Metaphor and Myth

Literary and Historical Motifs in the Polish Art at the Turn of the 19th Century

Kumu Art Museum


From November 2, 2007, a visiting exhibition called “Metaphor and Myth. Literary and Historical Motifs in the Polish Art at the Turn of the 19th Century” is open at Kumu Art Museum, 3rd floor, wing B. Although the first exhibition of modern Polish art in Estonia was opened at Tallinn Art Museum in 1934, our visitors do not know Polish art well. True, modern art from Poland was exposed also later on, but this is the first time when works by old Polish art classics come to Estonia.


The exhibition was put together at Szczecin National Museum and it is the first time for the museum to display works belonging to its collections from that period in such quantities. Several aspects were kept in mind, when the exhibition was compiled by curator Adam Organisty, a researcher from Krakow Jagiełło University.


The core idea of the exhibition is to introduce centuries-old Poland to the audience who might not know the canons of Polish history, literature and art. This principle has affected the subject matter and structure of the exhibition, being also related to other purposes like pinpointing the links between fine arts and literature. Another important task of the exhibition is to cast light on European cultural myths from the turn of the 19th-20th century. Cultural tradition and religious past inspired artists to create works that surpass political boundaries and historical dimensions that touch the topics of universal values and daily issues. Because painted narrative can reach everybody, the curator wanted to display works of art conveying metaphoric messages and depicting the eternal problems always haunting people.

By way of sub-topics, the curator is attempting to focus your attention on the complicated and victim-filled history of Poland, but also on the idyllic and symbolic essence of Polish landscapes, on folklore and the mytologisation of peasant life. Because Polish artists loved Paris and were inspired by the decadence of the turn of the century, we meet eroticism and lust for death at the exhibition.


The exhibition is made up of 83 works, including paintings, drawings, watercolours, four sculptures and two examples of Art Nouveau porcelain. Some exhibits belong among the masterpieces of Polish art: the best-known Polish classics Jan Matejko, Stanisław Wyspiański, Jacek Malczewski, Wojciech Weiss plus many others are represented at the exhibition. In addition to works from the collection of Szczecin National Museum, the parade is added extra spark by works from Krakow National Museum, Wawel Royal Palace, Lódź Art Museum, Poznań National Museum, Warsaw Freedom Museum, Warsaw National Museum and Wroclaw National Museum.


Thereby the exhibition of classical art “Metaphor and Myth. Literary and Historical Motifs in the Polish Art at the Turn of the 19th Century” displayed at Kumu Art Museum provides a new dimension, historical depth, knowledge of the tradition and its subject matter to cultural relations. Like in Polish art, this was the time of noble ideas, symbolic communication and search for the core of national identity also in Estonian art. The geographic location and historical changes of both countries have given its people the experience of standing at the crossroads of history. Artists have always perceived this experience as a value, from where original art has and will be born.


The exhibition is accompanied by a richly commented and illustrated 308-page catalogue in English and Estonian.

The curator of the exhibition at Kumu Art Museum is Tiina Abel; the exhibition was designed by Andres Tolts.