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Masterpieces to be permanently displayed in Malta

Polish engineering magnate and art collector Zdzislaw Bieganski

Polish engineering magnate and art collector Zdzislaw Bieganski

Plans are afoot for a multi-million euro art collection of more than 2,000 pieces featuring works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo and Renoir to be permanently exhibited in Malta, an extraordinary coup for the island’s artistic heritage.

This is a golden opportunity

The collection, which belongs to Polish engineering magnate and art collector Zdzislaw Bieganski, is the result of decades’ worth of collecting. He has established a foundation to manage the collection.

“I found everything I ever dreamed of here in Malta. The foundation is my gift back. I want to help Malta’s young artistic talent and provide them with guidance,” Mr Bieganski, 91, said.

The curator of the Bieganski Foundation, Ryan Pillow, said negotiations were under way to find a suitable location to house and exhibit the collection.

“We want the collection to be exhibited as a whole and I’m confident we’re close to finding the perfect location,” he said with a smile. “We want to use the Guggenheim as a model: why not aim high?”

A Culture Ministry spokesman confirmed that the ministry had been approached by the Bieganski Foundation but said it would be premature to comment any further at this stage.

Many of the collection pieces are securely stored away in a bank vault, with others undergoing restoration. It was a gargantuan task, Mr Pillow said.

“It took two containers to transport the entire collection to Malta. I was overwhelmed by its size. Then, as I started to unpack the various pieces, I was left completely speechless. It was one masterpiece after another.”

The bulk of the collection comprises impressionist, modern and contemporary art. Viola Patterson, Raoul Dufy, Jean Puy and Oskar Kokochka all feature, as does a collection of letters and sketches exchanged between Vincent van Gogh and his friend, post-impressionist Emile Bernard.

There were also a sketch by Michelangelo, a number of early van Goghs, a 1919 orange period nude by Picasso and a number of Renoir watercolours, Mr Pillow explained.

‘A hobby turned into a passion’

Several Maltese artists are present within the collection, with works by Pawl Carbonaro, Joe Genovese and Andrew Diacono, among others, lining up alongside the largest private collection of Gabriel Caruana in existence.

The collection also includes the first piece of art Mr Bieganski ever bought: a delicate painting of the Virgin Mary, purchased for £6 while he was living in the UK in 1950.

“I was demobilised to the UK after having fought in the war. I knew nothing about art but everything about ugliness. It was the first time I saw beauty and it shook me to my guts,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion.

As his engineering business grew, so too did his art collection. “What started out as a hobby soon turned into a passion, at times even an obsession,” he admitted candidly.

His business prospered and his search for a location for a second factory led him to Malta. He described the fortuitous encounter.

“I flew to Rome for a meeting on a Friday, only to discover it had been postponed to the Monday. It was raining, I was miserable. Then I saw Malta in a newspaper’s weather section. It said ‘Malta, 23 degrees, sunny’. So I immediately caught a flight there without knowing what I’d find.”

That was over 40 years ago and Mr Bieganski – now a permanent Maltese resident – fell in love with Malta from the get-go. “The first time I saw a Maltese funeral, I knew that this was the place I wanted to die.”

It was now time, he felt, for his life’s passion – his art collection – to be put to good use.

“I have a gut feeling this is a golden opportunity to do something very important and useful for Maltese young people and I want to take advantage of it.”

Engineering art? 

The man who has expressed his intention to permanently exhibit his entire art collection in Malta is also an intrepid artistic innovator.

Zdzislaw Bieganski, 91, has come up with a novel artistic technique which he describes as “multi-media constructivism”. The technique involves recreating the same scene or image multiple times, each time using a different medium and technique.

The technique has been put to use by local artist David Xuereb, who has created 100 different versions of the same view. Lacquers, acrylics, spray and glass paints all feature: some of the images are embossed, others made of crumpled PVC. All, however, depict the same view of Comino.

“This is a novel technique which I think has every possibility of growing and entering mainstream art,” Mr Bieganski augured.

The exhibition, titled ‘100 versions, 100 views’ is on display at Gallery Last Touch, Mosta up to May 4.

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