Jan. 20, 2022

Self-portraits XXI

Foreword by Paweł Kastory, the President of the Board of the Friends of the National Museum in Warsaw, to the catalog of the "Collectors for the Museum" auction.

Paweł Kastory, fot. Zuza Krajewska

Dear Madam, Dear Sir,

when you take this catalog in your hands, you contribute to creating the Self-portraits XXI collection.

Thanks to the initiative of the Director of the National Museum in Warsaw, Prof. Łukasz Gaweł of the Jagiellonian University, the Friends of the National Museum Association in Warsaw undertook the Self-portraits XXI project. Its idea refers to the collection of paintings commissioned by Count Ignacy Karol Korwin-Milewski. This project presents an example of the unique phenomenon of private patronage, aimed at supporting outstanding artists of the era.

The figure of Korwin-Milewski is as special as his collection of self-portraits. Born in 1846 in Lithuania to a landed gentry family, he received his legal education in today's Tartu, Estonia. He also graduated in painting from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He used his fortune to commission works from artists. He also sponsored them with painting scholarships. Guided by knowledge and intuition, in over thirty years (1879-1910) he amassed a collection of over two hundred works of Polish painting. The artists of the last quarter of the 19th century constituted the biggest part of the collection, which included numerous works by all the outstanding artists of that time.

The compilation of approximately a dozen works, presenting self-portraits of outstanding Polish artists from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries occupies a special position in the collection of Korwin-Milewski. His aim was to precede his main collection, grouped by the authors, with the display of their self-portraits. He ordered sixteen self-portraits from the most respected male painters and one female painter: Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz, Teodor Axentowicz, Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, Aleksander Gierymski, Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski, Józef Męcina-Krzesz, Michał du Laurans, Ludwik de Laveaux, Jan Matejki, Antoni Piotrowski, Kazimierz Pochwalski, Mieczysław Reyzner, Alfred Römer, Wincenty Wodzinowski, Franciszek Żmurka, and two portraits of Józef Brandt and Michał Wywiórski. The portraits had a fixed size and composition arrangement. With the exception of Jan Matejko, who imposed his own concept of the painting, all artists followed the collector's guidelines. Portraits presented life-size, three-quarter figures, standing with a pallet in their hands against a neutral background, constituting a particularly interesting part of the collection. These valuable depictions were purchased three years after the collector's death in 1929, from Milewski's heir, Szymon Meysztowicz, by the Warsaw Museum.

Today it is difficult to persuade artists to perform such a specific task, which is why we invite to the project not only painters but also artists creating in the broadly understood field of visual arts. Nowadays, the concept of "self-portrait" goes far beyond a simple depiction of the artist, it may indicate various works created in the process of introspection, whether it is an analysis of the artist's place in society or through a look beyond the material world - into herself or himself. The following artists accepted our invitation to cooperate on the project: Paweł Althamer, Agnieszka Brzeżańska, Rafał Bujnowski, Izabella Gustowska, Zuzanna Janin, Łukasz Korolkiewicz, Katarzyna Krakowiak, Zbigniew Libera, Rafał Milach, Jarosław Modzelewski, Agnieszka Polska, Karol Radziszewski, Joanna Rajkowska, Wilhelm Sasnal, Jadwiga Sawicka, Artur Żmijewski. Talks are ongoing with other artists. We hope to collect at least twenty self-portraits.

The collection, created thanks to the patronage of the Friends of the National Museum in Warsaw, will be transferred to the museum's collection, where it will constitute a separate, inseparable whole. The premiere show of the collection shall add splendor to the celebration of the next anniversary of the National Museum in Warsaw. Our return to the concept from a century ago represents the continuity of the tradition of artistic culture, simultaneously opening up to new trends in art and a new understanding of the role of the artist, artwork, and museum. In the following years, the collection of self-portraits will be displayed in rotation at the contemporary art gallery.

Paweł Kastory

Member of the Management Board of the Friends of the National Museum in Warsaw