This year marks the centenary of the signing of the Franco-Polish convention of September 3, 1919, which led to a massive influx of Polish workers into France, notably in the mining regions in the north. Between 1919 and 1928, over 280,000 work contracts were signed following this international agreement, made possible by Poland’s return to independence in 1918 after 123 years of partition. In commemoration, the Louvre-Lens Museum is holding a large retrospective of 19th-century Polish painting, organised jointly with the National Museum of Warsaw.
The exhibition “Poland 1840-1918. Painting the Soul of a Nation” will retrace this unique time in the history of Polish culture during which, despite the country’s division between Russia, the Austrian Empire and Prussia, artists developed a true Polish identity – a sense of “Polishness”.
Polish history painters celebrated the glory of the past, reminding the world that Poland was a great country, with images filled with heroes, legendary figures and victorious battles, contributing to the development of a powerful collective imagination. In Józef Brandt’s “The Departure of John III Sobieski and Marie Casimire, his Wife”, we see the King and his wife going for a sleigh ride in a snowy landscape, with an impressive entourage of horsemen, musicians, soldiers and hussars. The work is thought to be a tribute to the 200th anniversary of the monarch aimed to provide a powerful reminder of the prestige of the court.
With important loans from Polish national museums and private collections, the exhibit presents the way in which painters, drawing inspiration from national history, landscapes and peasantry, created images of Poland for Poles, as well as for the rest of the world.
Generous and evocative, their works were frequently at the cutting edge of European pictorial styles of the era.
Until January 20 at the Musée du Louvre-Lens 
99 Rue Paul Bert, 62300 Lens
Tel: +33 (0)3 21 18 62 62
The full price ticket for temporary exhibitions is 10 euros. Entrance is free to the Galerie du temps and Pavillon de Verre.
Open every day except Tuesdays from 10am to 6 pm.
From France Today magazine