J. Robert Kudelski


Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man first arrived in Poland thanks to the efforts of Princess Izabella Czartoryska née Fleming, who started a collection of works of historical and cultural significance at her family residence in Puławy, Poland. Her aim was not only to acquire outstanding works of art but, above all, to gather pieces that would preserve the memory of momentous events in the history of Poland.

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Princess Izabella Czartoryska née Fleming. (Nationa Library- polona.pl)

Driven by such an ambition, Princess Izabella eventually set out to establish a museum of art to be housed in the Temple of the Sibyl, a round colonnaded building built in Puławy as a replica of the ruins of the ancient Sibyl temple in Tivoli, Italy. Completed in 1801, the structure bore on its frontal elevation a phrase that was meant to encapsulate the noble idea guiding the princess’s endeavours – “The Past to the Future.”

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Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man

It was not long before Princess Izabella’s collection was bolstered by numerous donations from members of other aristocratic families. The growth of the collection soon called for additional space and a building dubbed the Gothic House was erected next to the Temple of the Sibyl to hold foreign pieces, namely, works of European art. All the while, Princess Izabella’s efforts enjoyed the ongoing support of other members of her family. Her son, Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, who in 1799-1801 served as Russian ambassador to King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia, took advantage of every opportunity to enhance the collection his mother had established. He made numerous purchases during his extensive travels throughout Europe, the most notable of which were Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man and Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine from the Giustiniani family in Italy. The paintings were brought to Puławy and put on display in the Gothic House, where, along with Rembrandt’s Landscape with the Good Samaritan,they made up the jewel of the Czartoryski collection, coming to be known as the Great Three. More than just paintings, the collection also boasted a rich library of approximately two and a half thousand valuable manuscripts and an assortment of prints, maps and archival materials. In all, Izabella Czartoryska managed to acquire about sixteen thousand Polish works and over twenty-two thousand foreign ones.

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Palace in Puławy, 19th cent. (National Library-polona.pl)

The Czartoryski family’s involvement in political affairs (Prince Adam Jerzy acted as the head of the Provisional Government during the November Uprising and later served as the head of the National Government) made the Puławy collection a target for looting by Tsarist forces and the Russians plundered, among other things, a considerable portion of the library. It was a stroke of luck that the collection’s most valuable pieces went undiscovered as they lay hidden in the basement of the Temple of the Sibyl. From there, their caretaker, Franciszek Kozłowski, transported the works under the cover of night to the Reformist monastery in nearby Kazimierz. In May of 1832, Kozłowski was able to remove the remaining works from their hiding place with the help of Daniel Ruprecht, Józef Schmidt and the canon Pieńkowski, and he took them, along with the works entrusted to the Kazimierz monastery, to the Zamoyski estate in Klemensów. Sometime after that, the collection was relocated to the Czartoryski palace in Sieniawa. For several years, the valuable collection languished hidden away in an annex on the palace grounds, deprived of the care and attention it deserved. Prince Adam Jerzy was forced to flee the country when a warrant for his detainment was issued by the Tsar. In 1843, he purchased the Hôtel Lambert in Paris and made it his home. He had his collections transported to the new residence but financial troubles urged him to sell off the Portrait of a Young Man along with one of the collection’s most outstanding pieces of jewellery. In 1850, the painting was sent to London, and from there it was later taken to Berlin to be examined by appraisers. However, no buyer could be found for Raphael’s painting and it returned to Paris in 1852. Upon Prince Adam Jerzy’s death in 1861, the family patriarch and heir to the collection became Władysław Czartoryski. Taking advantage of the favourable political climate in the Austrian partition of Poland, Prince Władysław decided to establish a museum in Krakow to house the family collection. In December of 1876, the Princes Czartoryski Sieniawa Library was given a new home in a former armoury building in Krakow. It was only in 1882 that the paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt were finally relocated to Krakow, but once there, they remained on public display for the next 30 years. That period of stability ended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, upon which the collection’s most valuable pieces were put on deposit in the Dresden Gemäldegalerie by Prince Władysław’s daughter-in-law, Maria Ludwika Czartoryska. However, the post-war political situation and the fact that Poland was once again a sovereign state drove the director of the Dresden institution, Dr. Hans Posse, to do everything in his power to keep the Czartoryski deposit from ever returning to its rightful home. The Portrait of a Young Man did finally make its way back to Krakow, but no earlier than 1922.

