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Paderewski (un)known

The open-air exhibition of previously unpublished photographs of Ignacy Jan Paderewski will be opened in December by the Museum of Wielkopolska Uprising of 1918-1919, a branch of the Wielkopolska Museum of Independence.

Black and white picture of two elegantly dressed men (one of them Ignacy Jan Paderewski) standing on the road, trees in the background. - grafika artykułu
Photo courtesy of Wielkopolskie Muzeum Niepodległości

For Poznań residents, December is a special month owing in part to an anniversary of the outbreak of the Wielkopolska (Greater Poland Region) Uprising. Every year, we revisit those events and recall the key figures. Needless to say, one of the most prominent ones to name is Ignacy Jan Paderewski, whose arrival in Poznań on 26 December 1918 sparked the insurgency. Although the uprising has been the subject of numerous studies, knowledge about it has been widely disseminated, and the biography of the outstanding pianist, activist and politician is well known, there are scores of related facts that can still surprise us.

One such big surprise has been the discovery of a book featuring 138 previously unpublished photographs of Paderewski taken in 1919-1936. The book was acquired by the Wielkopolska Uprising Museum, becoming one of its most remarkable exhibits that to this day is a treasure trove of secrets. The way the book of photographs was acquired is itself a fascinating story in its own right that shows that the antiquities market still has many gems to offer and that it is essential to watch it closely. The story of the book's discovery and acquisition received ample media coverage and - not surprisingly - piqued the interest of historians, Poznań history buffs and local patriots.

The website of the Wielkopolska Uprising Museum features photos from the book. The plan was also to place the book itself on view in the permanent exhibition. Yet, in this very unusual year, the Museum was compelled to devise an alternative solution, which was to display the photographs in open air in front of its building to mark the 102nd anniversary of the uprising. Barring unforeseen obstacles, the display will most likely open in the Old Market Square on 19 December. It will be curated by Olaf Bergmann.

While it is uncertain who made the photographs, all leads point to one of Paderewski's secretaries. Their author was most likely also the book's owner. Made in black-and-white and sepia, the photos are in excellent condition. They can naturally be grouped into four thematic categories corresponding to four aspects of the composer's life: his political engagements, his travels, his participation in international conferences, and his personal life along with his wife Helena at their Riond-Bosson estate near Morges, Switzerland.

The fact that the photos have been taken by a member of the musician's inner circle offers a unique and somewhat more intimate perspective. Some of the pictures seem to be shot randomly and impromptu, while others were simply intended as a keepsake.

Justyna Żarczyńska

translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski

Ignacy Jan Paderewski in unknown photographs from a forgotten album

Exhibition scheduled to open on 22 December

Old Market Square, in front of the Museum of Wielkopolska Uprising of 1918-1919

© Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania 2020