Warsaw and its National Museum

That cover image sums up my view of Warsaw nicely – modern and old, all together. Prosperity really seems to have hit, and the capital is lively and lovely, with shops, restaurants, cafes, sights, museums and parks all over. I headed for the National Museum, to the East of the centre, and set on a magnificent bridge. I’d run past it on Saturday, and the bridge had seemed particularly imposing from below; it wasn’t clear how I could clamber up onto it, but there are large sets of stairs underneath, which branch out to allow you onto either side of the bridge from below.

The museum is 25 PLN for entry to everything (20 if you want to skip the temporary exhibition. 30 if there are two of those), and another 10 if you want an audio tour. The temporary exhibition (Shouting: Poland! Independence 1918) is on Poland and it’s shifting state of independence, as different groups invade, life settles between wars before more invasions. The exhibition is, like the rest of the museum, heavy on the art, light on exposition, which works for this subject. Different rooms have different subjects, from war and its effects, to the cult of the hero (Marshal Pilsudski is depicted in a bewildering array of styles and media, paintings to sculpture).

I had expected more text about Poland and its history, and wasn’t quite ready for the amount of art. There are two huge galleries covering 19th century art (which then leads into 20th and 21st century) and The Old Masters, on the top floor.

Also on the 1st floor, with the 19th century art, is the gallery of Polish design, which is short, full of interesting artefacts, and fascinating.

On the ground floor, I initially missed the Nubian art exhibition, tucked away (or really obvious, depending on where you look first) to the left of the ticket office. A big deal when first uncovered in the 1970s, the site has now been washed away. Some of the findings “found their way” to a gallery in Sudan, and some here in Poland; my impression was that this wasn’t the same colonial ‘preservation’ as other National Museums have, more the result of how the art was found. It’s astonishing, at any rate, to think just how old much of this is, some in remarkably good condition.

I wasn’t as bothered with the medieval art exhibition, heavy on the religious iconography, though the triptychs are  beautiful. Also: dimly lit, so there’s no picture.

Finally, the main galleries. A smattering of the art within. I have little to add, because I just wandered and soaked it up. A wiser person might pause halfway through the museum, and regather energy before heading for the second enormous gallery. I chose to head back into the 19th century one after the old masters, which was reasonably effective as a way of viewing it through fresh eyes. The galleries are an art history tour, taking you through different artistic movements.

I had run past a statue of Jan Matejko in the morning, at that point clueless as to his significance. I had spotted that he was an artist, mind – see if you can guess how from the picture below. It felt like a nice piece of serendipity to then see some of his art on the same afternoon.

Jan Matejko
Jan Matejko statue.

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