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Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski with sons - Witold and Władysław (National Library-polona.pl)

In 1939, seeing the outbreak of World War II as an imminent threat to the collection, the director of the Princes Czartoryski Museum, retired general Marian Kukiel, devised a plan of action to safeguard the holdings. As part of the plan, he advised the collection’s proprietor Augustyn Józef Czartoryski and its curator Stefan Saturnin Komornicki to evacuate the most prized works to Sieniawa. Select pieces from the museum were transported out of Krakow in late August of 1939. The Great Three, as well as a valuable collection of antique jewellery and some objects belonging to former Polish rulers, were all hidden away in an annex on the palace grounds – the same one that had served as a hiding place nearly a century earlier. German forces reached Sieniawa on 15 September, and on 18 September 1939, the estate’s caretaker Zofia Szmit reported that the hiding place had been plundered. The missing items included the collection of antique jewellery and a royal coffer containing dozens of items connected to Polish ruling clans. In late September 1939, the German authorities permitted the transport of the remaining pieces stored in Sieniawa to the palace of Witold Czartoryski in Pełkinie. Soon afterwards, however, in early October 1939, the artefacts were seized by the Gestapo and taken to Jarosław. Stationed there was the Special Commissioner in charge of Safeguarding Works of Art in Eastern Occupied Lands – Dr. Kajetan Mühlmann, a protégé of Field Marshal (and later Reich Marshal) Hermann Göring, who would take great measures to ensure that the contents of the Czartoryski collection end up in his personal collection. For a short time, the collection kept in Jarosław was taken to be secured in a building of the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow. It is highly probable that the Great Three were already in Berlin by November 1939. Initially, they were kept in the office of Kajetan Mühlmann – as testified to after the war by one of his colleagues, the Dutch art historian Dr. Eduard Plietzsch. During one interrogation, Plietzsch claimed that the building in which Mühlmann’s office was located had burned down following an Allied air raid. That account could have been the source of the post-war theory that the Portrait of a Young Man had been lost to fire. Those who accepted that conclusion obviously did not take the trouble to familiarise themselves with Plietzsch’s testimony since he did eventually admit during a more thorough investigation that, prior to the catastrophic destruction of the air raids, the priceless paintings had been moved to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum. He also revealed that they had ultimately been put in a safety deposit box at the Deutsche Bank branch at 27 Unter den Linden street. Meanwhile, Dr. Hans Posse – the aforementioned director of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie – had already “reserved” the Great Three for a soon-to-be established museum in Linz. That art museum, whose planned holdings were envisioned to be so magnificent as to overshadow those of the world’s most eminent institutions, was the brainchild of none other than Adolf Hitler himself – a failed artist who had been denied admission to the painting faculty of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. To bring his dreams to fruition, the Chancellor of the Third Reich enlisted the services of architect Albert Speer and Hans Posse, who had been granted the necessary authorisation and funding to begin acquiring works from all fields of art. Every state institution and military outpost was informed that Hitler’s representative on matters concerning the museum in Linz – Dr. Hans Posse – was to be given precedence in the selection of artefacts seized by occupying forces. Thanks to this, after only a single year, Posse was able to acquire 475 works just for the painting gallery of the planned Linz museum. Posse died in 1942 but his successor, Dr. Hermann Voss, carried on the project with even greater zeal. By 1945, the team responsible for the Linz museum had managed to amass a collection of about 8,000 paintings.  

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Dr Hans Posse (NAC)- left; Kajetan Mühlmann (right) with Hans Frank (NAC)

In 1940, Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine did return to Krakow but the Portrait of a Young Man and several other paintings remained in the vault of the Berlin bank. Raphael’s painting and the other works of art were included in a special catalogue of artefacts seized by the Germans in the territory of the General Government – the Sichergestellte Kunstwerke im General Gouvernement. The Portrait of a Young Man appeared under position 141 on that list. In 1942, Lady with and Ermine was once again removed to Berlin, this time under the pretext of a need to safeguard it against the danger of possible Allied air strikes in the territory of the General Government. In reality, though, it was an attempt by Kajetan Mühlmann’s mentor Hermann Göring to take possession of the painting for himself. The Reich Marshal was a great lover of art. The collection he was in the midst of assembling with the agency of numerous representatives in various lands was not far short of the collections held by some of the world’s largest museums. In fact, to house all of his works, Göring had to re-adapt his Carinhall hunting lodge on the outskirts of Berlin. Even then, however, his appetite for collecting outgrew the space he had at his disposal to display all the works. On 5 November 1940, Göring issued a special directive outlining the method according to which museum collections seized in occupied territories were to be divided. The new system was devised so as to ensure better access to the most valuable collections for Göring’s representatives. The order of precedence was as follows: 1. Works of art reserved by the Führer for his personal use, 2. Works of art designated for the Reich Marshal’s collection, 3. Works of art and books of possible use in the establishment of the “Hoheschule” institute or those found under the jurisdiction of Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Dr. Alfred Rosenberg), 4. Works of art designated for German museums to be inventoried by Rosenberg’s staff and transported to Germany. The above pecking order indicates that a race was on for the Czartoryski collection between Hitler’s and Göring’s representatives. Despite the Marshal having a lesser rank and inferior influence, his rapaciousness for gaining control of the Great Three likely drove Hans Posse (with Hitler’s approval) to put the paintings in temporary deposit with the Governor General. That way, the paintings would remain safely out of Hermann Göring’s clutches.

