Fot. Andrzej Otrębski, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Uphagen House – a unique museum of old bourgeois interiors of Gdansk

The Uphagen House, located at 12 Dluga Street in Gdansk, is the only bourgeois house from the 18th century in Poland and one of the few in Europe that is open to the public. The historic building was destroyed along with the overwhelming majority of Gdańsk’s buildings in 1945. Painstakingly rebuilt and then expanded to its original state, it now serves as a remarkable reminder of the former splendour of the rich, port city.

The earliest mention of a residential building, probably wooden, erected on this site dates back to 1357. By the 15th century, the building was already made of brick. Its façade was rebuilt in the 16th century. The tenement house was purchased in 1775 by Johann Uphagen – a wealthy bibliophile, historian, lover of sciences and juryman of Gdańsk. Over the course of several years (until 1787) it was extensively modernised and adapted to the needs of its new wealthy owner, and its décor was given the then fashionable Rococo style. The house, inhabited by Uphagen until his death in 1802, then passed to his successive heirs, remaining – a rarity at the time – in the hands of one family throughout the 19th century and was the seat of their Family Association.

The Uphagen House before the war. Source: Deutsche Fotothek

At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Uphagen family house at 12 Dluga Street began to arouse the interest of connoisseurs because, unlike many other buildings in the inner city, it had not been modernised and its eighteenth-century decoration and furnishings had been preserved in almost their original state – it was probably the only building in Danzig from this period with such original features. In 1911 a museum was established in the uphagen townhouse, which operated until 1944. The Uphagen House was one of the city’s biggest attractions. Guidebooks informed the public about it, and three publications (Richard Dähne’s 1913 guidebook, Hans Secker’s 1918 article and Walter Mannowsky’s 1932 guidebook) contained short monographs of it. The museum was only made available to groups accompanied by a guide – initially groups numbered up to fifteen people and in the 1940s over twenty. The decoration of the house is documented by numerous postcards issued throughout the museum’s existence.

The Uphagen House in 1941 and today. Source: Deutsche Fotothek and Wolskaola, CC BY-SA 3.0 EN, via Wikimedia Commons

When the Red Army was approaching Gdansk, German conservators inventoried and evacuated the decoration and furnishings of the tenement, which, however, were mostly lost in the turmoil of war. The destruction of the house, like that of almost the entire city, occurred in March 1945. According to various estimates, between 80 and 95% of the buildings in Gdansk were destroyed. After the building was burnt down by Soviet troops, it was decided after the war to rebuild it, preserving the former interior. However, it was decided not to rebuild the outbuildings and their ruins were removed. Design and construction work was carried out between 1949 and 1953. The façade (without the side wings and outbuildings) was carefully reconstructed in autumn 1953, using the surviving wall fragments. After the reconstruction, the house was initially used to house various institutions. Between 1985 and 1989 it was decided to rebuild the outbuildings. Work resumed in 1993 and was carried out for five years. After a complete overhaul and conservation work, the Uphagen House was reopened to the public as the Museum of Burgher Interiors on 7 June 1998.

The entrance portal of the Uphagen House before the war and today. Source: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg and Аимаина хикари, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, in Johann Uphagen’s tenement, one can see living and business rooms with the appearance characteristic of the houses of the rich bourgeoisie living in the 18th century. The building is located on a narrow but long plot of land. The facade of the building is three-axial, three-storey with a two-storey attic, painted in brick-red. Visitors can see, among other things, the vestibule, a small merchant’s office (now adapted as a museum shop), a lounge located on the mezzanine floor, lined with wooden panelling with painted scenes of Chinese themes, fashionable at the time. The interior is furnished with valuable furnishings, mostly dating from the 18th century, including furniture, clocks, paintings and musical instruments, as well as three original cookers.

One of the interiors before the war and today. Source: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg and Museum of Gdansk, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the first floor facing the street is the living room, the most representative interior of the house. The room is decorated with white panelling with panels depicting ancient buildings. The walls above the panelling are covered with fabrics. The ceiling is decorated with elaborate stucco decoration, which was once gilded and colourfully painted. An English ten-branched candlestick also draws attention in this interior.

One of the interiors before the war and today. Source: Pomeranian Digital Library and Peterus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The large dining room is located on the courtyard side, the panelling depicts mythological and ancient themes, Roman buildings, and the walls are lined with damask fabric. In the side annex, there are three small lounges with panelling decorated with representations of insects, flowers and birds. One of them was used as a music room. On the second floor, the former bedrooms and the lounge are now used as temporary exhibition rooms. In the transverse outbuilding there is a small dining room with a table and chairs from the former furnishings of the house. On the ground floor of the outbuildings are located the utility rooms: the vestibule, the kitchen, which contains the kitchen utensils and the pantry.


Read also: Architecture in Poland | Erection | Monument | History | Gdańsk

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