Arts & Tradition

The Last King of Poland’s Summer Retreat: Royal Lazienki Palace

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY Lorraine Ferrier TIMEOctober 13, 2022 PRINT

WARSAW, Poland—In 1764, King Stanislaw August Poniatowski bought a baroque bathhouse pavilion along with a surrounding estate to build his summer retreat in Warsaw.

The bathhouse, originally designed by Dutch architect Tylman van Gameren, was extended to make the king’s neoclassical-style summer retreat, the Royal Lazienki Palace. Some of the original bathhouse décor remains inside the palace, which is more commonly known as the Palace on the Isle.

The palace sits on about 180 acres that include several neoclassical buildings and vast English-style gardens. Court architects Domenico Merlini (Lake Como, Italy) and Johann Christian Kammsetzer (Dresden, Saxony) took their inspiration for the palace from various eras of Italian architecture, including the mannerist style of the Villa Medici, the baroque style of the Villa Ludovisi, and the neoclassical style of the Villa Albani.

The vast gardens reflect the king’s love of the English gardens that he’d seen on his Grand Tour, in particular the Stowe Gardens in southeast England, designed by the eminent head gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Among the estate’s notable neoclassical buildings are the Myslewicki Palace, the Old Orangery (which contains the Royal Sculpture Gallery and the Royal Theater, home of the Polish Royal Opera and one of the few surviving 18th-century court theaters), and the White Pavilion, the dining room of which contains the first Polish grotesques (murals of flora, fauna, and fantastical creatures).

The king was an avid art collector, a hobby he’d picked up in the Netherlands after he was inspired by the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. The art and architecture throughout the king’s buildings promote religious and moral values and the Republic of Poland.

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The baroque style Bathroom once had two large marble sunken baths, and it was part of the original Bath House Pavilion that became The Palace on the Isle. Blue and white Dutch ceramic tiles, featuring genre scenes, line the walls; artists created sculptural reliefs depicting love, water, and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” all to encourage the bathers to relax. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
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The Ballroom, a light and airy neoclassical-style ceremonial space, was designed for the king to receive his public and important guests. Soft frescoes on the wall feature the four seasons; a sculptural relief features the white eagle, a symbol of Poland and a motif seen in ancient Rome. The room never fulfilled its full ceremonial purpose due to the partitioning of Poland and the king’s abdication. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
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In the Palace on the Isle, the king kept many of his important artworks close to him in The Picture Gallery of his private apartments. Paintings are hung, per 18th-century tradition, on a green wall and with the pictures taking up every piece of wall space. A total of 140 paintings are on display in the palace. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
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Every day while the king was being dressed, he would listen to officials read documents to him in his dressing room that overlooks the lake in his apartment in the Palace on the Isle. The 18th-century Swiss-made gilded bronze bird cage, hanging from the ceiling, complete with an artificial bird, is actually a clock. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
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Portraits of King Stanislaw August’s parents hang over the doors in his bedchamber in his apartment in the Palace on the Isle. These are only a few of the pieces that survive from the original room’s decor. The repetition of sumptuous fabric used on the bed, walls, and armchairs echoes the French fashion of the time. The neutral luxurious furnishings complement the striking parquet floor. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
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Italian-Polish architect Domenico Merlini worked at the king’s court and designed the Old Orangery. Built between 1785 and 1788, the neoclassical building houses the Royal Sculpture Gallery and the Royal Court Theater, the present home of the Polish Royal Opera. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
Royal Łazienki Museum
The Old Orangery houses the Royal Theater, one of the few surviving 18th-century court theaters in Europe. The 200-seat theater is made of wood and different colored marble. French André-Jean Lebrun designed the sculptures, and Polish Jan Bogumil Plersch painted architectural details and an imaginary audience peering from the arcades. For the latter, he used a technique called trompe l’oeil (French for “deceives the eye”) to make objects appear real on a two-dimensional surface. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
Royal Łazienki Museum
In the Royal Sculpture Gallery, plaster casts of ancient sculptures replace the exotic trees that once lined the walls of the Old Orangery in the winter months. Conservators reconstructed the 1787–1788 “Kamsetzer Colonnade,” where copies of the most famous ancient sculptures were displayed against murals of Italian architecture and countryside scenes. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
Royal Łazienki Museum
In 1774, King Stanislaw August built the White Pavilion as a summer villa with a simple classical design topped with a balustrade. The first Polish classical grotesques decorate the walls inside.   (Royal Lazienki Museum)
Royal Łazienki Museum
Light fills the dining room from two sides in the White Pavilion. It’s here that court painter Jan Bogumil Plersch painted Poland’s first grotesques in a classical home. All the paintings show the world at that time, the four elements, the four seasons, the continents (America is represented by an ostrich), and people’s jobs. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
Royal Łazienki Museum
The king once owned 80,000–100,000 prints and drawings. The Royal Collection of Prints can now be seen in the White Pavilion. In this room the pictures are displayed on a wall of delicately painted flowers. (Royal Lazienki Museum)
Royal Łazienki Museum
The apartments of King Stanislaw August’s heir and nephew, Prince Jozef Poniatowski, can be found in the Myslewicki Palace. The semi-circular neoclassical palace is topped with curved copper roofs that reflect Chinese-style architecture. Visitors enter the palace through a tall niche flanked by statues of Flora and Zephyr.  (Royal Lazienki Museum)
Lorraine Ferrier writes about fine arts and craftsmanship for The Epoch Times. She focuses on artists and artisans, primarily in North America and Europe, who imbue their works with beauty and traditional values. She's especially interested in giving a voice to the rare and lesser-known arts and crafts, in the hope that we can preserve our traditional art heritage. She lives and writes in a London suburb, in England.
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