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Wanda Ślędzińska (1906–1999), a sculptor and a pedagogue associated with the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków for many decades. She started working at the academy as an assistant at Xawery Dunikowski’s studio. Ślędzińska was the first woman to become the head of the Faculty of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. She held this post until she retired in 1970.


Wanda Ślędzińska (1906–1999), a sculptor and a pedagogue associated with the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków for many decades. She started working at the academy as an assistant at Xawery Dunikowski’s studio. Ślędzińska was the first woman to become the head of the Faculty of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. She held this post until she retired in 1970.
Wanda Ślędzińska created intimate sculptures in plaster, wood, and artificial stone. In her creations, she mostly remained faithful to representational art. Her work was influenced by, among others, Xawery Dunikowski’s sculptures. She has an extensive artistic legacy, in which highly successful portrait studies dominate. The artist received numerous awards and was honoured many times. Her works may be found in a few collections in Kraków: the National Museum, the collections of the Polish Academy of Learning, the Jagiellonian University and the AGH University of Science and Technology.
Ślędzińska trained many students who followed and still follow various artistic paths. Honourable mentions include: Bogumił Zagajewski, Stefan Papp, Bogusław Gabryś, Wincent Kućma, Jan Siek, Zygmunt Piekacz, Józef Sękowski, Stanisław Lenar, Józef Kalinowski-Kalinowa, Teresa Wojtasiewicz-Siek, Helena Łyżwa, Jerzy Nowakowski, Janina Jeleńska-Papp, and Aleksander Śliwa.
Her family home in Stryszów was a place of artistic and cultural meetings. In addition to the graduates of the Faculty of Sculpture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, she hosted a number of well-known people from the world of culture. She was visited by such guests as: Wisława Szymborska, Kornel Filipowicz, Jan Józef Szczepański, Marian Konieczny, Hanna Rudzka-Cybisowa, Jacek Puget, Franciszek Suknarowski, Bogusław Schäffer, Anna Wallek-Walewska, Anna and Jacek Kajtoch.


  1. Wanda Ślędzińska i jej uczniowie, Katalog wystawy, 27.05–15.08.2017. Dwór w Stryszowie, oddział Zamku Królewskiego na Wawelu, ed. Jerzy Nowakowski, Justyna Żarnowska, Kraków 2017, p. 59.

Elaborated by Adam Spodaryk (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.


Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska – the first woman-student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

In October 2017, 100 years had passed since Zofia Baltarowicz joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. She was the first woman admitted to the university as an auditor, but her presence at the Academy was not recorded in the official chronicles. For years, Zofia made efforts to preserve her story. Then, her daughter, the sculptor Danuta Dzielińska, continued the struggle. After Danutas death, no memory of Zofia remained. Women do not get to make history too often.



In October 2017, 100 years had passed since Zofia Baltarowicz joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. She was the first woman admitted to the university as an auditor, but her presence at the Academy was not recorded in the official chronicles. For years, Zofia made efforts to preserve her story. Then, her daughter, the sculptor Danuta Dzielińska, continued the struggle. After Danutas death, no memory of Zofia remained. Women do not get to make history too often.[1]
Thanks to her autobiography, we know exactly not only the circumstances of her arrival in Kraków and winning access to the Academy, but also about her later life up to the 1940s. If it had not been for her “positive selfishness”, we would probably never have found out about her story. Thanks to numerous biographies and autobiographies written by her, press clippings, and later my curiosity about her story, it was possible to find Zofia after all these years and bring back the memory of her, for which I am very happy.
Zofia Baltarowicz was born on 23 May 1894, in Jaryczów Stary, a small town located 27 km from Lviv and 350 km from Kraków. Once, this area belonged to the first Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then it was under Austro-Hungarian occupation. Her mother, Zofia Stefania, née Weeber, was the daughter of Alfred Weeber, an insurgent in the January Uprising of 1863, and Ignacja née Zakrzewska, Weeber, a social and educational activist, distinguished many times for her work. Her father, Jan Baltarowicz, both liked and trusted by the locals, was re-elected as the head of the village for 18 years. He only stepped down because of heart disease. He was an avid beekeeper and owned a large apiary.
“I come from a family where the Ideal of Poland free and democratic was so alive that every generation devoted all of its strengths and skills, and even life to securing it. Examples were: My great-great-grandfather Ignacy Zakrzewski, co-creator of the 3rd May Constitution and Kościuszko Uprising (the President of Warsaw), my great-grandmother Paulina Boguszowa, who was held in an Austrian prison in Lviv together with her husband for preparing a revolutionary uprising in 1846 and spreading democratic ideals, and my great-grandfather, imprisoned in Spielberg,[2] where he died.”[3]

Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, Archives of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.

