The collections of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art have been enlarged by a unique object of cultural heritage, the Vilnius Album by the 19th century photographer Wilhelm Zacharchik

  • 2023-12-27

In the jubilee year of the capital city, the Lithuanian National Museum of Art (LNMA) acquired a unique collection of photographs Vilnius Album, created in the 1860s by the photographer of Vilnius views Wilhelm Zacharchik (1841 – 1869). It is the only safeguarded in Lithuania copy of Zacharchik’s album of 51 photographic images. 

‘The Vilnius Album of Wilhelm Zacharchik is not only a remarkable exhibit acquired by the Lithuanian National Museum of Art, but also a nearly unique, almost perfect present to Vilnius celebrating the anniversary of 700 years,’ says Dr Arūnas Gelūnas, director general of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art. 

The Vilnius Album is a cultural property that marks the early stage of the history of Lithuania photography 

Soon after his arrival in Vilnius around 1865, Zacharchik embarked on photographing views of Vilnius. By a broad estimate he created more than 50 views of Vilnius and the environs over a year and a half. It was a considerable output, and rather an achievement, as at the time photographers used the wet collodion process, which required to carry around the entire mobile laboratory; taking pictures and processing them was a complex matter. 

‘Zacharchik is the third photographer of Vilnius views. The pioneers, pre-uprising chroniclers of Vilnius were Abdon Korzon and Albert Sweiykowski; after the uprising of 1863 – 1864, Zacharchik was the first to receive the exceptional privilege to capture views of the city, and was the only human with a camera on the streets of Vilnius until the emergence of Józef Czechowicz, who starting shooting around 1869,’ Dr Margarita Matulytė, senior researcher of the LNMA, unpacks a historical context.  

Around 1866, the photographer composed his Vilnius Album of his selected images he found most representative of the town.  The photographs were printed in a standard size (around 12.4×16.9 cm) and attached to the mounts printed specially for the collection (15.5×21.5 cm, carrying the artist’s name, the title of the album and of each image, and a sequence number). Zacharchik did not limit his attention to symbolical views and the iconic architecture of Vilnius, instead, he discovered a different town of contrasts. His camera captured the manifestations of European culture and of spectacular terrain, of provincial existence on the edge of the empire, the images of luxury and poverty. Zacharchik, unlike his predecessors, introduced characters into his pictures – the citizens of 19th-century Vilnius. 

Wilhelm Zacharchik was born in 1841, in Kremenets, Volhynia governorate (now, Ukraine). He died from fever 1969 and was buried in Rasos Cemetery in Vilnius.   

‘Previously we had only individual photographic images by Zacharchik in Lithuania: two of them are safeguarded by the LNMA and one by the Lithuanian National Museum.  The 2023 acquisition by the LNMA is the biggest in scope collection of the photographer’s work, the other known extant, yet smaller albums are safeguarded by the state institutions in Russia. The album acquired by the LNMA is unique, being a cohesive visual narrative created by the photographer. Each picture is number by the artist himself, with only one print, number 16, missing,’ Dr Matulytė provides details on the value of the new acquisition. 

After his arrival in Vilnius, the photographer for a while worked at the observatory of Vilnius University, where he recorded sunspots using a photoheliograph. His most valuable legacy is the Vilnius Album, a significant collection of 1860s-iconography of Vilnius, a testament to the early stage in the history of Lithuanian photography. The collection of fine art by the LNMA was expanded by an item of unique museum value. The LNMD plans to display Wilhelm Zacharchik’s Vilnius Album in 2025, in a retrospective of the photographer, and to publish a catalogue raisonné of the artist.   

(Curators Dr Dainius Junevičius, Dr Margarita Matulytė). 

Information provided by Public Relations Coordinator Emilija Blockutė, el. p. [email protected] 

The Lithuanian National Museum of Art is one of the largest national art museums in Lithuania with the aim of building, safekeeping, researching, conserving, restoring, curating and exhibiting the collections of the arts and cultural artefacts of national significance at its nine divisions in Vilnius, Klaipėda, Palanga, and Juodkrantė.