Römers’ House in Bokšto Street, Vilnius, in Edward Mateusz Römer’s Life and Creative Work

  • Rūta Janonienė
Keywords: Edward Mateusz Römer, nineteenth-century painting, Vilnius, architecture, painting studios, Römers’ house


The article presents a hitherto unknown painting by Edward Mateusz Römer (1848–1900), a representative of a painters’ dynasty from Vilnius. The painting, which is currently referred to as “Spring in Vilnius”, features the house of the artist’s family in Vilnius. In order to fully evaluate the iconography of the work, considerable attention is given to the object of the work itself. The canvas features the courtyard and northern-side buildings of Römersʼ house in Vilnius, at the intersection of Savičiaus and Bokšto streets. Based on various written sources (house descriptions in tariff books, egodocuments of the Römer family), the development of the possession over the years and the functioning of the house in the nineteenth century are reconstructed. Also, changes in the structure of the living spaces are revealed, including the localisation of various premises and specification of the whereabouts of E. M. Römerʼs painting studio within the building complex. Throughout the nineteenth century, Römer’s house in Bokšto Street in Vilnius was the centre of the family’s social and cultural life. The main residential masonry buildings were mostly concentrated in the northern and eastern parts of the courtyard, whereas the wooden residential and livestock buildings were on the opposite side of the courtyard, to the right of the gate. After 1948, all the buildings in the southern part of the house were destroyed. Only the residential masonry houses consisting of three buildings located along the northern and eastern boundaries of the possession have survived to this day. The analysis of the origin revealed that the masonry in the northern part, which almost reached the top of the walls, dates back to 1792–1808. The reconstruction could have been related to Michał Józef Römer’s marriage in 1799. Most probably the “illusory” wall imitating the facade was built during the same year. At the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, the eastern building on the hillside was the main building of the house. According to the data of 1812, by that time M. J. Römer’s apartment was in the more spacious part of the northern building (on the second floor), but from 1816 to1821, seven rooms of this apartment, rearranged according to the design of the architect Joseph Poussier, were leased to “Gorliwy Litwin”, the Masonic Lodge of Vilnius. In 1816, Michał Józef Römer and his wife Rachel moved back to the eastern building where they lived until M. J. Römer’s death. Their children with families lived in the apartments of the northern building, which were reconstructed between 1834 and 1837. From the end of eighteenth century until 1863, the first floor of the more spacious northern building, the so called “courtyard building” located away from the street, served as a stable and a carthouse. Later this part of the building was reconstructed, served as a painting studio of Adam Szemesz until 1864, and was E. M. Römer’s painting studio after 1877. The courtyard was a very important part of the complex of buildings. Part of it was occupied by an orchard and a small vineyard. After 1863, E. J. Römer decided to arrange the so-called “grove” of decorative plants for walking and relaxation. In 1850, a masonry studio for the painter Kanuty Rusiecki (1800–1860) was built in the courtyard of Römers’ house. For some time, this studio was also used by the painter Jan Zenkiewicz (1825–1888). Unfortunately, the building did not survive to this day. In the creative legacy of E. M. Römer, the paintings featuring the house in Bokšto Street are especially valuable. The painter concentrated on these motives during the last decade of his life, especially before 1897, when he mainly resided in Vilnius. E. M. Römer immortalised part of the courtyard and the northern buildings in the painting of 1893, which is now called “Spring in Vilnius”. Due to the painting quality of the work and its historical/iconographic value, this canvas is attributed to E. M. Römer’s most important extant works. In all likelihood, this painting is identical to the canvas “Under the Poplars” mentioned in the literature; in 1896, it was donated for the establishment of Jan Matejko’s museum in Krakow.
Visual Art