Andrew Ciechanowiecki: 1924 -2015

Professor Andrew Stanislaus Ciechanowiecki, or Count Ciechanowiecki, as he was also known, was Vice-President of the PMSA for twenty years. An internationally respected art-historian, he was particularly recognised for his expertise in sculpture. This was his great love and until the time of his death at the age of 91, he was a tireless champion of the PMSA’s Sculpture Journal and the National Recording Project, which he would proudly refer to as ‘our survey’.

Andrew was a remarkable man with seemingly boundless energy, a sharp intellect, curious mind and a ‘discerning eye’, who lived a full and fascinating life, but not one without its challenges and vicissitudes. He was also a philanthropist whose generosity and kindness not only benefited museums and galleries across the globe, but touched the lives of his many friends, colleagues and protégés. There was, however, little that was simple about Andrew, even his surname was so complicated that the art world gave him the sobriquet ‘Chicken and Whisky’.

Born in Warsaw on 28 September 1924, Andrew was the son of a Polish diplomat, George Stanislaus Ciechanowiecki (d.1930) and Matilda née Countess Osiecimska-Hutten Czapska (d.1991). Much of his early childhood was spent with his English paternal grandmother and a French nanny, ensuring that he learned their languages from the cradle; German too was taught to him at an early age. A fine linguist, Andrew spoke these languages with the fluency and intonation of a native. Italian, he came to later in life, self-taught, this became fluent, but was never spoken quite as flawlessly.

Andrew spent his early years in Budapest and then attended school in Warsaw. In 1939 he fled to the East and participated in the September Campaign resisting the invasion of Poland. Escaping deportation to Siberia, he returned to Warsaw, where he was involved in the Home Army and gained his baccalaureate, having been clandestinely educated because the Nazis had closed the schools. He then began studying Economics and Art History and took part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, having witnessed his home and the Royal Castle destroyed by the Germans.

His family lost everything during this war and they had suffered great loss before. Andrew treasured a small photograph of a beautiful pair of wrought iron gates bewilderingly framing the entrance to an empty field overgrown with long grass, this he would explain was where his Polish family’s estate had stood at Boczejkow, near Minsk in Byelorussia, a large neoclassical building decorated with frescoes and surrounded by beautiful gardens. They had been expelled from here by the Russians in 1918. Later in life he worked tirelessly to restore art to Poland. This was surely not just because of his deep regard for his native country, but because it also helped heal a very personal wound. The Ciechanowiecki Foundation, which he set up in 1986 has given over 3000 works of art, comprising Polish paintings, miniatures, sculpture, textiles, clocks and furniture, to the rebuilt Royal Castle in Warsaw.

When the war ended, following in his father’s footsteps, Andrew embarked on a diplomatic career, becoming head of protocol of the provisional Polish government’s Ministry of Foreign Trade, but after six months he decided to return to Cracow to attend the historic Jagiellonian University. Here he studied history of art, gaining an MA, and became Assistant to the Chair of Art History in 1950. In October, work on his doctorate was interrupted when he was arrested by the Communists, thought to be associated with the so-called ‘British Embassy Trial’ and accused of assisting Anglo-american and Vatican spies. Sentenced to ten years imprisonment, he served six years, but in 1956 was released and subsequently cleared of all charges.

Andrew as a young man in Cracow c. 1950.

Returning to Cracow, Andrew was fortunate to receive scholarships from the British Council and the Ford Foundation, which enabled him to come to London for three months and then spend six months visiting museums and lecturing on Polish culture in the United States. In the autumn of 1959, he returned to Europe and enrolled at the University of Tübingen in Germany where he prepared a doctoral thesis on Prince Michał Kazimierz Ogínski, Great Hetman of Lithuania and his Musenhof at Słonim. He was awarded a Ph.D. magna cum laude in July 1960 and the work was published in Germany in 1961.

Andrew wished to return to Poland, but was advised by friends there that he should not. He considered settling in the States where he had been offered posts in museums. After spending a few months in Portugal on a Gulbenkian scholarship, writing articles on Polish furniture, he finally decided to settle in London where he arrived, an impoverished émigré, with his mother to whom he was devoted, still resident in Poland. He worked assiduously to arrange her emigration and she eventually joined him in 1961.

