Holidays, or long weekend in May. Unimportant. You decide to go sightseeing one of the beautiful, polish cities. You want to touch true Art, the one written in capitals. You want to admire this perfect, centuries-old architecture or maybe see the paintings of Polish or European great artists. Which city would you choose? Cracow for sure. Here we have everything for those who love art and beauty: an Old Town, Wawel Castle, Cloth Hall, Mariacki Church, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt van Rijn. You would eagerly go to Warsaw to gush over all the things like: royal residents (so The Castle, which exactly means: more Rembrandt), Royal Baths Park or Wilanow. By going to the National Museum, Centre of Contemporary Art or Zachęta – you will gain a perfect, comprehensive history lesson. In Wroclaw you will see The Racławice Panorama, in Poznan – Claude Monet. And what about visiting Lodz? Would you choose Łódź?
My home town – for Władysław Reymont ‘The Promised Land’, for Bogusław Linda: ‘city of winos’. Lodz is this kind of city that hides its charms from the visitors, and shows them to the patient ones. It is necessary to explore this town in depth, to somehow ‘feel’ it if you really want it to show you what it’s going to offer. It’s worth trying. By train from Warsaw it’s less than 1,5 hour.
Lodz has a very short history. At the beginning of XIX century it was only a small farming settlement, half century later: it would be second largest city after Warsaw in the Kingdom of Poland (sic!), and thanks to its textile industry within a century it would become a big, manufacturing metropolis, multiplying its population 600 times.
Never before in the history had something like that ever happened. Lodz was real ‘Promised Land’, which created many possibilities for the decent people, ready to work hard to make industry empires. In comparison with other Polish women, women from Lodz had a great chance to achieve self-reliance and financial independence by working in the manufactures built in the city. They were called ‘Włókniarki’ (noun from the word ‘fibre’, as they were working in a textile industry).
Up until now, Lodz is called ‘The City of 4 Cultures’ because there lived exactly four nationalities: Polish, German, Jewish and Russian. Those four created the power of the city. Rich families like: Poznańscy, Scheibler, Herbst, Kindermann, Geyer – not only did they build the factories, but also the whole city – its industrial architecture, beautiful palaces and residents.
Lodz is a city of first electric tram (1898) and first permanent cinema (1899!). However, the first museum appeared not until 1930s… Good to ask: why? Lodz was quite young, devoid of historical heritage- which is usually a great asset to different polish cities like Warsaw, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw or Gdansk. Lodz is a modern epoch’s child, created ‘here and now’ serving only for the industry. And so was its first art collection – strongly connected with industry.
So, the first museum in Lodz came into being in 1930 – ‘Julian and Kazimierz Bartoszewicz History and Art Museum’. From the donors, Lodz received books, three-volumes and collection of about 100 paintings and 150 engravings, which were combined with a collection from closed down Urban Museum. Subsequently, in few years-time other worldwide modern art collections would be combined.
This could happen thanks to Władysław Strzemiński – a painter and art theorist, constructivist, one of the pioneers of polish avant-garde art, creator of a theory of Unism and the artists from the group ‘a.r’. Thanks to those artists, museum of Lodz is then the second in the world museum of modern art, right after famous MOMA – Museum of Modern Art in New York. So, Poland has the oldest modern art museum in Europe! How cool is that?
Nowadays, this museum is divided in two parts: ms1, which is situated in the Maurycy Poznanski’s (one of the manufacturers) palace (it couldn’t be placed elsewhere for sure!), and ms2 situated in Manufaktura, which was previously a sewing plant belonging to a giant of the industry from Lodz – Izrael Poznanski (Maurycy’s father).
In ms1 not only can we watch famous ‘Neoplastic Room’ created by Władysław Strzemiński with Katarzyna Kobro’s sculptures, but also temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
Ms2 in turn, is a home for artworks of the artists like: pop-art’s master Andy Warhol, cubists: Fernand Léger and Louis Marcoussis, Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, surrealist Max Ernst, abstract artists: Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Theo van Doesburg, Georges Vantongerloo.
Museum has also the most prominent works of polish modern and contemporary art: Strzemiński’s, mentioned above Kobro’s sculptures, Mirosław Bałka’s, Alina Szapocznikow’s, Krzysztof Wodiczka’s, Natalia LL’s and many others – let it be some kind of a foretaste and obviously encouragement for you to visit this museum.
