"Astronomer Copernicus", an epic painting by Poland's national painter Jan Matejko (1838-1893) will go on show on Friday at London's National Gallery, the first time the work of any Polish painter has been shown at the British capital's acclaimed gallery.
The picture is the main element of a "Conversations With God. Jan Matejko's Copernicus" exhibition. The opening of the exhibition had been postponed twice owing to the pandemic.
The large-format portrait celebrates the work of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who is one of the most important names in science, and the author of the heliocentric solar system theory, which was published in 1543.
Matejko painted the picture in 1873 to mark the 400th anniversary of Copernicus's birth.
The exhibition has been organised in cooperation with Poland's renowned Jagiellonian University in Krakow, which has loaned the gallery the picture, which normally hangs in its museum.
Also on show are Matejko's preliminary sketches of the painting, his self-portrait, and a copy of Copernicus's best-known work "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium," in which he stated that the Sun, and not, as was then believed, the Earth, lay at the centre of the solar system.
Gabriele Finaldi, the National Gallery director, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that the exhibition could lead to further displays of Polish art.
Largely unknown outside his country, Jan Matejko is regarded as the national painter of Poland. His large paintings, mostly depicting major events from Polish history, form part of Poland's national heritage.
The National Gallery is Britain's biggest art gallery and one of the most visited museums in the world.
Its collections embrace around 2,300 painting ranging from the mid-13th century to 1900, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, Titian, Sandro Botticelli, Jan van Eyck, Claude Monet, Diego Velazquez and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.