We expand our collections. Surprises happen! - Muzeum Pamięci Sybiru

16 November 2023

We expand our collections. Surprises happen!

The Sybir Memorial Museum constantly expands its collections. We owe it to our generous donors, but we also buy some of the objects — including at art auctions. One of the last such acquisitions is a watercolor self-portrait made in 1896 by Kazimierz Alchimowicz, a Sybirak.

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— There are already over 9,000 objects in our warehouses. Nearly 75% of purchases come from donations made by Sybiraks, their families or other people who want to share their mementoes with us. And for that we are very grateful. says Anna Bielawska-Puchalska from the Collection Department of the Sybir Memorial Museum.

‘However, there are items in our collection that have been purchased by the Museum’ —explains the curator. Sometimes private individuals who have a Siberian memento and want to sell it come to us. But above all, we follow the antique market and browse catalogs informing about upcoming art auctions. This is how we noticed the self-portrait of Kazimierz Alchimowicz, a Siberian painter. The catalog included information that he was sent to Siberia for participating in the January Uprising. — says the museum worker.

In the corner of the portrait you can see the signature and date — ‘K.Alchimowicz 1896’. The painting purchased at auction arrived to the Museum in a golden frame. Our conservator decided to take it out:

— This will be necessary to conduct maintenance work and to glue the loosening edges of watercolor from the decorative passe-partout. I also need to replace the backrest with acid-free cardboard — safe for this type of sensitive objects on a paper base — explains Eliza Naumiuk, a conservator from the Sybir Memorial Museum.

To everyone’s amazement, we have found three handwritten entries on the back!

There is a dedication in the center:

‘To the Honorable Doctor E. Rosenblat as a mark of respect and gratitude as a keepsake Salomea Chwatowa Kraków d. 26/5;917’

The donor was a translator of theater plays, language teacher, writer, veteran of the January Uprising and an activist for homeless children. She gave the work to Emanuel Rosenblat, a Krakow doctor specializing in children’s diseases.

The next postscript — ‘Property of M. Boniecka’ — informs us about the next owner of the painting, Docent Maria Fredro-Boniecka, the younger daughter of Emanuel Rosenblatt, who was a museologist and numismatic expert.

Due to the presence of a small hole drilled in the middle of the cardboard, we believe Alchimowicz’s self-portrait once hung on the wall, attached to a pin or small nail.

And who was the painter himself? He was born in 1840 in Lithuania, died in Warsaw in 1916. He took part in the January Uprising, for which in 1863 he was sentenced to hard labor in Verkhoturye, beyond the Urals, from where he returned only in 1870. He enrolled in the Warsaw Drawing School and Wojciech Gerson’s private art school. In the following years, he also studied in Munich and Paris. He took part in many exhibitions, where he won numerous awards.

The painting ‘Funeral of Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas’, which the artist ultimately donated to the National Museum in Kraków, brought him great popularity in Poland (and even awards abroad). The collection of the National Museum in Warsaw includes the painting ‘The Halting Place’ from 1884, referring to the painter’s Siberian experiences, and the warehouses of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw contain, among others, ‘The Children near the Forest’, ‘After the Battle’ and ‘Hiring Workers’.

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