Paulina Dulębów-Boguszowa, dubbed, the “Republican Polish Woman”, demanded the “Democratic Republic of Poland, free through its empowered people”[4]. Her speech before the students of the University of Lviv was printed in Tygodnik Polski on 23 September 1848:
“The atmosphere in my family home was that of strongly burning passion for patriotism, truly democratic beliefs and a sense of duty for charitable work. It is no wonder then. that having been brought up amidst such feelings, concepts and examples, once I had understood that the profession of an artist was my calling I resolved to serve my Motherland with my art.”[5]
Zofia’s parents had wished for a son. However, this dream was not to come true. First, their daughter Zofia was born. Then, when Zofia was three years old, the first son, Janek, was born, but only lived for a year. During the next pregnancy, Zofia Stefania was attacked by a bull. She suffered a miscarriage. The child she lost was a boy. Six years after Zofia’s birth, her sister, Janina Maria, was born. When Zofia came into this world, her father called her “his son” and raised her like a boy. She could ride a horse, “fly” with a sheet attached to her arms, read natural history books, even dissect dead animals to learn about their anatomy. She also had her own collection of pinned butterflies. She was allowed to climb trees and nobody reprimanded her for getting her dress dirty. Her father also taught her that she should not cry. Zofia mastered the art of holding back tears perfectly. During her life, she cried only twice, of which she was very proud. It seems that she subconsciously sensed the social inferiority attributed to women and, not wanting to accept it, she despised traits that were perceived as feminine.
Perhaps the freedom of upbringing, combined with a fear of typically female qualities, instilled in her a desire to achieve more than was traditionally expected from the representatives of her sex. It was generally believed that women are determined by biology mainly to find fulfilment through motherhood. It was also believed that a woman is not cut out for studying and has no artistic talent. Many enlightened people thought this way. One of them was the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who claimed that: “The girl’s destiny is essentially only marriage”[6] … “Women can be educated, but they were not created for pursuing higher studies, philosophy or certain artistic fields of creativity.”[7] His opinion was shared by Artur Schopenhauer:
“It is enough to look at the way a woman is shaped to see that she is not intended for any significant physical or mental work. Women have proved incapable of any truly great, authentic and original achievement in art and, in general, of creating anything of lasting value: the most striking example of that is painting.”[8]
Women who aspired to obtain higher education and to work were treated with great suspicion. Many felt that emancipation threatened the eternal laws of nature and could contribute to the downfall of the family as an institution, and even the country. Zofia’s mother, who, from the very beginning, had been opposed to her need for education, also expressed such concerns.
“On the other hand, my father, who understood my yearnings and believed that an artist could fulfil a great duty towards the nation through their creativity, wanted to help me complete serious education. My grandmother from my mother’s side, Ignacja nee Zakrzewska, Weeber also supported my artistic aspirations. Grandma enjoyed my talent immensely, especially since she had outstanding musical talent herself and composed songs with the accompaniment of the piano [...]. However, neither my fathers opinion nor that of grandmother Ignacja could sway my mother in her stern objections. Nevertheless, at the age of 14, I announced to my parents that I would study at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts and devote all my strength and my whole life to art.”[9]

Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, Curriculum Vitae, Archives of the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts.

In spite of Zofia’s stubbornness, her mother held on to her position on the matter, and the family conflict exacerbated:
“My father, who not only loved me, but also understood me, gave me his blessing, saying:
– I will never forbid you to study!
My mother, on the other hand, took a determined hostile stance. She had the same answer to any of our arguments: over my dead body ...
A friend of mothers and the doctor’s wife, Mrs. W.B., wanting to “cheer me up”, said:
– Zofia, I do not understand why you needlessly set yourself up for disappointment. They do not admit women to the Academy, anyway!
This argument did not convince me.”[10].
Zofia learnt how to read by herself, by asking her mother about individual letters. She learned to string together syllables, then words. Later, she studied with her friend Romcia – at her father’s, who was the local teacher. When she was eight years old, her parents decided to employ teachers who came to the so-called romansówka [romantic abode] – the Baltarowicz family home – to give private lessons, or lived there permanently. She passed her exams in Lviv. She also studied music from childhood. At first, she took private lessons. In 1914, she graduated after seven years of studies at the Musical Institute of Helena Ottawowa,[11] which allowed her to master the piano and music theory. This education proved useful to Zofia during the war, when she often earned her living by giving music lessons. Zofia would also play during family gatherings, which brought her great satisfaction and joy. She later maintained that music was her greatest passion, even though she decided to devote her life to sculpting.
Zofia’s artistic talent revealed itself very early. Initially, she coloured in the pictures of flowers in flower catalogues and created her own compositions on empty pages in her father’s books about natural history. When my father saw her first attempts, he brought his daughter watercolour paints in separate tubs from Lviv. Zofia was three or four years old back then. She would paint so often that her father constantly had to bring her new paints.
“I had my first attempts at sculpting a little later. I was five years old, when in autumn, an old glazier, a Jew from the neighbouring town of Jaryczów Nowy, supplied us with windows before winter. I watched the glazier’s work with great interest, which drew his attention. At one point, he stopped puttying the windows for a moment and looked at me carefully, then took a large lump of putty from his supplies and gave it to me, saying he wished »I would make pretty figurines with it«. From that time on, I started to shape my first sculpture »creations« out of putty, and when I ran out of putty I modelled my childish ideas in ordinary yellow clay that I dug out from the ditch behind our garden.”[12]
At the age of 12, Zofia received a machine for scorching patterns on wood from her father. Thanks to this, she was able to make drawings on plywood. Her mother showed one of such drawings to guests who visited the Baltarowicz family. Among them, was the painter Zofia Gołąbowa, a private graduate of Académie Julian in Paris, who immediately noticed the talent of the future sculptor and persuaded Zofia’s parents to sign her up for private lessons. For three years, Zofia went to Jaryczów Nowy to take lessons from Gołąbowa. Artistic abilities were just an additional asset of this lady, who was to teach Zofia manners and ways to shine in elegant company. That is why her mother did not mind drawing lessons and was proud of her daughter’s talents. However, she assumed art would only a hobby, added value to the dowry, and not a professional occupation. Zofia was of a different mind, and did not want to treat art as a mere party attraction. After graduating from high school, she wanted to study at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. Some time had to pass before this could happen. Paradoxically, the numerous diseases Zofia contracted at the age of 16 was what broke her mother's resistance. At first, it was measles with complications, then scarlet fever with diphtheria, and finally arthritis and inflammation of the myocardium. She spent several months in bed, coming close to death, but never stopped dreaming about studying. A friend of Jan Baltarowicz, Piotr Kucharski Phd, who was looking after the ailing Zofia, at the request of her father, told her mother that if she wanted her daughter to live she had to let her study because worrying adversely impacts heart diseases. Only then did her mother allow her older daughter to study.
Zofia could not understand her mother’s initial objection. She, however, wanted what all mothers wanted at that time for their daughters: that is, a successful family life.

Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska in her studio in Lviv, ca. 1932, photo from the collection of Barbara Sośnicka.

