Exquisite Polish art in maharajas’ palaces in India

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This story is featured in Episode 62

Poland’s connections with many geographically distant countries – what a fascinating topic. I heard this story about a famous pre-war Polish painter whose art decorates many palaces in India from a Canadian POLcast listener born in India. He had just come back to Canada after visiting his home country and was fascinated with artist Stefan Norblin’s contribution to India’s culture.

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Stefan Norblin – (1892-1952)

World-renowned artist was born in Warsaw to Stanislaw Norblin and Bronislawa Piasecka on June 30, 1892. His illustrious career had his varied works exhibited in many European countries before WW2. As a side note, Stefan’s mother Bronislawa Piasecka was one of Maria Sklodowska-Curie’s teachers. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, he and his wife, acclaimed actress Lena Zelichowska, fled their beloved home Kaskada in Warsaw, through Bulgaria and Iraq to India where he had been commissioned to design the Art Deco style furnishings and to paint the massive murals for the Maharajah of Jodhpur’s new palace Umaid Bhawan.

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In 1946 they traveled with their 2-1/2 year old son Andrew, to San Francisco bringing with them 25 paintings and hundreds of sketches, and attempted to establish their careers in a new land. Andrew donated the paintings in 1975 to The Polish Arts and Culture Foundation, which now has them on long term loan to Polish Museums. With illness and blindness imminent, and not wanting to burden his family, Stefan committed suicide near Lake Merced on August 12, 1952. His grave was unknown until July 2012, when Caria Tomczykowska, President of PACF, discovered that he had been interred at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma. The urn with his remains will now be taken to Warsaw for a full State Funeral on October 12, 2012 and placed in the Norblin family crypt at Powazki Cemetery. That same day will see a plaque unveiling at the site of their home Kaskada and the Opening of another Norblin Exhibit at the Poster Museum at the royal summer palace, Wilanow.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 7, 2012

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Many of Norblin’s works were damaged due to the climate and the passing of time. Massive reconstruction of his art was carried out with great success.

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Many of his Indian pieces of art were shown at the first ever Polish exibition of Norblin’s art at the Regional Museum in Stalowa Wola in Poland in 2011. This was his “homecoming”.

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The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Toronto features a great exhibit: Treasures of a Desert Kingdom showing masterpieces drawn from the collection of the former royal family of one of India’s greatest former kingdoms, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, most of which are on display outside their palace setting for the very first time.

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The documentary “Chitraanjali. Stefan Norblin in India”, a film by Malgorzata Skiba, camera: Kumar Subramaniyan, music: Tritha Sinha, tells the forgotten story of the Polish artist Stefan Norblin (1892 – 1952), who found safe haven in India during WW2, as well as new chapter in his artistic biography. The film invites viewers for an exclusive time-travel to Art Déco palaces in India, commissioned by the Indian royals, who employed the skills and the fantasy of European artists, like the very painter Stefan Norblin. His paintings hidden from the world in private residences were finally recognized and recently restored by Polish conservators. The film celebrates the art of Stefan Norblin (chitraanjali from Sanskrit – reverence to the art of painting) and brings back to limelight the fascinating landscape of Art Déco period in Poland and in India.

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The super luxury 65-room hotel in the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, set on 26 acres of picturesque lush gardens, can be see in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_j1QGgY3VWA

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