I am always stopping near the Roman Opałka’s ‘numbered paintings’, where the artist wrote down in a small print a sequence of numbers, becoming brighter and brighter…
Izrael Poznański Palace is situated near ms2, in the area of Manufaktura. Nothing surprising about that, manufacturer had to have a good view on his cotton manufactures. That was quite usual for manufacturers from Lodz to build their residents near the factories – you will read about it later in this text. Mentioned above palace is built in a typical for XIX century style, referring to the history, especially Italian Renaissance and Baroque. That is why it’s sometimes called ‘Polish Louvre’.
In this palace Andrzej Wajda made the scenes to his ‘Promised Land’.
If you would like to see much more from the Poznański family’s heritage, I encourage you to go to the Karol Poznański Palace (he was Izreael’s son and Maurycy’s brother). Also a building of Academy of Music is really impressive, particularly its ‘winter garden’.
While being in Lodz, you mustn’t forget to walk down Piotrkowska Street – the longest commercial street in Europe. This is where the city life (mainly cultural, culinary or party) goes in large part.
It’s also worth dropping by Piotrkowska 3, just near the Plac Wolności. It’s right here the artist Joanna Rajkowska (also the author of a controversial Palm Tree on the De Gaulle roundabout in Warsaw) created Pasaż Róży (which literally means: Rose Arcade). She put the pieces of a mirror into the walls of this yard creating in this way a sparkling mosaic. Nothing similar to this would you find in Poland.
If you are interested in seeing more from the industry architecture, residents’ insides or polish artwork from XIX century, then you must see Księży Młyn. It was just like Manufaktura, a housing complex with factories, houses for the workers (called ‘famuły’) and of course – a residence of the manufacturer. It was Karol Wilhelm Scheibler who created this complex, another great industrialist from Lodz.
Nowadays in his palace you can find the Cinematography Museum – the only one museum in Poland like that is a real heritage from ‘movie Lodz’. It’s in my city: one of the best film school in the world. And this is not a joke!
Lodz Film School attended among others: Roman Polański, Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Małgorzata Szumowska, Stanisław Bareja, Jan and Juliusz Machulscy. Visiting Cinematography Museum means appreciating both: stunning insides of the palace and expositions related to the tenth muse.
Your trip in the footsteps of art from Lodz can be continued by passing from the museum (and crossing Park Źródliska) straight to Księży Młyn. You will find there a beautiful, industrial architecture and… The Cat Trail. Walking down this housing estate for the workers, you can reach an old Scheibler’s cotton mill, currently serving as lofts. On the left – Herbst Palace.
Edward Herbst was Karol Scheibler’s son-in-law, he married his oldest daughter – Matylda, becoming at the same time a co-owner of his father-in-law’s factory. Villa in a neo-renaissance style, restored in 2013 has perfectly reconstructed insides from XIX and XX century, there are many paintings of famous Polish artists, such as one of the studies of Aleksander Gierymski’s painting Arbour. You will find there also Mehoffer’s, Simmler’s and Juliusz Kossak’s works; and in the wardrobe of the lady of the house there are two porcelain, charming figures, which constantly make me delighted: one of the polar bear and the other of a cupid sitting on unicorn.
Near the palace there is an old carriage house, in which there is a Gallery of Old Masters; cause the Herbst Museum-Palace is the third part of the Art Museum of Lodz. Space isn’t really big, because it consist only of a small amount of collection of an old art, which belongs to museum of Lodz. In this way a vast array of artworks is wasted, lying in the warehouses. You won’t see here on the permanent exposition works of Frans Snyders, Illja J. Riepin, Iwan K. Ajwazowski, Paul Signac or perfect, satiric graphics of William Hogarth. However, you will see famous: Portrait of Henryk Rodakowski’s mother or Sleeping Mietek painted by Stanisław Wyspiański. The fact of not having enough space has caused withdrawal of this collection from the carriage house during the temporary expositions.
However, those mentioned above expositions as such can be considered as a good compensation. Last year there was first in 20 years monographic display of Polish painter of Jewish origin Maurycy Gottlieb or an excellent choice of works from Izabella Czartoryska’s collection (she was a founder of first museum on the Polish territory). Moreover, this last exposition consisted also of a Landscape of a Good Samaritan by Rembrandt! Current display presents in turn works of Polish painters from XIX century, entitled: ‘From Matejko to Wojtkiewicz. Since the down of modernity’.
And when I look at all this places in my city, I feel a bit sad thinking of such unused potential of Lodz. However, walking down the streets, I feel also proud of being from here.
translated by Weronika Kursa