Matejko. The Painter and History

Friday, June 23, 2023 - Sunday, January 7, 2024

  • Friday, June 23, 2023 - Sunday, January 7, 2024

Among Polish painters, there is perhaps none more universally known than Jan Matejko. His works have accompanied generation after generation of Poles, at the very least from the beginnings of their education in the field of history, though mainly through reproductions in history books at that time. It is no exaggeration to say that the paintings of Matejko have shaped the imagination of the Polish nation on the greatest events of its own history. The painting The Battle of Grunwald by this artist is the Polish painting most forcefully etched into the shared consciousness.

Yet Jan Matejko did not simply tell the story of episodes from (mainly Polish) history; he did so in a way that amazed viewers both in Kraków and Warsaw, as well as in Vienna and Paris.  His “The Sermon of Piotr Skarga” and “Rejtan” were hailed in France’s capital as the rebirth of grand historical painting, a genre which in the mid-19th century was undoubtedly undergoing a crisis. But Matejko’s works were not merely a rehashing of established, if nonetheless outstanding, formulas; he proposed instead a new and innovative conception of the portrayal of the “historic turning point”, building a story that Poles can still today look to today when they ask themselves the question “Where do we come from?”, “How is it possible that we have survived as a community for more than a thousand years?” and when trying to understand the grave threats to that survival that have occurred over the years.

The exhibition Matejko. The Painter and History presents an intimate look at fascinating aspects of the work of this Cracovian artist, displaying both the aforementioned paintings of grand historical cycles, as well as dozens of other smaller format works which feature contents no less grand for their smaller size (including works from private and foreign collections), and also sketches and props used during Matejko’s creative process. In total, there are more than 300 works which illustrate the richness of the artist’s accomplishments. The exhibition will also bring light to Matejko’s social activism, presenting numerous certificates of gratitude and recognition addressed to him.

The Main Building

al. 3 Maja 1

The central phenomena of the Polish art of the 20th and 21st century, the history of Polish weaponry and uniforms, a gallery of crafts, and a dozen major temporary exhibitions each year.

The quickly expanding collection of the National Museum, set up in 1879, soon needed space that Kraków did not have at that time. That is why the idea to erect a new building that at the same time would commemorate the many years of efforts to regain Poland’s independence was born early in the 20th century. Immediately after the end of the First World War, already in free Poland, funds for the construction of an appropriate seat began to be raised. The construction of the building by the imposing Aleje Trzech Wieszczów, staked out just two decades earlier, began in 1934. Today, the National Museum in Kraków boasts several branches, with no fewer than three permanent galleries in the Main Building alone. Deposited on the ground floor are the collections of militaria: the exhibition Arms and Uniforms in Poland (gallery closed until further notice) presents the history of the Polish military from the Middle Ages to the Second World War. The Gallery of Decorative Arts boasts collections of fabrics, goldsmithry, glass, ceramics, furniture, musical instruments, and Judaica that let the visitor trace changes in style from the early Middle Ages to the 20th century. The Polish Art Gallery presents the chronology and key tendencies in painting, sculpture and printmaking as created by the Polish artists of the 20th and 21st century. The largest temporary exhibitions of the National Museum in Kraków are organised in specially designed halls.

Tickets to permanent galleries: normal PLN 32, concessions PLN 25, family PLN 64, admission free to permanent exhibitions on Tuesday

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