Deciding to turn his hand to art dealing, Andrew quickly made his mark, making discoveries in markets such as Portobello and selling them to West End dealers. This led quickly to an invitation to become a director at the newly formed Mallett’s at Bourdon House in 1961. Here he showed great business acumen and, recognising that the 19th century was ‘en vogue’, he shrewdly chose French animal sculpture as the subject of his first exhibition which he knew would appeal to animal-loving British aristocrats. Building on the success of the Antoine-Louis Barye exhibition at the Louvre in 1956-7, he gathered together works by a group of neglected and forgotten animal sculptors which had never been exhibited before. These he called ‘animalier sculptors’, inventing an adjective recognised by the Académie Française and coining the art-historical term now used to describe those working in this genre. Ever resourceful, he bought these sculptures cheaply at the flea market in Paris and turned a very good profit. The exhibition, as Andrew was fond of saying, proved a triumph!

Three similarly ground-breaking exhibitions followed, Sculptures in terracotta (1963) and in 1964, the first ever show devoted to the work of Aimé-Jules Dalou. At the time, Dalou was better known for his monuments than his more intimate works of social-realism, many of which had been created during the Commune when he was a political refugee in England. Andrew focused on these, pointing out in the accompanying catalogue that the exhibition at Bourdon House was taking place in the family house of one of Dalou’s patrons, the Duke of Westminster. The material for his final exhibition at Bourdon House, Sculpture and Sketches by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux in 1965, like that of Dalou, was sourced from the sculptor’s descendants whom Andrew found and contacted.

The Dalou exhibition was also shown at the Galerie Heim in Paris and this led to collaboration with the Parisian paintings dealer François Heim and the opening of the London branch of the Heim Gallery in 1966. Here, as Managing Director, Andrew came into his own, skilfully creating a mis-en-scène style gallery integrating the paintings and sculptures. The Heim Gallery quickly developed a character and reputation of its own and became one of the leading Old Master galleries in London. In 1967 Andrew finally put down roots and became a naturalised British citizen.

A total of 38 exhibitions were mounted at the Heim. The first, Italian Baroque Paintings and Sculptures, held in the summer of 1966, was described by Anthony Radcliffe, former Keeper of Sculpture at the V&A, as ‘a new kind of experience. Fine paintings mingled with marbles, terracottas, bronzes and medals, in a sensitive, balanced display.’ This set the tone for the future exhibitions, generally a mix of paintings and sculpture from the Baroque or Neo-classical periods, although a few, such as Sculptures of the 15th and 16th Centuries (1972), were bravely devoted to sculpture. The catalogues which accompanied these exhibitions were scholarly and fully illustrated. They introduced a new standard of cataloguing which was emulated by the auction houses, other dealers and even some museums. Andrew did much to bridge the then yawning gap – less of an issue today – between the commercial and academic art worlds.

Andrew also put on an impressive series of loan exhibitions of drawings: American, Venetian, French, German Baroque, as well as drawings from Polish collections. Many of these toured to The National Gallery of Ireland and provincial museums such as Birmingham, Cambridge and Liverpool and were always financed to some degree by the Heim Gallery.

Each spring Andrew would travel to the States with a folder of Heim offerings, visiting the museums to find out (and advise on) the direction their collections were taking. On these trips he always visited Detroit, with its large Polish community, where he would lecture to the Friends of Polish Art at the Art Institute about Polish culture.

Throughout the year the Gallery saw a constant stream of visitors; museum directors and curators, academics and experts, even students researching dissertations. Working long hours, Andrew would find time for them all, spending just as long talking to the students advising and encouraging them as he did with the Museum Director to whom he was making sales.

He sold many pieces to America and helped form many museum collections, both there and in the provincial museums such as Birmingham, at home. Andrew always gave preference to British museums when he had important pieces to sell and offered them at special reduced prices, so repaying the country of ‘his happy adoption.’

Highlights of Andrew’s dealing career included the negotiation of the Lanckoroński panel of St. Andrew by Masaccio from the Pisa altarpiece to the Getty Museum, the sale of the terracotta maquette The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni by Bernini to the V&A in London and an Antico bronze of a philosopher to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. An academic coup came in 1973 with his rediscovery, together with his assistant Gay Seagrim, of a set of important Soldani bronzes at Blenheim Palace, which he wrote about for The Burlington Magazine(more).