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Page from Sichergestellte Kunstwerke im General Gouvernement

 

In 1942, Governor General Hans Frank appointed the Swiss architect Dr. Wilhelm Ernst von Palézieux as his personal advisor on art. One of Palézieux’s first assignments (though he had already worked on construction projects for General Government authorities) was to prepare the interior design plans for the Governor’s residences in places like Krakow, Krzeszowice and Krynica Zdrój. Palézieux was also charged with organising the transports from Berlin of all the paintings that would adorn the walls of these residences. Despite considerable interference from Göring’s men, Palézieux managed to have the Great Three returned to Krakow in mid-1943. Yet, Hans Frank would only be able to enjoy them for a mere few months. The middle of 1944 saw the onset of events that would seal the fate of works of art looted by Nazis in occupied Poland. With the Red Army taking control of Lviv (which lay on the border of the General Government territory) in July 1944, Hans Frank undertook to initiate the evacuation of the collections residing in Krakow. To that end, he sent Wilhelm von Palézieux to Lower Silesia with the task of locating a suitable site in which to store the collections. The intended repository for the evacuated works was to be the palace of Manfred von Richthofen in Sichów (Seichau) near Jawor (Jauer). It was most likely in August 1944 that the Portrait of a Young Man arrived in Sichów along with other works. This is supported by surviving notes made by Palézieux and by his post-war testimony. Up to January 1945, the care of the artworks stored in Sichów, including the Great Three, was overseen by the Austrian art conservator Dr. Eduard Kneisel. On 17 January 1945, Hans Frank left Krakow for Lower Silesia and a provisional office of the General Government authorities was set up in Sichów. But office space for the clerks became scarce and it was decided to relocate the art collection to the palace of Hans Christoph and Herta von Wietersheim-Kramsta in Morawa (Muhrau) near Strzegom (Striegau). The works of art arrived there on 20 January 1945. Two days after that, Palézieux left Lower Silesia for the town of Neuhaus in Bavaria, where his home and the Frank family residence were located. When the decision came to recall the General Government authorities from Lower Silesia, Hans Frank entrusted the care of the collection deposited in Morawa to local authorities – the town’s mayor Robert Schnitzler and the head of the local branch of the National Socialist People's Welfare organisation, Wilhelm Dressler. The transfer of care over the collection was made official with a formal document signed on 23 January 1945. Two days later, Hans Frank departed for Neuhaus, where a provisional office of the General Government was to be set up. But, before Frank left Lower Silesia, he made arrangements with his aide-de-camp Helmut Pfaffenroth to get three crates of select pieces of art out of Morawa. On 25 January 1945, Frank’s man took 20 paintings with him to Bavaria, among which were Lady with an Ermine and Landscape with the Good Samaritan, as well as some liturgical items and other valuable pieces. The Portrait of a Young Man was to remain in Morawa on account of the unwieldy size of the board it was painted on (59 x 75 cm). The other artefacts selected by Pfaffenroth arrived in Neuhaus several days later, with the crates full of artworks initially being stored in the bakery of George Stickl and later taken to Hans Frank’s office in the Bergfrieden café in Neuhaus. Until May 1945, the works of art were looked after by Wilhelm von Palézieux and Ernst Kneisel, among others. The invoice of artworks taken to Neuhaus by Pfaffenroth in February 1945 includes no mention of the Portrait of a Young Man.

