Polish museum receives anonymous package containing lost 17th-century tiles

The Art Newspaper 16 May 2024
By Sophia Kishkovsky

The tiles decorated the bathing pavilion of Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw before they disappeared during the Second World War

Some of the tiles have pieces missing

Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Museum, a historic park and palace complex in the Polish capital, has received a unique and anonymous package from Canada in the mail: 12 late 17th-century Dutch tiles that once decorated the baths there and were lost when Nazi forces pillaged and plundered the country during the Second World War.

The story underscores the often decades-long path home for art stolen in wartime. “A mysterious package, missing tiles and a happy ending,” wrote Poland’s ministry of culture on Facebook on 26 April. “This story is a ready-made script for a movie! After many years, the original Dutch ceramic tiles that decorated the interior of today's Palace on the Isle are returning to the Royal Łazienki Museum. Some of them survived the fire of the Palace in 1944, some were scattered, and the missing ones were reconstructed after the war. Unexpectedly, after many years, the museum received a shipment of original tiles from a mysterious sender from Canada who, just before his death, asked for their return.”

The returned tiles, which are cracked or have missing pieces, are on special display until 1 September as part of a temporary exhibition, The art of thinking well. The legacy of Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, about the Polish nobleman and intellectual who founded the estate. The bathing pavilion that he had built there in the 17th century became famous when it was expanded by King Stanisław August, with the baroque baths, known as the Palace on the Isle or Baths Palace.

A spokeswoman for the museum, tells The Art Newspaper that the tiles, dating to around 1690-1700 and probably made in Utrecht, “were sent to us just before the exhibition” and “are very important to us because those are the original tiles that decorated the walls in one of the rooms in the Palace on the Isle.”

Unliked most structures in Warsaw, which was ravaged by the war, “the palace was partially burned during at the end of the Second World War but was never completely destroyed,” says the spokeswoman, who was not able to offer any more details on the return of the tiles, saying only that the case is being handled by the ministry.

Other items have been returned to the museum in recent years, according to the spokeswoman: “In 2015, we recovered the sculpture of Diana by Jean-Antoine Houdon, and in 2011, an applique candelabra, with the head of Medusa, from the Solomon Hall in the Palace on the Isle [was returned].”
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