For more than sixty years, Jewish Woman with Oranges – one of Aleksander Gierymski’s masterworks – was listed among the Polish works of art to have been lost during the Second World War. Residing today in the National Museum in Warsaw, the painting had gone missing after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, as Nazi soldiers destroyed and looted works of art en masse.
The recovery of Gierymski’s painting from a German auction house in 2010 was a momentous event. The efforts of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to reclaim the canvas lasted nearly a year. It was no easy task – German law offered no legal recourse for a rightful owner to regain a stolen work after such a long, uninterrupted period in other hands. Consequently, Poland was forced to buy back Jewish Woman with Oranges, with the PZU Foundation bankrolling the purchase and covering the costs of the painting’s restoration.
The recovered painting was in very poor condition and returning it to its former glory took many months of meticulous work. Today, Jewish Woman with Oranges once again glows with its clear colours and a sense of depth, air and light fill the landscape depicting Warsaw’s Powiśle district. The poor, life-weary woman stands with baskets of oranges in her hands hoping to sell but a few. Her once-beautiful face, wrinkled by time, sadness and resignation, still reflects a human dignity that refuses to succumb to life’s misfortunes.