Are there any analogies? An attempt to evaluate Leon Wyczółkowski’s collection remains open due to such reason as considerable losses. Just like it was noticed by authors of this catalog, this collection built rather accidentally, emotionally, with no aim to be perfect and to please experts, combined valuable and even unique things next to sometimes trivial objects, which is typical of collecting. Its value is based on the fact that it’s hard to draw analogies – as regards both scale and range of the collection – between active Polish painters, not only in the post-Matejko art community in Krakow, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. It features both traditional Polish spirit and rare interest in Japanese art.

According to Jan Mroziński, a painter and friend of the artist from his Poznań times, Wyczółkowski’s collection handed over to the Wielkopolska Museum was the result of a long collector’s passion, lasting for 35 years [23]. He was implying that the artist started his collection in 1887, during his year-long stay in the Ukraine, followed by the long and fruitful Krakow period in 1895-1914. It has been known that after parting with his collections the artist stopped to collect valuable object. A year later, he celebrated his golden anniversary of artistic work, being awarded with the highest distinctions, remaining at the top of his popularity. Several years later, in 1929, Wyczółkowski left Krakow for good and moved to Poznań, residing at 27 Rzepeckiego Street.

Since that time, he was usually spending winter months in Poznań, whereas in spring and summer he was living in his beloved Gościeradz. He died in 1936 in Warsaw and was buried – according to his will – in Wtelno, Bydgoszcz area. The purpose of the exhibition is not only to remind, but to “discover” the almost unknown collection of Leon Wyczółkowski. Selection of objects, inspired by their artistic value, but also the condition of preservation, remains in accordance with the artist’s own belief who was saying that we should never show everything for the benefit of exhibitions.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude for cooperation in preparation of the exhibition to Custodian Ewa Sekuła-Tauer, a great expert on Wyczółkowski’s works, as well as all people involved in this joint project.



1 signed MNP A 2394; inv. no. MW 142-321, i.e. 179 inventory items and a hard to determine number of pieces.

Exhibition entitled Valuable Objects from the collection of Leon Wyczółkowski presented also selected photographs from the collections of the Leon Wyczółkowski Regional Museum in Bydgoszcz, information leaflet.

3 We owe this information to Custodian Tadeusz Grabski, managing the National Museum Archive in Poznań.

4 Protocols from the sessions of the Krakow Municipal Council dating from July 1921, w: Kulig-Janarek/Milewska 2003, p. 125; about the collection of Leon Wyczółkowski in the Poznań collection: Lipowicz 2006, p. 78-79; Maria T. Michałowska-Barłóg, Tapestry Color. Fabrics from the collection of Leon Wyczółkowski at the National Museum in Poznań, a speech delivered during the 6th Session of the SHS Warsaw Branch dedicated to Prof. Dr. Hab. Kinga Szczepkowska-Naliwajek, October 24-25, 2006; (unpublished); Michałowska-Barłóg 2011.

Poznań 1921, p. 51-52

6 Yearbook 1923, p. 13, item no. 9 in the list of special exhibitions

7 Przemysł 1922, p. 31

8 Twarowska 1960, p. 147

9 Yearbook 1923, p. 12

10 Gumowski 1965, p. 81

11 Poznań 1939, p. 8

12 Koller 1932, p. 66-70

13 Chwalewik 1927, p. 108

14 Twarowska 1960, p. 9

15 Twarowska 1960, p. 81

16 Twarowska 1960, p. 57

17 Twarowska 1960, p. 81

18 signed MOB Wb 58.k. – I owe information and access to this list to Custodian Ewa Sekuła-Tauer, Manager of the Leon Wyczółkowski Department in the Leon Wyczółkowski Regional Museum in Bydgoszcz.

19 Twarowska 1960, p. 81.

20 Łodź 1991, s. nn. – selection of notes about studios of artists does not include Leon Wyczółkowski

21 Twarowska 1960, p. 81.

22 In 1935, the entire group of antique glass from the collection of Wyczółkowski, 6 objects listed under the inventory number MW273/1922 Roman glass dug out in Kherson (4 pieces); MW 274/1922 Small Roman glass dug out in Kherson; MW 275/1922 Large Syrian glass, donated to the Poznań University, see The Book of Acquisitions of the Wielkopolska Museum 1919-1922, signed MNP A 2394, p. 129.

23 Poznań 1952, p. 2