Interview with Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, founder of The Princes Czartoryski Foundation

Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski granted us an interview at the time of the presentation in Cracow of the multispectral photography and its results for the Lady with Mink by Leonardo da Vinci, a masterpiece in the collection at the Czartoryski Muzeum in Cracow (see News, November 15, 2007)

1. Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski
Photo : D. Rykner

Can you retrace briefly for us the history of this collection, which is in a way also that of your family ?

The collection was started by Izabela Czartoryska (1746-1835) and after that all the members of the family, including my father, continued collecting as well. At first, the aim was to prevent Polish art from disappearing, then progressively the purpose changed and each one assembled different pieces. For example, Izabela’s grand-son bought the Leonardo, as well as the Raphael which today is lost. Another family member was allowed to carry out digs at the Roman Forum and was thus able to keep some of the objects he found. These can be seen today in the archeological museum. I’ve created a website which explains the history of the collection and that of each of the persons in our family who contributed to it. In 1945, the collection was confiscated and it was returned to us in 1991, the year in which I created the foundation.

2. Raphael (1483-1520)
Portrait of a Young Man
Oil on panel - 72 x 56 cm
Formerly Cracow, Czartoryski Muzeum
Disappeared during WWII

How many objects have disappeared ?

As of today, several hundred pieces are still missing, stolen or lost during World War II. Among these, the most famous is the Raphael. No one knows where it is. After the fall of Berlin, many objects started coming out and others will follow. There are private collections in which not everything is known, and where there might be stolen pieces. If someday the son or grand-son of the present collector sells a painting belonging to us, we might be able to recover it.

Yes, precisely, have you ever found something, and were you able to recover it ?

We recovered three items, the last being a beautiful painting by Jan Mostaert. A Shah Abbas rug was also found at an auction in London and it was returned to us after a trial that lasted six years. Another painting was auctioned a few years ago, but I was not able to get it back. It would have cost me less to buy it than what I paid in legal fees.

3. Jan Mostaert (c. 1472-1555)
Portrait of a Man Pulling on a Glove
Oil on panel - 42 x 32,5 cm
Cracow, Czartoryski Muzeum
Painting returned by the Richmond Museum
Photo : D. Rykner

What is the exact status of the collection today ?

The foundation is registered in Poland, created in 1991 to maintain a legacy which would be too difficult to own personally because it is so big to manage. It includes real estate as well as art objects, and a board of family members, experts and persons from other Polish foundations manages these assets. I had the obligation of preserving this in memory of my ancestors. It is a family tradition.

What does it feel like to see your painting by Leonardo restored virtually ?

It was an important moment, because I saw things you cannot detect with the naked eye. We can enter into a part of the painting that you cannot see otherwise. It is an unique experience. I never saw so many people and so many photographers. There were thirty or forty photographers, as if Beckham, the football player, were here.

Who would make the decision to restore the painting ?

The board would have to decide and to do so it would first have to designate a committee of international experts, to see if it is possible. I cannot answer the question right now and no one on the board can either. We have to think about it first. It means taking a risk, which can be positive or negative. I don’t know. I think that we have opened a door. If we decide someday that it is possible, with all the respect due to Polish and European restorers, we have to find the best restorers in the world. It is a big responsibility.

Your museum is extremely charming, in great part thanks to the fact that the arrangement of the works is very traditional. A renovation is in the works. Can you tell us something about it and what it is that you are going to change ?

The museum today is in a building which was bought by my great-grand-father who installed the collections there. The idea is to transform it into a museum which is a little bit more didactic, so that the visitor understands how it was created over time. We will show the changes in its history, and how the collections developed. Signs will be more instructive. It will be in the same spirit, but more comprehensible, providing a clearer idea of what each family member brought to it. We will also offer access for handicapped visitors and perhaps organize tours based on different themes according to demand, everything that a modern museum should do, without compromising its tradition.

You also wish to create a network of princes’ collections ?

After seeing what was done today, the idea of creating a network arose. Princes and their families were among the first to initiate projects for museums so it would be natural to carry out this type of study, which is state of the art, in other collections thus helping to know them better, for the benefit of all.

Interviewed by Didier Rykner on 12 November 2007 Translated by Mary Jo Brisson (posted 15 November 2007)

Didier Rykner, jeudi 15 novembre 2007

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