Looted masterpiece returns to Wawel after nearly 80 years

The First News 23 May 2023
By Blanka Konopka

An 18th century painting stolen from Krakow's Wawel Royal Castle during WWII and lost for nearly eight decades, has made a return to the gallery's display after its surprise discovery by a Krakow auction house last year.

Dating from 1762, and depicting two young painters learning their craft, "The Drawing Lesson" by Jan Maurits Quinkhardt came into the possession of the Wawel Royal Castle before WWII as part of a collection gifted in the will of Krakow Professor Jerzy Mycielski.

A well-known art historian and art collector of his day, Mycielski counted some of the most renowned artists including Jacek Malczewski, among his friends.

Following his death in 1928,  his collection of over 500 paintings were gifted to the National Museum in Krakow.

The painting was added to the castle's inventory and given the number 1630, but was stolen during WWII and remained missing for the next 77 years until its chance discovery in 2022.

The painting, which had been in a private collection, was uncovered by Krakow auction house "Krakowski Dom Aukcyjny" when, unaware of its history or missing status, an heir of the painting's most recent owner decided to try and sell it.

Ryszard Lachman from Krakowski Dom Aukcyjny said: "A client brought a part of his collection he had inherited for appraisal and potential sale...During the course of enquiry, we found out one of the works was a registered war loss - we notified Wawel Royal Castle about it. Their astonishment was huge."

The presence of the painting’s original inventory number, referring to Professor Mycielski's original collection, meant that it did not take the Wawel Castle long to confirm the identity and authenticity of the painting.

The painting's description and dimensions were also an exact match.

Professor Betlej said: "We had no doubts...When the owner realized this work was looted during the war, he immediately returned it to the Wawel."

Betlej revealed that a similar situation had taken place in 2020, when a missing watercolour painting was returned to Wawel, after a person who was clearing her grandmother's apartment found it along with signatures suggesting it had come from the Wawel Castle.

Jan Maurits Quinkhardt who studied under Krzysztof Lubieniecki, was a Polish Baroque painter living in Amsterdam.

He began his painting career in 1723 and mainly painted portraits, most often half-length portaits.

The Wawel Royal Castle said: “The painting most likely shows one of such lessons, taking place under the watchful eye of the painter himself.

“It refers to a 1757 composition from Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, at which Julius Quinkhardt depicted himself and his son Jan Maurits during a drawing lesson."
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