The lost work of art that disappeared during World War II has returned home after being handed over to the National Museum in Warsaw in an official ceremony.
Danuta Matloch at Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie / Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego/Facebook

A lost oil painting of the ‘Warsaw Bellotto’ which disappeared from the capital during World War II has returned home after being handed over to the National Museum in Warsaw in an official ceremony.

The painting “Interior of Milan Cathedral” by 19th-century Polish artist Marcin Zaleski was most likely kept in the vaults of the National Museum until the Warsaw Uprising broke out in August 1944.

After its fall, many museum collections still present in the city were victims of looting, theft or destruction. Other items were transported to special German warehouses in Lower Silesia, Austria and Germany.

The precise circumstances under which the painting left Warsaw are unknown.

19th century oil painting by Zaleski of Milan Cathedral Danuta Matloch at Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie / Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego/Facebook

All trace of the painting was lost until January 2018, when the Polish Ministry of Culture was informed that it had been deposited at the Dorotheum, which is a large auction house in Vienna.

The oil on canvas shows the vast valet and impressive vaulting inside Milan Cathedral, which is the largest church in Italy, the third largest in Europe, and the fourth largest in the world.

Presented next to the painting during the official handover ceremony, the original frame of the painting specially selected by the artist, preserved in the museum since the war.

Zaleski was one of Poland’s most prominent urban landscape painters in the 19th century. Public domain

Due to paint damage in the meantime, its dimensions are smaller and it no longer fits. The frame will now be used to display another Zaleski painting.

Speaking at the official handover of the painting, the director of the National Museum, Professor Jerzy MizioÅ‚ek, said of Zaleski that “he is in truth the Bellotto of Warsaw”, referring to the 18th-century Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto, also known as Canaletto, famous for painting many large canvases of Warsaw during the reign of the last King of Poland StanisÅ‚aw August Poniatowski.

He added: “Zaleski is a very important artist from Warsaw. The museum has 40 of his paintings, but this one is the crown jewel.

Presented next to the painting during the official handover ceremony, the original frame of the painting specially selected by the artist, preserved in the museum since the war. Danuta Matloch at Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie / Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego/Facebook

Miziołek said the painting is unique because it shows the interior of Milan Cathedral from an earlier time and bathed in more light than other known paintings of the interior of the cathedral held in Milan.

He added that the Warsaw Museum is in talks with Italian cultural institutions to organize a joint exhibition on the cathedral in which Zalewski’s painting will be a star attraction.

The painting was first presented to the public in 1838 at an exhibition held in Warsaw.Danuta Matloch at Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie / Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego/Facebook

Zaleski was one of Poland’s most prominent urban landscape painters in the 19th century. His painting Interior of Milan Cathedral was shown to the public for the first time in 1838 during an exhibition organized in Warsaw.

In 1867, the work was brought by the Museum of Fine Arts, where it was exhibited. It was moved to the newly opened National Museum building in 1936.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński said at the handover ceremony that further successful repatriations of lost Polish art from World War II can be expected.Wojciech Olkusnik/PAP

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński said at the handover ceremony that further successful repatriations of lost Polish art from World War II can be expected, adding that about 80 restitution cases are currently in progress.

He said: “Over half a million works of art and items of national heritage were destroyed during World War II or simply stolen, mostly by our neighbours.”

Germans load trucks with Polish works of art in the Zachęta building in Warsaw. The list of Polish war casualties of World War II includes 63,000 records. It is generally believed that most of them were taken abroad.Public domain

GliÅ„ski said that over the past four years, 500 works of art have been recovered. However, he added that despite these successes compared to the magnitude of the lost art, “it’s still sad”.

The recovered painting by Marcin Zaleski will be on display in the 19th Century Painting Gallery in the Hall of Classicism and Romanticism from September 10.

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