“However, I held an immeasurable grudge towards my mother. All my peers [...] were going through secondary school material – It was denied to me – Why? Kazio,[13] who had neither passion nor capability for learning, was sent to secondary school. For 9 years, repeating each class two or three times – he hardly mastered the fourth grade of lower secondary school – but I, who always passed every exam with my progress marked as very good – I was refused the right to attend serious studies – and Mother motivated her rigid stance on this matter with the fear of »furthering emancipation« ...
Thinking about all this, I came to the conclusion that my mother was stupid. From then on, I only respected my father’s judgement... although he didn't always have a say in our household... .”[14]
According to the instructions from Piotr Kucharski Phd, even before she took the secondary school leaving exams, in 1912, Zofia’s mother allowed her to join the private School of Fine Arts, lead by a painter, Prof. Stanisław Batowski, in Lviv. After two years, Baltarowicz’s studies were interrupted by the World War I. But, already, on 13 July 1915, Zofia enrolled for a sculpture course taught by Prof. Zygmunt Kurczyński,[15] student of Konstanty Laszczka and Auguste Rodin. She studied there for a year. It was in Kurczyński's studio that she met her future husband, the painter, Kazimierz Dzieliński. At the same time, during the years 1915–1916, she attended art history taught by Prof. Jan Bołoz-Antoniewicz and exact philosophy under Prof. Kazimierz Twardowski at the University of Lviv. In 1916, she decided to go to Vienna to take sculpture lessons at Verein Kunstschule für Frauen und Mädchen under Prof. Karl Kauffungen. However, only a year later, her mother ordered her to return home for fear of her daughter being cut off from the family by the war front.
“Interruption of my studies was a dramatic experience for me. I loved art and wanted to serve my Motherland using it and I realised that I could not fulfil my mother’s wish and study again in Lviv, where I had already learnt everything that I could have learnt as a visual artist in that city... Looking for a way out of this very difficult situation, after long deliberations, I decided to accomplish what seemed impossible for women at that time: ADMISSION TO THE STUDIES AT THE ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS IN KRAKÓW.”[16]
Her uncle Mieczysław Ruebenbauer, who lived in Proszówki near Bochnia, promised her mother that he could take care of his niece in the event of any threat caused by the war.
“Keeping her word given to the doctor and her husband – she did not oppose to my further studies, but she did not help in anything either. She bore this “ordeal” with admirable resignation and began to think of me as a »lost child«”.[17]
Zofia’s father sold the honey from his apiary and gave the money to his daughter for a trip to Kraków. Perhaps her mother did not protest because she was hoping that her daughter would be turned down and return from the academy with nothing. She knew that the university did not accept women, so there was a high probability that Zofia would come home.

Certificate issued in 1959, which states that Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska is the first woman accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Documentation of Contemporary Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art, Warsaw.

“It was September 1917. I rolled up my sketches, drawings and oil paintings into a thick, five feet high roll. Carrying a suitcase in one hand and a heavy roll in the other, I got on the train to Kraków. In Kraków, I rented a room on the 2nd floor of the hotel[18] located in the Market Square at the corner of Floriańska Street. […] Having ensured my accommodation, I decided to storm the Academy. Early in the morning, I went to St. Mary’s church. I had confession there and I kept receiving Holy Communion all the time since then.
I knew that my undertaking was revolutionary and that the professors of the Academy would make it difficult for me.”[19]
From St. Mary’s church, Zofia went to Jan Matejko Square, to the building of the academy. At the reception, she asked about Jacek Malczewski, believing that only a true talent was able to understand her desire to professionally develop sculpting ambitions. She did not know that Malczewski was not a supporter of admitting women to the academy. Surprised by the request, the porter announced that it was holiday time and nobody was in the academy. The determined Zofia asked for the private address of the painter and went to 8 Krupnicza Street. After seeing the works of the future sculptress, Malczewski sent her to Konstanty Laszczka, so that his friend would save him from making a decision.
“On a clear September day in 1917, as ordered by J. Malczewski – but with my audacity diminished – I knocked on the door of the studio of Prof. K. Laszczka, located in a large ground-floor A.F.A. hall – in Matejko Square. In response, I heard one short word:
– Come in.
A little intimidated, I stopped with my huge roll of sketches a few steps from the front door. Laszczka came closer and asked:
– What can I do for you?
– Professor – I would like to study sculpture – I have already seen Professor Malczewski and he said, please go to Mr Laszczka and repeat him that I, Jacek Malczewski ask him to admit you to the Academy.
Hearing this, Laszczka shouted loudly making his voice audible in every single corner of the studio:
– Malczewski what? Malczewski wants us to admit a woman to the Academy? But Malczewski is the greatest opponent of admitting women to the Academy of us all. Hmm! Please, sit down and show me these sketches...”[20]
The visit paid to Prof. Laszczka also brought Zofia success. Like Malczewski, the artist was delighted with the talent of the young woman, but he was unable to make a decision, which is why he referred her to the rector of the academy, Józef Mehoffer. Although he could not deny Zofia’s talent, he did not have the courage to decide by himself. He decided to accept Zofia for a trial period. During her stay at the academy, she had the task to prepare a sculpture depicting a male nude. The panel, consisting of all the professors, was to evaluate the work and decide on a possible admission. In that way, responsibility became collective, not individual.
“What I’d dreamt of since I was fourteen came true after many years of suffering. On Monday, 4th (?) October 1917, I walked into Professor K. Laszczka’s classroom as the first female student at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. In fact, it was the work created by me at the Academy, which was to decide if I would be admitted to these studies permanently; I had no doubt for even a moment, however, that it would turn out to my advantage; I believed in my talent and in this »something« which decides a human’s fate.”[21]
In the studio of Prof. Laszczka Zofia met three students who were surprised to see a woman and cast a distrustful look at her. They were Wacław Hagemayer, Włodzimierz Zinkow and Feliks Bibulski.

Konstanty Laszczka with his students, 1919–1920. Standing, left to right:: Wacław Hagemayer, Stanisław Tracz, Olga Niewska, prof. Konstanty Laszczka, Romana Szereszewska, Ignacy Zelek, Natalia Milan. Sittinf, left to right: Janina Reichert, Zofia Baltarowicz, Feliks Bibluski, model S. Klimowski, Józef Jura.
Archives of the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts.

