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Jan Matejko's painting  "The Battle of Grunwald" was a big issue to the occupying German authorities. At the order of Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich, even a 2 million mark reward was announced for identifying the place where the painting was hidden. However, no one came forward. How did the wartime fate of the most famous Polish painting turn out? 

"Battle of Grunwald" by Matejko, the beginning of history

Jan Matejko was one of the most outstanding Polish painters in history. He became famous for his depictions of victorious moments from the history of the Republic. One of his most recognizable works is the monumental "Battle of Grunwald" from 1878 measuring 426 x 987 cm. In 1902 the painting was in the collection of the Society of Fine Arts "Zachęta". It was there that it survived until the eve of the war. The decision to evacuate the painting was made on August 30, 1939. The several-hundred-kilogram painting was rolled up with the help of passersby and wrapped on a four-and-a-half-meter shaft. The evacuation was helped by the vice-president of Warsaw, who arranged for a semi-truck. The director of Zachęta, after talking with officers defending the capital, swapped it for a large horse-drawn platform. On September 9, the convoy, along with painters: Stanisław Ejsmond and Bolesław Surałła, reached the Museum in Lublin. Unfortunately, a short time later these two artists were killed in a bomb attack. The painting lay untouched in the institution's building.

Times of occupation and a happy ending

During the occupation, museum staff created a dummy library to protect the painting. At the same time, a Gestapo investigation was underway in Warsaw. Stanisław Ejsmond's widow and Zachęta employees were interrogated. No one revealed any useful information. After much effort by Third Reich soldiers, a reward of 2 million German reichsmarks (later raised to 10 million) was set. No one came forward. The painting eventually survived until the occupation of Lublin by the Red Army in 1944 on the grounds of the Lublin City Tabor. The painting was ceremoniously unearthed in front of newsreel cameras and PKWN (Polish Committee for National Liberation) dignitaries. The painting was taken over by Stanisław Lorentz, director of the National Museum in Warsaw. The restoration work took as long as four years. Finally, Poles had the opportunity to see the painting again ten years after its evacuation, on July 15, 1949. 

A more detailed wartime history of the painting is described in the book "Stolen Art. The Abduction of the Madonna" by Włodzimierz Kalicki and Monika Kuhnke (2014).

Added 2022-11-04 in by Alicja Graczyk

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