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Palace in Morawa (author's archives)

On 25 January 1945, the Historical Artefact Conservator of the Province of Lower Silesia, Prof. Günther Grundmann, received an order from Berlin to evacuate the most precious works of art in his jurisdiction to the German interior. Four days later, Grundmann arrived in the palace in Morawa and, with the help of the soldiers stationed there, he secured three truckloads of artworks from the collection. On 30 January 1945, the contents of the trucks were taken to the Schaffgotsch Library in Cieplice, where the conservator had his office. But, according to Grundmann’s journal, his post-war testimony and later recollections, the Portrait of a Young Man was not among the paintings evacuated from Morawa in that shipment. Thus, we can be sure that Raphael’s painting was also absent from the truck carrying the most valuable pieces out of Cieplice, despatched by the conservator in February 1945. That shipment, destined for Coburg, contained 65 paintings and several tapestries which had been the property of Polish museums. After American forces gained control over the city, Prof. Grundmann contacted the occupying authorities and handed over the holdings brought over from Cieplice. The Polish artefacts were first placed in the Callenberg palace and later at the Tambach estate. The following year – in late April 1946 – the stock that Prof. Grundmann had shipped out of Lower Silesia was returned to Krakow along with other works of art secured after Hans Frank’s arrest in Neuhaus (which took place on 4 May 1945). None of the documents produced at this time – including the statements of American clerks, and the reports of American troops and of teams responsible for securing works of art (the so-called Monuments Men) – contained any mention of the Portrait of a Young Man ever reaching Coburg or Neuhaus. All signs indicate that it must have disappeared while still in Lower Silesia.    

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Cafe Bergfrieden in Neuhaus - here in 1945 was the office of Hans Frank (author's archive)

The post-war search for Raphael’s painting began as early as 1945, with the Portrait of a Young Man being at the top of the list of wartime losses. Investigations to determine its whereabouts or to identify the persons responsible for its theft were being carried out not only by Polish clerks but also by their American, German and Swiss counterparts. In late 1946, Helmut Pfaffenroth was handed over to the Polish justice system after being interrogated by the Americans. In 1947, Wilhelm von Palézieux was also apprehended. One year later, the Swiss man stood trial in Krakow for his involvement in the looting of works of art by German occupying forces. Neither man’s trial, however, revealed any new information that could be useful in tracking down the missing painting.

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Dr Karol Estreicher jr (Society of Friends of Fine Arts in Krakow)

Also joining the hunt for the Portrait of a Young Man was Prof. Karol Estreicher Jr., who during the war headed the Office for the Revindication of Cultural Losses of the Ministry of Congress Works in London and later served a delegate of the Ministry of Culture and Art charged with locating Polish monuments in Germany. Despite maintaining solid relations with members of Allied units responsible for tracking down works of art looted by the Nazis, Estreicher was unable to find any trace of the Portrait of a Young Man – he even began to entertain the theory that the painting had indeed perished in a fire in Berlin. Nowadays, having access to archival documentation, including the testimony of German civil servants, we know that beliefs like this one were the product of ignorance and speculation – there is no credible evidence to support such a theory. Also assuming a personal involvement in the search for Raphael’s painting was the director of the National Museum in Warsaw, Prof. Stanisław Lorentz. He spent many years following any arising lead concerning the painting. Unfortunately, he too was unable to determine its whereabouts or to identify the culprits. In the early 1950s, the search for the Portrait of a Young Man and other works of art belonging to the Czartoryski family was taken up by Stefan Zamoyski, the husband of Elżbieta Czartoryska. For nearly ten years, his efforts were backed by Ardelia Hall of the US Department of State as well as by numerous lawyers from various international firms. His pursuit led him to identify and interview several key persons of interest – including the then New York-based Eduard Kneisel – and to obtain copies of documents relating to the fates of works of art looted by the Nazis. In 1953, Zamoyski was also scheduled to talk with Wilhelm von Palézieux until the latter died in an automobile accident just several weeks before the meeting was to take place in Paris. Dr. Kneisel was interviewed in the early 1960s but his meandering testimony yielded no new information concerning the Portrait of a Young Man. The investigation (in which the FBI was also involved) likely spurred Kneisel to subsequently leave the United States and return to Vienna. By the late 1960s, Zamoyski’s hopes for recovering the Czartoryski family collection began to wane and in the end he agreed to take the 100,000 Marks that the German Federal Republic had offered as compensation. Yet, the money was never paid out. Likewise, the search for the Portrait of a Young Man never bore fruit, despite the fact that over the last decades various leads took investigators to Switzerland, the USSR, the United States and even Australia. In 2012, the Polish media referenced a source in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in reports stating that the painting had been discovered: headlines proclaimed Lost painting by Raphael awaiting safely in a bank safe. Portrait of a Young Man found! The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has learned the whereabouts of Raphael’s Young Man. Those reports, however, were quickly refuted by the diplomatic service. In 2014, a scene in George Clooney’s film The Monuments Men depicted Raphael’s painting being burned by a Nazi unit guarding looted works of art. That same year marked the release of my book Zaginiony Rafael. Kulisy największej kradzieży nazistów [The Lost Raphael. The back story of the Nazi’s biggest theft]. I hope that the facts and archival documents gathered in the book can be of value to the eventual recovery of this priceless work of art.