Wawel Castle was the most expensive purchase of all time and has enhanced the reputation of his art collection by purchasing works by Dutch masters of the Golden Age Brueghel the Younger and Willem Claesz Heda.
The acquisition from a French private seller of L’Auberge de Saint-Michel by Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Still Life by Willem Claesz Heda is expected to take the castle’s already impressive collection of Dutch paintings to a new level.
The patron of the castle, Professor Andrzej Betlej, said: “These are works that completely reposition the collection of Wawel Royal Castle.
“At the same time, it is one of the biggest, if not the biggest purchase in the history of the Château Royal.”
The price paid for the two early 17th-century pieces has not been revealed, but the Ministry of Culture, which helped fund the purchase with the Prime Minister’s Chancellery, said the art acquisition is one of the most important ever made by Poland.
Brueghel the Younger’s Auberge de Saint-Michel is significant because the artist was best known for copying his father’s works, while the acquisition of the Wawel is a unique work by Brueghel.
The painting is one of Brueghel’s most important works. The signature, spelled ‘Breughel’, and not like her father’s spelling ‘Bruegel’, shows that he painted her during the mature period of his work, probably between 1619 and 1625.
Dr Joanna Winiewicz-Wolska, Curator of the Wawel Royal Castle Paintings Collection, said: “Through the artist’s eyes we see a scene set in front of an inn – daily life in the Flemish countryside, accurately reported.
“This is one of many versions of this composition, which differs in detail, but is the one with the highest artistic level.”
The composition represents a building surrounded by trees, covered with a straw roof above a pond, and numerous figures.
According to Winiewicz-Wolska, although Pieter II Brueghel was known primarily as a copyist and imitator of his father’s work, in L’Auberge de Saint-Michel he displays an individual style, a wealth of invention and a love of detail. .
“This painting is one of the first he painted as a freelance artist, without referencing any of his father’s known works,” she said.
The acquisition of a painting by Brueghel is highly symbolic for Krakow. Until World War II, the National Museum in Krakow housed the painting The Battle of Carnival and Lent, Brueghel the Younger’s copy of his father’s work from 1559.
The museum claimed that Charlotte von Wächter, the wife of Nazi governor of Krakow Otto von Wächter during the German occupation of Poland, entered the museum in 1939 and took the painting.
He said the $77 million canvas ended up on the art market in Vienna.
The original painting by Bruegel the Elder is on display at the prestigious Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The National Museum in Krakow has claimed the Vienna painting may in fact be the one stolen from Krakow, although the Austrian institution said its Bruegel had been in its collection since the 17th century.
Willem Claesz Heda’s still life, on the other hand, is a worldwide discovery on the art market, as the work was previously unknown.
In 1637, Heda painted nine still lifes. Eight are held in renowned collections around the world. However, the existence of the ninth was not known until now.
Both rooms will add to the already impressive collection of Dutch paintings held at Wawel Castle, which numbers around 100 works.
They will soon be exhibited in the Salon du Senator, then later in the Royal Chambers alongside the tapestries of Sigismund Auguste and Italian paintings from the Lanckoroński collection.