The village of Sztynort is located in the north of the Masurian Lake District on the Jez Peninsula between Jezioro Mamry, Jezioro Dargin and Jezioro Dobskie. Until 1928 the village was called Groß Steinort, then Steinort.
The 18th century dresser was made in the Berlin workshop of Johann Michael Hoppenhaupt the Younger, the famous "ornamental sculptor" who worked for the Prussian court. A piece of furniture in the French rococo style, it is thought to come from the estate of Ernst Ahasverus Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff (1727 - 1811).
For his castle in Steinort, the chamberlain drew inspiration from everyday scenes in royal Prussian life. He was also influenced by the European Enlightenment, embodied by Frederick the Great. An oil painting that survived the turmoil of time shows the Count and his family: self-confident and dignified, the children appearing independent and natural, in accordance with the new ideals of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
A family photograph from 1941 documents that the painting last hung in one of the children's rooms. Today it is in the care of the east Prussian State Museum – like almost everything that remains. According to the inventory, this includes around 200 objects: paintings, graphic prints, furniture, silver items, textiles, porcelain, books. A hodgepodge, including banal things like a champagne bucket, a knife rest, and mismatched individual plates. "You couldn't set a table with them," says Joachim Mähnert.
On January 13, 1945, the Red Army entered East Prussia. Soldiers looted the castle; later, the victors transported whole wagonloads of goods to Russia. For a long time, useful things kept disappearing, including household items, stoves, and tiles. The need was great; people arriving in Masuria after being deported from the East had use for these things.
The city of Olsztyn (population 2022: 168,212) was founded in 1353 as Allensteyn on the Łyna river. Olsztyn is the largest city in Warmia and the capital of the Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship. The city is member of the European Route of Brick Gothic, especially because of its Old Town market sqare and the Castle of Warmian Cathedral Chapter.
The picture shows a city view of Olsztyn /Allenstein on a postcard from before 1945.
Most of the remaining items stored in Saxony were handed over to the Soviet Union as reparations. It is estimated that 90% or more of Steinort Palace’s interior is now in Russian depots. A number of museums managed to put a few of the objects aside ahead of their removal in 1946. The famous Tischbein painting, for example, went to the Grassi Museum in Leipzig.
The fate of the Rococo dresser was recorded quite precisely: it ended up in the Wechselburg church – and there were two of them. Identical in construction, the same brand on the underside of the lid – twin sisters, so to speak. In 1948, together with other furniture, textiles and archives, they were transferred to the Chemnitz Art Collection as "abandoned cultural property". Its director at the time knew to whom it belonged, that it "came from the property of Count Lehndorff," he wrote to the Saxon state government, "who was involved in the events of July 20, 1944, and was therefore wiped out along with his entire family."3
Meanwhile, a small group of people associated with the art historian Kilian Heck, the civil engineer Wolfram Jäger and the conductor Christian Thielemann, had already bought the other damaged Rococo dresser on the art market.
If the Lehndorff castle is saved, the dresser and other items could return home as museum pieces and loans, at least temporarily. This is still a while off, but perhaps by then Russia will have opened its depots...