The Polish Museum in Rapperswil

Artworks from the collection of the Polish Museum in Rapperswil

The Polish Museum in the Swiss town of Rapperswil was established in 1870 upon the initiative of the Polish political emigrants. The main founder of the Museum was Count Władysław Broel-Plater, an insurgent of the November Uprising, who later became a political activist in France and Switzerland. The history of the Museum and its collections gives the Museum a special place among other museums worldwide. Housed in the old Rapperswil Castle which was restored by the Polish expat community, the Museum represents a joint effort of the Polish and Swiss people, an example of the co-existence of two cultures, and a proof that culture may facilitate closer links and understanding between nations. The Polish Museum’s holdings include a collection of old prints, the oldest of them dating back to 1494, a collection of 19th and 20th century painting, a gallery of late 18th century miniatures, collections of prints, militaria, numismatic items, orders and medals, as well as a rich cartographic collection. The Museum owes the nature and great diversity of its collections to its donors – Swiss nationals and Polish emigrants for whom the attachment to the Polish art and culture was a reference point in their new existence away from homeland. In addition to its art collection, the Museum also houses a library and an archive. The library has a large collection of old prints and Polonica. The archive contains the records of the rich history of diplomatic, scientific and economic relations between Poland and Switzerland. It also stores the records of the social life of Poles abroad. Visit the Polish Museum in Rapperswil
The painting collection comprises over 700 objects from 16th century until present. The most numerous group consists of the 19th and 20th century paintings, in particular, the works created by the Polish painters in Munich: Józef Brandt, Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski, Józef Chełmoński, Leon Wyczółkowski, Julian Fałat, Wojciech Kossak, Teodor Axentowicz, or Zofia Stryjeńska. Moreover, the collection includes the works of painters who trained in Paris: Olga Boznańska, Józef Czapski, Vlastimil Hofman. An important part of the contemporary art collection are the 75 paintings by Hanna Kala Weynerowska from San Francisco, which were presented to the Museum by the painter herself. Specially worthy of notice is the collection of 108 miniature paintings from the Dzików Castle, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection was a gift of Count Artur Tarnowski. It features mainly the works of Polish miniaturists, such as Wincenty Lesseur, a miniature painter at the court of King Stanisław August Poniatowski, and Waleria Tarnowska, but also the pieces by F.G. Remondini and H.F. Füger. The collection contains portraits of historical figures, and miniature copies of masterpieces of European painting. The majority of works came to the Museum as gifts from the Polish expat community. The Museum received paintings from, among others, Julian Godlewski, Iza Landsberger-Poznańska, Count Artur Tarnowski, Czesław Marek, Grażyna Zawisza, and Hanna Kali Weynerowska.
The sculptures presented at the Museum were created by eminent European sculptors of the19th and 20th centuries, and represent the trends and tendencies which became pronounced at that time. The artists include: Henryk Stattler, Henryk Glicenstein, Antoni Madeyski, Josef Thorak, Jerzy Stocki, and Maciej Piotrowski. The works were executed using various materials and techniques. The sculptures depict the great national heroes, as well as art and science patrons. Contemporary folk sculpture (around 700 works) accounts for a large part of the collection. The folk sculpture collection represents an interesting aesthetic value. The subject matter of the works is deeply rooted in the popular religious tradition. The collection is rich in Marian iconography and images of Pensive Christ. The works were executed by well-known and highly valued folk art sculptors (R. Śledź, E. Zegadło). The collection has been created with the help of numerous donors, including: Walter Unternährer, Prof. Jerzy Langman from Rome, Dr. Hans Haab.
Collection of maps and prints
The Museum also houses special collections, the most extensive and valuable of them being the cartographic collection, and the collection of prints (etchings, lithographs, steel engravings, xylographs and copperplate engravings). The items in the collections were mainly gifts from Roman Umiastowski. In the summer of 1983, widow of Colonel Roman Umiastowski, acting on her husband’s last will, sent to Rapperswil three large boxes containing Polonica of unique value, a proof of Col. Roman Umiastowski’s passion for collecting. Other significant contributors to the creation and development of the cartographic and prints collections include: Jan Nowak Jeziorański from Washington, Adam Heymowski from Stockholm, Tadeusz Szmitkowski from Geneva, Konstanty Górski and Kazimierz Grocholski. The Museum’s archive holds a collection of over 750 maps of ancient Polish territories. The maps have been described in the catalogue CARTOGRAPHIA RAPPERSVILIANA POLONORUM.
Medals, orders and coins
Rapperswil’s Museum holds an extensive numismatic collection, comprising around 1,500 coins and medals from the 16th century until present. The phaleristic collection features orders and decorations, jewellery, memorabilia, distinction badges, patriotic and commemorative badges, both Polish and international, dating from the 19th until the late 20th century. Some of the orders belonged to Karol Potulicki and Julian Godlewski. The collection of medals and decorations contains commemorative and jubilee medals, Polish and international decorations, and badges. The collection includes legionary badges, badges of the 2nd Rifle Division, and of the Polish Armed Forces of the 20th century. The collection of orders comprises both those of the highest rank, in all classes, and several impressive rare foreign orders, such as: the Maltese cross, the French Order of the Legion of Honour, or the Dominican Order. Particularly noteworthy is the gold bracelet consisting of five original gold ducats with their reverse sides up, depicting the Polish kings of the 17th and 18th centuries. The bracelet is a gift of Princess Maria Sapieha.
Old prints