“After a few days of work, they became accustomed to the female intruder and – seeing that I work in silence and that the female chatter does not bother their colleagues at work – they began to treat me with real respect and, after a while, they honoured me with a very eloquent praise. My colleague Baltarowicz is not a woman; colleague Baltarowicz is a human.”[22]
At the end of October 1917, the Senate decided to admit the sculptress as an auditor. This meant that she did not have the right to receive an official certificate of completion of her studies. She was not entered in the students’ register either. In addition to the classes in the sculpture studio, she attended drawing classes with Prof. Stanisław Dębicki, then with Prof. Józef Mehoffer, and to the evening drawing classes with Prof. Ignacy Pieńkowski. On 27 October 1917, the board of professors passed a resolution whereby women's admission to the academy was forbidden, but professors could decide on private admission to their courses. It was a protection measure against the Austro-Hungarian authorities. Meanwhile, at the nearby Jagiellonian University, 92 women had received a doctoral degree in medicine and in philosophy by 1917.[23]
Zofia was the only female student at the Academy of Fine Arts. By comparison, there were 80 male students at the university. A few months later, a friend of our sculptress, Iza Polakiewicz, followed later by Zofia Rudzka, was admitted to the studio of Prof. Wojciech Weiss, under the same conditions. The official motion for permitting admission of women to the Academy of Fine Arts was successfully voted for on 14 December 1918, just after the restoration of Poland’s independence. Zofia paved the way for the first female students and certainly contributed to making the said motion effective.
During her second year of studies, Zofia joined the Polish Secret Military Organization and she caught a cold during the so-called mobilization night, when she was acting as a courier. The infection turned into arthritis and the sculptress was hospitalized for four months. When she returned, there were other women in the studio beside her: Janina Reichert, Zofia Mars, Natalia Milan and Olga Niewska who joined later.
The name “Baltarowicz” did not appear on the list of students who completed the first semester in 1920. In all, there were seventeen of them in the academy. On 30 July1920, the ministry issued a special regulation, whereby the studies of all female auditors admitted before 1920 were to be qualified as normal studies. In later years, Zofia also applied for a written confirmation of her studies at the academy. These documents were signed by: Laszczka, Mehoffer, Pieńkowski and Tadeusz Seweryn. In addition, the resolutions of the board of professors of 18 June 1947 officially confirmed her studies in 1917–1920 as completed.

Certificate issued by prof. Konstanty Laszczka. Documentation of Contemporary Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art, Warsaw.

In 1919, Zofia married Kazimierz Dzieliński, a lieutenant of the 9th regiment of uhlans of the Polish Army and a student in the studio of Mehoffer. In December 1920, she gave birth to a daughter, Danuta Dzielińska. She abandoned her studies at the academy and returned to her home town. Before the wedding, she told her fiancé that she would never give up art for marriage.
The Dzieliński marriage, however, was not a happy one. Kazimierz was unfaithful to Zofia before the wedding and soon after it. Zofia was really hurt, she was thinking about divorce, but eventually it was not the betrayal that caused the breakup of the relationship. The young couple received the estate in Kukizów from Zofia’s parents, approximately four kilometres from the Baltarowicz family house. Kazimierz’s parents wanted to live together with the couple. However, Zofia did not want to consent to it. The conflict quickly turned into a dispute that escalated year by year. Her father-in-law began to turn his son into a rebel. Soon, there were rows and the atmosphere in the house deteriorated considerably. When Zofia was in her second pregnancy, her husband lived mostly with his parents in Lviv and was dating another woman, Maria Bałand (for whom he converted to Orthodoxy and whom he married in 1928).
In 1924, after losing her baby, Zofia, along with Danuta moved out of Kukizów to Jaryczów Stary, to her parents. When her father died in 1926, she became depressed. This difficult emotional moment was also associated with the lawsuit she pursued against Kazimierz in the fight over the estate in Kukizów. Only a few months’ stay in Italy, at the invitation of Anna Komarek, improved her mental condition. Komarek, a friend from her university days in Vienna, lived in Milan with her husband. Then Zofia and Danuta lived in Florence hosted by Ilda Baldesi-Marini.
After returning from Italy, Zofia rented a flat and a studio in Lviv. She also managed to conclude the lawsuit against her husband. After a few years’ break, she returned to creative work. She worked very hard looking for her own style. She directed her interests towards the motifs referring to the contemporary imagery of the Proto-Slavic era, and also learned the folk art of her home town countryside. She wanted to create a style based not on influences from the East or the West but on the culture of Slavic ancestors, enriched with Christian content. In 1930, she sent three sculptures to the Spring Salon in Lviv. The following year, her works appeared in the Lviv Palace of Art at the next Spring Salon. Władysław Kozicki wrote:
“Undeniable talent is shown by Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska. This yields compact blocks with boldly cut surfaces and high expression. A work called: Trójdźwięku [Triple sound]; an interesting, new, decorative and expressive presentation of the theme: Faith, Love and Hope.”[24]
In 1933, her first individual exhibition was held at the Museum of the Art Industry in Lviv. This was accompanied by a catalogue with text and four photographs of sculptures. In one of the pictures, the artist is standing next to her sculpture, “the Winged Knight”. She is posing for a photo in a dress resembling an ancient tunic, loosely tied with a belt: it is probably a working apron. She is putting on a serious face, touching the knight’s wings with one hand, as if she was polishing the sculpture. You can see that it is not a natural movement but a posed one. The text for the catalogue was written by Prof. Henryk Cieślafrom Lviv Real School, curator of the Museum of the Art Industry. Cieśla presented the artist’s profile and described her work. The sculptress presented fourteen sculptures in wood, bronze, alabaster and plaster. Reviews were published in the press: two positive and two negative.
In 1933, Zofia decided to return to Kukizów with Danuta after a nine-year absence. However, just a year later they left for Lviv. Zofia wanted to provide her daughter with a better education than was possible in her homeland. In 1935, the sculptress decided to send two of her works to the Autumn Salon in Paris. Because she could not afford to travel, she sent only two sculptures to France: “Miss Danuta” and “A Smile”. The sculptures were noticed and appreciated by the local critics:

Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska with her daughter Danuta Dzielińska.
Archives of the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts.