Works by Soldani, and other Florentine sculptors of this period, also featured prominently in an important collection of Italian baroque bronzes, which Andrew helped his friends, Ian and Margaret Ross to form, which today is in the Art Gallery in Toronto. Another major collection Andrew was largely responsible for was that of Dr. Arthur M. Sackler’s terracotta sculptures. A chance encounter when Sackler popped his head into the Heim one day asking ‘Do you have any terracottas?’ resulted in Andrew characteristically identifying an excellent business opportunity and selling him an interesting selection of terracotta maquettes and sculptures en bloc, and a few bronzes too! This unique and highly important collection was eventually broken up when it was sold by Sotheby’s New York, some years after Sackler’s death.

French eighteenth-century bronzes were another area of great appeal to Andrew, who handled many over his dealing career. He enjoyed sharing this interest with his friend, the expert Terence Hodgkinson, while he was Director of the Wallace in the 1970s, and in later years would still recount with excitement some of the discoveries they had made. Andrew was a lender to pioneering exhibition, The French Bronze 1500 to 1800 held at Knoedler, New York in 1968 and may well have had a part in bringing it about. Much more recently his enthusiasm for the subject still undimmed, Andrew played an important role in promoting and supporting the international French Bronze Study Group, which studied the subject in a systematic way, which had never been attempted before. Their work was celebrated in Cast in Bronze: French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution, the exhibition which took place at the Louvre, Paris, The Metropolitan Museum, New York and the Getty Centre, Los Angeles in 2008-2009 and Andrew, although infirm and in his mid-eighties made a point of travelling to France to see it.

After twenty years at Heim, Andrew sold up in 1986 and took more discreet premises: Old Masters Ltd., on the opposite side of Jermyn Street. From here he disposed of his remaining stock, but still occasionally made interesting new purchases. The Heim archive, incidentally, is now at the Getty Research Institute.

Over the years, Andrew also played an instrumental role in the genesis and realisation of several major international exhibitions such as The Twilight of the Medici (Florence and Detroit) in 1974 which focused on Italian baroque bronzes, his particular passion, Giambologna(Edinburgh, London and Vienna) in 1978 and The Golden Age of Naples (Naples, Chicago and Detroit) in 1980-82. He was also co-organiser of Treasures of a Polish King ,1992, (London, Vienna and Edinburgh) and Land of the Winged Horsemen: Art in Poland 1572-1764, 1999, (Chicago, Baltimore, San Diego and other US cities).

A great collector, Andrew owned an excellent collection of seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century French oil sketches, which were sadly sold at auction in Paris in 2002 (apart from two dozen of the best, which were bought by the Ahmanson Foundation and given to LACMA), after the National Gallery, London failed to take up a very generous hybrid offer made by Andrew, that would have allowed them to share the collection (selecting whatever they wanted to show) with the Courtauld Institute, where they would have provided an enormously useful study collection. He also formed a collection of small statuettes in gilt bronze and silver which he recognised as by the same hand. These, now identified as by the Ciechanowiecki Master, he has left to the Royal Castle. His interesting collection of medals were unfortunately either defaced, or in the case of the gold ones, stolen and melted down, by a disgruntled employee while on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Andrew in retirement at his Mount Street flat in Mayfair, London

On his 70th birthday, colleagues from the world of sculpture presented him with a festschrift arranged by Alvar González-Palacios: La Scultura: studi in onore di Andrew S. Ciechanowiecki, with which he was delighted. Around this time, however, Andrew had a severe stroke which left him unable to walk. Confined to a wheelchair, he travelled less, but still made trips to Poland and France and continued working for the Ciechanowiecki Foundation. On his 80th birthday a special exhibition of the Foundation’s collection was mounted at the Royal Castle.

Andrew received numerous honours and decorations from Poland and other European countries including the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honour, for restoring its cultural heritage, the Légion d’honneur and the Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great. He was also a member of the Order of Malta since 1958 and had risen to Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion in Obedience.

Although the last years of his life were blighted by bouts of serious ill health, Andrew, a devout Catholic, was ever uncomplaining and always miraculously pulled through, due in no small part to his profound faith. On 2 November, All Souls Day, Andrew finally relinquished his fight for life. The last of the Ciechanowiecki line, which dates back to the 1380s, Andrew has now finally returned to rest in his beloved homeland. He was a very special person, who contributed enormously to the field of sculpture.

As Editor of 3rd Dimension, I write this with deep sadness, Andrew was my mentor and dear friend, I shall miss him greatly.

Main image: Andrew at the Heim Gallery, London.

Aurora Corio