Exhibition is the first such wide presentation of paintings, drawings and prints exploring oriental themes in Polish art in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. There are displayed about 400 works by artists whose oeuvre was in various degrees inspired by the Orient – from a passing interest to a constant fascination as in the case of the works of Franciszek Tepa, Stanisław Chlebowski, Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz, Wacław Pawliszak, Jan Ciągliński, Aleksander Laszenko, Adam Styka or Feliks Michał Wygrzywalski.

     At the exhibition we tried to show this issue in a larger context – both as an expression of historic contacts with the East with which we bordered in the past and from which we adopted many elements of material culture and art, and also as a trend which spread through Europe following certain political events: the conquest of Egypt by Napoleon, Greek struggles against Turkish bondage and the French occupation of Morocco. The predilection of Romanticism for exoticism, peculiarity and long journeys led to the creation of an oriental current in the art of the whole of Europe and to the emergence of a group of painters-travellers seeking inspiration in the East. The destinations of their journeys were mainly countries of the Middle East, Northern Africa, Greece and Moorish Spain, hence 19th century orientalism is commonly associated with the reception of Islamic culture.

     In consequence of such a wide treatment of this phenomenon one must take into consideration the role of artists who revived a vision of our borderland past, immortalized in Polish Romantic poetry and later in historic literature, mainly in The Trilogy by Henryk Sienkiewicz. For this reason the exhibition shows works like the representation of Mickiewicz’s Farys in watercolours by Juliusz Kossak, as well as eastern horsemen, skirmishes, battles and life on the borderlands in the oeuvre of Józef Brandt, Wacław Pawliszak, Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski and Michał Gorstkin-Wywiórski. Under the influence of the oriental trend in the second half of the 19th century, also painters who had only a “second-hand” knowledge of the East became interested in the Orient and thanks to their imagination and talent showed its vision as convincingly as those who really travelled there. In Polish art, the most outstanding representatives of this current are Pantaleon Szyndler and Franciszek Żmurko, who undertook in their oeuvre the most popular motives of European orientalism – harem scenes, representations of odalisques, houries, female slaves, etc. In order to provide a wider context for orientalism in our art the exhibition also shows a small presentation – reflecting the state of our collections – of works by European orientalists, among them by such well-known artists as Jean-Léon Gérôme, Horace Vernet, Etienne Dinet, Félix Ziem, Vasilij Verescagin, Carl Werner and others.

     The oeuvre of 19th century orientalists, which enjoyed great popularity during their lifetime and in the last century was doomed to museum storehouses by historians of art, is now back in grace all over Europe. This is a result of revisions of the approach to 19th century art and the appreciation of academic painting, of which many European orientalists were representatives and which had in the past century been overshadowed by French impressionism. The dialogue which is now taking place between European countries and followers of Islam and which influenced the evaluation of Western orientalist painting is also worth mentioning. The history of the representatives of orientalism is now being rescued from oblivion in the majority of European countries as well as in the United States. In the last years, extensive publications devoted to their paintings as well as monographs of the most outstanding representatives of this current were published in Europe, Italy, Germany, Austria, the United States and Turkey. In Tate Britain in London there recently took place a presentation of British orientalist painting of the 19th century. We hope that our exhibition will contribute to a better knowledge of this current in Poland and in Europe.


translated by Anna Kiełczewska


Al. Jerozolimskie 3
00-495 Warszawa

tel. 48 22 629 30 93
tel. 48 22 621 10 31
fax 48 22 622 85 59
e-mail: muzeum@mnw.art.pl