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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » October 31, 2013
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ZachÍta Art Gallery Gets a Facelift
October 31, 2013   
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Work to renovate the historic building housing the ZachÍta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw is almost complete. The last stage of the project, which involved renovating the facade and restoring it to its original color, cost about zl.600,000. The renovation project has been funded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

The ZachÍta National Gallery of Art was established in 1860 by the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts (in Polish, zachÍta means encouragement or motivation). In those days Warsaw was under Russian control, and ZachÍta was the first public cultural institution in the city that the Russian rulers allowed to function.

The society organized art exhibitions and acquired works of art in order to establish a national collection. However, its foremost aim was to encourage young artists and fund scholarships and offer assistance to them.

In 1900, the society built an eclectic palace to house the gallery. The palace, adjacent to the Saxon Gardens in the heart of Warsaw, was built in neo-Renaissance style with classical elements to a design by Stefan Szyller—who also designed the Warsaw University of Technology buildings, the main gate to the University of Warsaw, and the university’s old library, in addition to various palaces and more than 100 tenement houses in Warsaw.

ZachÍta gained notoriety in 1922 when, during an exhibition opening, the newly elected first president of the Second Republic of Poland, Gabriel Narutowicz, was assassinated there by Eligiusz Niewiadomski, a Polish painter and art critic. Niewiadomski was sentenced to death by firing squad and was executed at the Warsaw Citadel.

When Poland was under German occupation during World War II, the building was occupied by German units and converted into the House of German Culture. The Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts was disbanded and much of the art collection was looted and confiscated by the Germans. During the 1944 Warsaw Uprising the building was badly damaged by German artillery. At the end of the war, traces of flammable substances were found, indicating that the Germans had planned to set the building on fire before withdrawing. The building was reconstructed after the war.

In 1949, Poland’s communist government replaced the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts with the Central Bureau for Art Exhibitions. The bureau was responsible for disseminating the official ideology of Polish art and artists. It also established branches in major cities throughout the country. Five years after the fall of communism in 1989, the bureau was closed in 1994. It was replaced by the ZachÍta State Gallery, which in 2003 changed its name to the ZachÍta National Gallery of Art.

Most outstanding Polish artists have exhibited their work at ZachÍta, and exhibitions by famous foreign artists have helped strengthen the gallery’s reputation abroad.

Today, the gallery’s permanent collection comprises 3,600 items, including about 700 paintings, almost 800 multimedia works, and some 100 sculptures and installations by 20th-century and contemporary Polish artists, many of them well known abroad. In addition, ZachÍta has an extensive collection of more than 2,600 works on paper such as graphics, drawings and photographs.

Roughly every six weeks there is a new temporary exhibition at the gallery. ZachÍta also organizes seminars, meetings with artists, concerts, films and multimedia events. The gallery’s library archives and documents Polish art since 1945 and contains a huge collection of both Polish and foreign catalogues, books and magazines.

Jolanta Wolska
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