A centennary exhibition
Wawel Royal Castle, Cracow
October 9 – December 7, 2014
The Wawel Royal Castle in Cracow is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War and the formation of the Polish Legions with the exhibition Two Genera-tions: Art of the Polish Legions from the Jerzy Mycielski Collection, on view from October 9 to December 7, 2014.
The exhibition presents a very personal selection of artworks depicting life in the Polish Legions. The 59 works (with one exception), mostly drawings, are from the collection of Legion-themed art that Professor Jerzy Mycielski bequeathed to the Wawel Castle in 1927. The collection originally numbered 100 pieces, but a significant number were lost in World War II. A large oil by Jan Skotnicki depicting a cavalry unit at full gallop, Spurs are Jangling (1915; Wawel Royal Castle, Gift of Antoni Koziebrodzki, 1928), and a number of archival images round out the display.
Count Jerzy Mycielski (1856–1928) was an art historian, collector, and patron of the arts. Deeply involved in the Legion cause, he was a member of the Supreme Relief Committee for veterans and the widows and orphans of legionnaires. He organized successful exhibitions of the art of the Polish Legions (Cracow, Basel, Bern, and Zurich in 1916; Lwów and Warsaw in 1917; and Cracow in 1924) to both raise public awareness of the military formation and to raise funds for legionnaires in need. He was also one of the Wawel Royal Castle’s most im-portant donors; in addition to the collection of Legion-themed art, he donated his substantial collection of Old Master paintings and 19th- and early-20th century Polish art.
The works in Two Generations were created either by artists who were legionnaires them-selves, or who admired the Legions and in this way contributed to the cause. Mycielski’s collection of Legion-themed art, the largest amassed by a private individual, comprised nu-merous portraits of legionnaires, sketches from the front, and, originally, a number of oil paintings. Double-portraits of Mycielski with legionnaires highlight his very close personal relationship to the Legions, the soldiers, and the artists.
The Polish Legions, commanded by Brigadier and future Marshal of Poland Józef Piłsudski, were a quasi-independent unit within the Austrian army. After the war, their officers formed the elite backbone of the armed forces of independent Poland. Millions more Poles, drafted into the armies of the three partitioning powers (Austria, Germany, and Russia), fought in World War I, with nearly 450,000 dead and 900,000 wounded in the final tally.