The Battle of Grunwald in Prague: Reception of the 1959 Exhibition of Polish Painting in Czechoslovakia
The exhibition titled Polish Painting from Canaletto to Wyspiański was presented in Czechoslovakia in 1959, first at the Waldstein Riding School in Prague, and then at the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava under the alternative title Polish Painting of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. The display, prepared jointly by the National Museum in Warsaw and the National Gallery in Prague, represented a timeframe from the court of King Stanislaus August Poniatowski to the Young Poland movement of the early twentieth century. Based on archival material, this article examines the reception of the presentations in Prague and Bratislava. It analyses the information that the exhibition and its reviews provided to Czechoslovakia’s various audiences, the art critics’ interpretations and assessment of different tendencies of Polish art, seen in the context of the late 1950s artistic life, and compares reception in both locations. The exhibition was covered in Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and in German by various Czechoslovak media, from daily newspapers published by organs of the state to specialized art magazines. The presence Jan Matejko’s large scale historical painting, the Battle of Grunwald, attracted attention and provoked reflections on cooperation of Slavic nations against ‘German enemies’, which corresponded with the Cold War era narrative. Still, most of the reviews were written by art historians and their interest lay in matters such as the development of Polish national art and its different directions, Polish realism, and comparison of the history of Polish painting with Czech and Slovak art. This case study offers insight into the history of art in East-Central Europe, taking the perspective of history of exhibitions and institutional artistic contacts within the Eastern Bloc.
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