The present, post-war collection of old prints in the Polish Museum in Rapperswil includes 201 bibliographical items in 219 volumes (5 incunabula, 34 prints from the 16th century, 72 prints from the 17th century, and 90 prints from the 18th century). Among them, there are no items from the pre-war Rapperswil collection. The collection was formed predominantly through gifts from the Polish emigrant community. The Polish Museum owes its collection of old prints mainly to Col. Roman Umiastowski, a distinguished antiquarian who amassed a unique collection of books, maps, atlases and prints, which was handed over to the Museum by his widow, Joanna Umiastowska, in 1983 . Especially valuable items include: Selenography by Jan Hevelius (a 17th century print), On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus (a 16th century print), and the 16th century Jewish Book of Genealogy, Sefer Yuhasin.
The militaria collection is extremely varied and was formed through gifts from the Polish expat community. The Museum showcases Polish and international historical weapons. The collection comprises: cold steel (17th-20th century), firearms (19th-20th c.), helmets, patriotic memorabilia, battle iconography, World War II uniforms of soldiers from the 2nd Rifle Division and items of military equipment, Oriental style hussar helmets.
The objects in the Museum’s collection are testimonies of the Jewish culture in Poland. They came to the Museum as gifts from Izabela Landsberger-Poznańska. The main items in the Judaica collection are: a yad - a pointer used when reading the Torah; a tas (Torah pendant, scroll shield); a silver besamim box (container for spices); and a Jewish ceremonial hat used during festive celebrations. Another valuable item in this collection is the Book of Genealogy, Sefer Yuhasin, a History of the Jewish People (since the Creation of the World until 1500), written by Abraham Zacuto in 16th century. The book is a gift of Roman Umiastowski.
The collection of watches is mainly composed of 19th century items. The Museum’s holdings include several watches produced by Czapek and Co. from Geneva, Patek and Co., and Patek Philippe and Company. The names of the companies derive from the names of their founders: Antoni Norbert Patek, an insurgent of the January Uprising, and Franciszek Czapek. The most valuable exhibits include watches with religious motifs and Polish national motifs: a portrait of Adam Mickiewicz, a depiction of a Polish scythe-bearing insurgent, an image of Our Lady of Ostra Brama. The collection was formed mainly through gifts from Julian Godlewski, Count Aleksander Sapieha and Irena Węcławowic.
Sacred art
The sacred art collection is predominantly made up of items used during the celebration of the Mass: liturgical vessels (a Gothic chalice, 17th century altar cruets) and an ornamental Missal from the 15th century. The exhibits include a reliquary with the remains of St. Stanisław Kostka dating from 17th century, and a 19th century icon of Our Lady of Ostra Brama. The main donors were Roman Umiastowski, and A.S. Ciechanowski.
The Museum’s textile collection is composed of miscellaneous objects. These include: a collection of flags and military banners, an embroidered tapestry with Jewish motifs donated by Iza Landsberger-Poznańska. The collection contains a range of kontusz sashes originating mainly from the Polish sash factories in Slutsk and Grodno, dating from the 18th to early 19th century. They exemplify the Polish nobility’s penchant for Oriental culture. The diversity of this collection reflects the tastes of Polish collectors who, in addition to the goods produced by renowned Western manufacturers, also appreciated the domestic production, fabrics inspired by Oriental designs, and all sorts of textile memorabilia associated with culture. The exhibits include an alms bag used for collecting donations for the poor. The bag, embroidered with gold and silver thread, belonged to Maria Josepha (1731-1767), daughter of August III the Saxon, King of Poland.
The porcelain collection features valuable pieces of porcelain produced in the Royal Manufactory in Meissen, including a collection of figurines dating from the period when Johann Joachim Kändler (1731–1763) became the modelmaster at Meissen. He is called the father of European porcelain since he revolutionized the character of the Meissen products by accentuating their visual aesthetics. In addition to porcelain sculptures, he executed small ceramic figurines inspired by the court life, for example the figurines of Polish nobles wearing the traditional kontusz costumes. Several valuable pieces of art come from the old Polish porcelain manufactory in Korzec and Baranówka. Some of the exhibits were donated by Iza Landsberger-Poznańska and Elżbieta Rufener-Sapieha.
Historical memorabilia
The collection features objects associated with historical figures and prominent Poles: the silent piano which belonged to Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a cast of Frederic Chopin’s hand and his death mask, a set of radioactivity measurement devices from Marie Curie-Skłodowska’s laboratory. Moreover, the collection includes memorabilia commemorating the martyrology of the Polish people, which were created by the January Uprising insurgents deported to Siberia, and prisoners of the Soviet labour camps, and German concentration camps. Among the donors are both institutions (the Curie Laboratory in Paris), and individuals: Prof. Janina Turczyńska, Dr. Jan Godlewski, Andrzej Romer.
Folk art
The collection is composed of over 800 objects, including folk costumes from different regions of Poland, cut-outs, Krakow Christmas cribs, and glass paintings - all attesting to the richness of Polish folk art.
The Polish Museum in Rapperswil
Credits: Story

Curators of the exhibition:

Monika Jastrzębiec Czepielewska
Mariola Sigrist
Wiktoria Suder

Anna Buchmann


Piotr Jamski
Monika Jastrzębiec Czepielewska
Agnieszka Piecuch
Bożena Szafrańska

Expert advice:

Dr. Beata Biedrońska-Słota - The National Museum in Krakow
Piotr Dabrowski - The Polish Army Museum
Patryk Pawlaczyk - The National Museum of Ethnography
Dr. Bozena Schmid-Adamczyk - The Museum of Frederic Chopin and George Sand in Majorca
Paul Żurkowski- The Polish Army Museum

Providing materials:

Monika Nowakowska - Museum of the City of Lodz


Translation agency JUNIQUE

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.