“Zofia Dzielińska’s talent has a lot of strength and expression. Her sculptures ... testify to a powerful temperament, which speaks with independent spirit and in a truly individual way, which is quite rare in our times ... It is discernible that Zofia Dzielińska is an extremely talented artist ... Life and movement attract this sculptress, which is why her sculptures have so much expression. Her broad and powerful talent leads her to great and monumental works, where her sense of composition will allow her to create beautiful and great works.”[25]
It was not the first attempt to achieve success in Paris. A few years earlier, in 1932, the sculptress and her daughter went to the French capital for a few weeks to organize an exhibition of her works there. Despite good critical opinions, she did not garner any orders in Poland. Zofia decided that – to win orders in the country – she had to firstly become famous abroad. It was a time when she lived on the income from her estate in Kukizów, but it was insufficient. Unfortunately, on the way to Paris, Zofia broke two fingers in her right hand, which prevented her from working on sculptures for the Spring Salon. Searching for a stonemason who would transfer her two compositions into marble, she met a French sculptor animalist François Pompon, who praised her sculptures and gave her valuable tips. Unfortunately, cooperation with the workers failed and the sculptures were not created according to Zofia’s compositions. At that moment of desperation, in order that the stay in Paris would not be in vain, she sent two unframed sketches to the salon– both of them were rejected by the jury of the Spring Salon. Only the second Paris attempt was successful. In 1935, she sent two sculptures, “A smile” and “Miss Danuta”, to the Autumn Salon. The works were accepted, and then enthusiastic critical reviews appeared in the French press. Even Professor Laszczka himself congratulated her, saying that more than one famous Polish sculptor had tried to participate in the Autumn Salon to no avail.
When Zofia’s career was gaining momentum, World War II broke out. At the time, she was working on new sculptures, which she was supposed to have displayed in the autumn of 1939, at the Palais de Glace d’Anvers in Brussels at an individual exhibition. Unfortunately, during the war she had to forget about artistic development. She lived with her daughter in a small house in the suburbs of Jasło for four years, and her musical education helped to secure upkeep for herself and her child.
“The hard experiences of the World War II – including relocation, the loss of my own home, my own workshop, my own sculptures and everything that I owned at all – I went through it all with my daughter. All that we were left with through this war, was probably our miraculously saved life.”[26]
In September 1944, the Germans burnt down the entire town, along with the house where the sculptress and her daughter lived. All the sculptures and piano, thanks to which Zofia earned money by giving music lessons, were also burned. When they returned a year later, to check what was left, Danusia found the remains of marble which had gone pink from firing in the ruins. These were the remains of “A smile”, the sculpture presented in Paris.
On 6 September 1945, a truck brought Zofia and Danuta from Gorlice and dropped them at Krupnicza Street in Kraków. Both sat on a bench in the park called “Planty” to consider what to do next. Zofia thought that a friend of hers would provide them with accommodation, but, because of her difficult situation, she had to refuse. Both women landed in a room where three other people lived. They received a shared bed and access to the kitchen, which was located in the same eighteen-square-meter room. The reason for coming to Kraków was Danuta’s desire to study.[27]She enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts immediately after arrival.

Transcript of Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, Documentation of Contemporary Art, Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Art, Warsaw.

“Throughout the academic year, when my daughter used the canteen at the Academy in 1945/1946, I did not eat normal dinners, only a little groats or noodles made from flour sent by relatives from Silesia.”[28]

Zofia applied to the rector of the Academy to obtain her graduation diploma. The academy authorities demanded additional theoretical tests. Zofia did not take them. She decided to study full-time to complete the fourth and fifth year. At the age of 52, she returned to the academy and studied simultaneously with her daughter over the years 1947–1949. She found it embarrassing, but she needed it for several reasons. After the war, her economic situation was very difficult and she did not want to take up a job that could push her away from artistic activity. She lived in very difficult conditions: she had no place in which to sculpt. At the university canteen, she could eat a warm meal every day. She also had access to a studio, clay and models. Thanks to this, she sculpted both the work required for her studies and was able to realise her own ideas. Thanks to her diploma, she could apply for membership in the Association of Polish Artists and Designers, which enabled her to participate in sculpting contests. Enrolment for the re-studies was not necessary for the sake of learning, but was very helpful in Zofia’s survival. After receiving the certificate of graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts, already – as a member of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers –in 1949, she received an allocation from the city for a studio at 4–6 Słowiańska Street. Spartan conditions prevailed: it was a place obtained by converting a shop, without access to running water, with an area of ​thirteen square metres. The sculptures developed in clay underwent dilapidation, because the sculptress did not have the money for plaster to make casts. In winter, the studio interior was frosted all over because there was no funds for buying coal. Despite the obstacles, Zofia did not stop working. The first sculpture she made there was the design of the Chopin monument. She received an award for it and bought a piano with the money she had earned this way.
She participated in exhibitions domestically and abroad, including in the 3rd National Exhibition of Fine Arts (Warsaw, 1953), the Spring Exhibition of the Kraków ZPAP District (Palace of Arts, Kraków, 1954), the District Exhibition of the 10th anniversary of Sculpture of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers1945–1955 (Palace of Arts, Kraków, 1955), the Exhibition of Young Visual Art of the Kraków Region (Palace of Art, Kraków, 1956–1957). In 1957, she exhibited Światowidek at the sculpture biennale in Carrara, Italy.

Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska certificate of graduation, Archives of the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts.

In 1961, Zofia suffered a heart attack, which rendered her bed-ridden for several months. Danuta took care of her sick mother. The marble bust of Hugo Kołłątaj for the Jordan park in Kraków was the last big order she made. After the heart attack, the sculptress – not being able to perform major works – engaged in making small sculptures. She participated in medallic art exhibitions: the 1st National Medallic Art Exhibition (Warsaw, 1963), Medallic Art in the Polish People’s Republic 1945–1965 (Wrocław, 1965) and in the Medallic Art Exhibition in Italy in Arezzo (1964). Her works became part of the collections of the Ministry of Culture and Art, the National Museum in Kraków and the Museum of Medal Minting Art in Wrocław.
In 1961 in the magazine Słowo Powszechne there appeared a short text entitled: Once the first woman at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. After 30 years of sculpting. In this article, we can read:
“Unfortunately, one obstacle to the development and further creative work of the mother and daughter sculptresses is the lack of a proper studio. Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, the distinguished Jubilarian, would like to prepare a collective exhibition for her 30th anniversary of her creative work. How could it be achieved if the studio at her disposal is a dark and cramped room of 13 sq. m with a collapsing ceiling and no electricity? Her daughter, Danuta Dzielińska, does not have a studio at all and she makes her sculptures ordered by the Ministry of Culture and Art in a non-heated attic or in a room of approx. 18 sq. m, in which she lives with her mother.
Let us hope that allocating the Dzieliński artists an appropriate apartment, in which they could continue their creative work, is a matter for the near future. It will be the best »jubilee gift« for 30 years of hard chisel work by Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska.”[29]
The fate of the sculptress changed a few years before her death. The first joy came from being granted the medal of the 50th anniversary of ZPAP in 1961, by the Association of Polish Artists and Designers. In 1965, she was granted a pension for distinguished artists, which noticeably improved her financial situation: earlier she had been dependent on irregular orders. Three years later, two years before her death, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of starting independent creative work, she received an award from the Minister of Culture and Art. In 1970, she participated in the exhibition, Concorso Internazionale della Medaglia e della Placchetta d’Arte in Arezzo, Italy. In the same year, she received an invitation to the International Exhibition of Medallic Art in Venice. She sent plaques dedicated to John XXIII, who, before becoming Pope, held the position of the Venetian Patriarch. Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska died on 10 August 1970, at the age of 76, in Kraków. Her grave can be found at Rakowicki Cemetery. In the same grave was buried her daughter, the sculptress Danuta Dzielińska. On the tombstone, there is also a board dedicated to Stefania née Weeber Baltarowicz, mother and grandmother of the sculptresses, but, in reality, her ashes do not rest in the common grave. Danuta lived with her mother until her death. Both of them were extremely attached to each other. Both dedicated their lives to sculpture.

Elaborated by Iwona Demko PhD
(Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

[1]     Iwona Chmura-Rutkowska, Edyta Głowacka-Sobiech, Izabela Skórzyńska, "Unworthy of history"? On the absence and stereotypical images of women in the light of textbook historical narrative in middle school, UAM Scientific Publisher, Poznań 2015.
[2]     Špilberk Castle (German: Spielberg) in Brno, which served as a prison during the era of Austrian monarchy.
[3]     Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, My life story, p. 1, undated manuscript, TPSP archive in Kraków. All quotations retain the original spelling.
[4]     Danuta Dzielińska, Life history, p. 1, undated manuscript,  Documentation of Polish Contemporary Art Workshop, Art Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw.
[5]     Undated document owned by B. Sośnicka, signed as: A copy of the biography for the Museum of Medallic Art in Wrocław was written by Zofia Dzielińska a few months before her death in 1970.
[6]     Friedrich Hegel, Principles of legal philosophy, Supplements, article 164, p. 393, Polish Scientific Publishers PWN, Warsaw 1969.
[7]     Friedrich Hegel, Principles of legal philosophy, article 166, p. 393, Polish Scientific Publishers PWN, Warsaw 1969.
[8]     Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation, Poor chances for promotion, p. 12. The report is available online at: [accessed: 11/6/2018].
[9]     Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, My life story, p. 1, undated manuscript, TPSP archive in Kraków.
[10]   How Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska conquers the Academy of Fine Arts for women, [in:] Wrocławski Tygodnik Katolików/Wrocław Weekly Magazine of Catholics, no. 30 (410), year IX. from July 23, 1961, the original is in the archives of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
[11]   After the war in 1945, Helena Ottawowa became a professor at the State College of Music in Kraków. She died on August 16, 1948 in Kraków at the age of 74.
[12]   Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, My studies, p. 1, undated manuscript, archive of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
[13]   Zofia's cousin, son of her fathers sister.
[14]   Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, Autobiography. Crying will not help, volume II, part III, chapter 11, undated manuscript, archive of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków.
[15]  Zygmunt Kurczyński was born in Lviv; he studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków; then, he went to Paris where he received his education from August Rodin. When he returned to Lviv, apart from working as a sculptor, he was also a town councillor. Then, he moved to Wrocław and became the first president of the Association of Polish Visual Artists. He also contributed to the creation of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław.
[16]    Document owned by B. Sośnicka, signed as: A copy of the biography for the Museum of Medallic Art in Wrocław was written by Zofia Dzielińska a few months before her death in 1970, p. 1.
[17]     Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, Pages from a diary. Me and my art, a handwritten notebook, archive of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków.
[18]   The hotel where Zofia stayed was called Drezdeński. It is a historic tenement house called the Mint or the Margrave House. It is currently located at Rynek 47.
[19]   [without an author], How Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska conquered the Academy of Fine Arts for women, July 23, 1961, Wrocławski Tygodnik Katolików/Wrocław Weekly Magazine of Catholics, No. 30 (410), Year IX, archive of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
[20]   Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, Pages from a diary. Me and my art, a handwritten notebook, archive of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków.
[21]   Ibid.
[22]   Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, Pages from a diary. Me and my art, a handwritten notebook, archive of the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków.
[23]   Jadwiga Suchmiel, Womens scientific emancipation at the universities in Kraków and Lviv before 1939. Source: (7/10/2017). Women were allowed to take up studies at the Jagiellonian University from 1894, although initially as auditors.
[24]   Władysław Kozicki, From the spring salon. Lviv painters and sculptors. Słowo Polskie, Lviv, No. 161, 14/6/1931, p. 7. Source: (accessed: 13/1/2018).
[25]   Andre Pascal-Levis, Au Salon dautomne. Sophie Dzielińska. Les Artistes daujour dhui, 15/12/1935, p. 6.
[26]   Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska, BIOGRAPHY, p. 2, signed as: A copy of the biography for the Museum of Medallic Art in Wrocław was written by Zofia Dzielińska a few months before her death in 1970, undated manuscript, archive of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
[27]   Danuta obtained a masters degree in art history at the Faculty of Philology and History at the Jagiellonian University (she studied during the years 1950–1954) and a diploma at the Faculty of Sculpture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków.
[28]   Information Zofia Baltarowicz-Dzielińska 18941970, p. 5, undated manuscript, Documentation of Polish Contemporary Art Workshop, Art Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.
[29]   She was once the first woman at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. After 30 years of sculpting workSłowo Powszechne”, Warsaw, 2/2/1961, p. 5.


Unfinished fight. Women’s access to arts academies

It is impossible today to talk about art and its history, without mentioning female artists. But it wasn’t always that way. Even just a dozen or so years ago, textbooks on the history of painting, sculpture, architecture and other disciplines related to fine arts or visual arts, included only a small number of female authors. Was it really impossible to find those that deserved to be mentioned among the masses of female painters, sculptors, drawers, embroiderers, photographers and architects?


It is impossible today to talk about art and its history, without mentioning female artists. But it wasn’t always that way. Even just a dozen or so years ago, textbooks on the history of painting, sculpture, architecture and other disciplines related to fine arts or visual arts, included only a small number of female authors. Was it really impossible to find those that deserved to be mentioned among the masses of female painters, sculptors, drawers, embroiderers, photographers and architects?
In 1971, American researcher Linda Nochlin published a text titled Why have there been no great women artists? It turned upside-down our previous thinking about the canon of arts, which is the cultural backbone of the Western civilization. Nochlin dispelled the hopes of reconstructing the canon of arts by supplementing it with the names of genius female artists from the past, which we would supposedly find by some miracle, while searching through history. She argued that the search would come to naught, and the female counterparts of Michelangelo do not exist. Apparently, you might as well be looking for “great Lithuanian jazz pianists or Eskimo tennis players”.[1] She wrote that the reason lies in “institutions and our education — education understood to include everything that happens to us from the moment we enter [...] into the world ...”.[2] For hundreds of years, women have been denied the right to creativity, academic work, independent life and making their own decisions. All upbringing, culture (that is, symbolic language) and knowledge told them that they are like eternal minors. Their living space was limited to the home. How would great female artists appear in such conditions? Because we are aware of all this, we can no longer write the history of art without female creators. Old art, however, for the above-mentioned reasons, did not abound in female artist and, apart from a few exceptions, there will not be female geniuses among them. The closer we get to the present day, the more female authors there are. And this is what shows us how great the success of our great-grandmothers’ struggle for equality was. And the canon? Whatever it is, it’s best to smash it to pieces.

* * *

Traditional education included only well-born girls. Learning in the mansions or boarding schools covered the skills that the lady was supposed to master, and it included salon conversations in French, principles of good conduct, the basics of music, drawing and painting with watercolours. In those, after all recent and yet seemingly very distant times, those that had sufficient determination and courage to devote themselves to the arts, took private lessons. However, only the most exalted and wealthy women could afford such “whims”. And the subject of their works remained similar. Even well-known and successful artists, such as Berthe Morissot and Mary Cassat, who were active within the impressionist environment, chose their closest surroundings as the subjects of their paintings: home, family life, portraits of relatives, images of children, flowers.
Popular opinion claimed that creativity belongs only to the male genius, masterfully reigning over the matter of the work and reaching beyond the horizons of the epoch, and also outweighing the female character with moral qualities. On the other hand, the fair sex was commonly associated with alleged weakness, emotionality, lack of moral fibre and artistic abilities. However, there were many authority figures, such as Aleksander Świętochowski, who were sceptical about traditional beliefs. In defence of women’s ambitions, the aforementioned critic wrote sarcastically: “According to age-old custom, their learning is glitz, talent, pretentiousness; willingness to act is lunacy. The world cannot imagine that the small mouths of women could utter sounds other than those of caresses and humbleness”.[3]
The first professional female artists began to appear in the 2nd half of the 18th century, and their number grew rapidly throughout the 19th century. This was closely related to the progressing industrial revolution, which required a greater labour force. Cultural changes also favoured emancipated women. The ages of enlightenment, romanticism, and positivism were an important stage on the way to achieving the desired goal. They introduced a new kind of sensitivity and they valued the intuitive method of cognition, traditionally recognised as a feminine feature. They also put forward scientific arguments for gender equality. In his work, the Subjection of Women, in 1868, John Stuart Mill considered the idea that customs and norms, perceived to be natural at a given moment, arose as a result of a social contract. At the same time, due to the stormy changes in the field of arts, the dominant role of academies began to be questioned. New art did not need regulations and codification commissions, while academies plunged in crisis were willing to open their doors to women. It became an urgent need for women to acquire their education.

* * *

The situation of Polish women was not easy. They couldn’t study in Polish schools because of their gender. The partitions, which caused the closure or limitations in the operation of many universities, did not affect their situation: they neither improved nor deteriorated it. As such, they left to study abroad at expensive foreign schools: in Russia, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Great Britain. Outside of Poland, the situation of women who wanted to study was not easy at all either. The poet Maria Komornicka complained about studies in Cambridge, saying that: “British emancipation is a golden paper glued to shackles.” and “The rector has the police power to arrest any woman who goes alone into the street in the evening!”[4]
Reality knows abhors a vacuum: since women could not study in state institutions on the Polish soil, they stormed private schools, courses, and workshops. In 1868, in Kraków, Higher Courses for Women opened at the initiative of the doctor and social worker, Adrian Baraniecki. “I would like our daughters from all the partitioned territories to be able to expand and complete their education at the foot of Wawel in a national spirit” — declared the founder.[5] His school offered education within three faculties: History and Literature, Nature, and Fine Arts. Professors from the Jagiellonian University guaranteed a high level, so it was not surprising that the classes enjoyed great popularity. Four thousand female auditors completed them. There were also other private schools in Kraków, where eager female students could learn arts. These were the school of Tola Certowicz, which only existed for a few years, and the merited School of Fine Arts, owned by Maria Niedzielska. In Warsaw, the widely appreciated Drawing Class by Wojciech Gerson was active.
Let’s take a look at the paths that the best-known Polish mistresses of paintbrushes and chisels had to tread to get their education. Let’s look at the times, when women chose the profession of the artist as a life option more frequently and daringly, when they attacked various decision-making bodies with dozens of applications and petitions for admission to study, when hot discussions about access to education for the fair sex were underway in the press, and art schools were deliberating as to whether women could participate in the study of nudes, not as models, but as creators. In short, we are interested in the hot period of the 2nd half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Olga Boznańska was born in 1865 in Kraków. She studied privately under the tuition of Józef Siedlecki, Kazimierz Pochwalski, and Hipolit Lipiński. She completed a two-year cycle of studies at Baraniecki’s courses,[6] where she attended the workshops of Antoni Piotrowski. In 1886, she left for Munich, where, not having been able to enrol into the Academy, she took advantage of private lessons with the painters Karl Kricheldorf and Wilhelm Dürr. In 1896, she began to work independently, and the first successes at international exhibitions soon followed. When, at the end of the 19th century, Julian Fałat offered her the chair of the painting faculty at the Kraków School of Fine Arts reformed by him, she rejected it. In 1898, she settled in Paris. Later, she spent some time teaching at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In making the decision to devote herself to art, her parents’ support was of key importance: her mother gave her the first drawing lessons, and her father financed the studies. She specialized in portrait art.
Anna Bilińska was born in 1854 in Złotopol in today’s Ukraine. Her parents’ support allowed her to receive an education equal to that of her brothers. In her childhood, she took drawing lessons with the well-known illustrator, Michał Elwiro Andriolli, who was in exile and stayed near her family’s estate. With her mother, she went to Warsaw to study in music discussion classes. In 1877, she signed up to Wojciech Gerson’s Drawing Class. Then, she went to Paris in the company of a friend who had also attended it, to start her studies at Académie Julian. Later, she conducted classes there herself. Immediately after starting her own education, she unsuccessfully tried to move to a male studio, where a higher level of teaching prevailed. The inheritance she received from her late friend enabled her to polish artistic perfection. She gained great recognition as a portraitist.
Zofia Stryjeńska was born in 1891 in Kraków. Her father noticed her talents and supported her artistic development. The future artist initially learned in Maria Niedzielska’s (1909–1911) private school for women, and there, among others, at Jan Bukowski’s studio. During the academic year of 1911–1912 she studied at the Munich academy, bravely pretending to be her own brother, Tadeusz Grzymała. There, she signed up to the studios of Gabriel von Hackla and Hugo von Habermann. When students from France recognised her hoax, she interrupted her studies and came home. She was probably the best-known female artist in Poland in the interwar period. She was involved in painting, but also in applied arts, shaping the popular version of Polish modernism. They called her “The Princess of Polish painting”,[7] a title inspired by the fairytale themes of her work and the successes she experienced in the interwar period.
Olga Niewska was born in Kharkiv in 1898. Her family also supported her in pursuing artistic education. Her father was a well-known architect. She studied at a private school in Kiev, and then became a student of the first year ever to be provided with an opportunity to receive regular, complete education at the Academy of Kraków. She studied sculpture in Konstanty Laszczka’s workshop. After a three-year break, in 1926, she started studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, under the auspices of Antoine Bourdelle. During the interwar period she had significant artistic successes portraying the most important people in the country: politicians (including Marshal Pilsudski), actors and actresses, and athletes. After the war, she was completely forgotten for a long time.
As we can infer even from such a cursory review of biographies, a revolutionary change took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Throughout the 19th century, women intensively used the opportunity to receive artistic education outside state-owned academies. Some did not settle for private schools and — like Stryjeńska — stormed the walls of respectable universities. Only at the beginning of the contemporary era were they given the opportunity to study at state-owned universities. Even Bilińska and Boznańska, both of whom were outstanding and award-winning artists, were not allowed to do that. Officially, the equally talented Niewska only started studying at the Academy in 1919.

* * *

Foreign universities offered more to ambitious Polish women than native ones. Let’s look at the situation at the institutions that were chosen by them most often, examine how universities gradually, with difficulty (and under the pressure of those willing to learn, who were sending in applications, protesting and, in various ways, trying get into the university) opened their doors to female students. The Academy in Munich, founded in 1770, and operating as the Royal Academy of Fine Arts since 1808, attracted the largest group of foreign students in Central Europe. An attempt to satisfy the growing demands of women was made in 1872. A separate faculty was then opened at Szkoła Sztuk Stosowanych (the School of Applied Arts), whose aim was to train female teachers. In 1884, Akademia Kobiet [the Academy of Women], affiliated with Akademia Królewska [the Royal Academy], was established, but it was endowed with limited powers. It was not until 1920, that the rights of female student were equated with those of men.
In Vienna, the history of the academy begins in 1688, at a private school founded by Peter Strudel, who was a painter at the imperial court. In 1772, several institutions which, until then, had existed independently, were merged to form the Academy of Fine Arts. The academy was reluctant to accept women, because it was said that “they lack creative spirit in matters of great art”. For this reason, female artists established their own Szkoła Sztuki dla Kobiet i Dziewcząt [School of Arts for Women and Girls], in 1897, which changed its status to that of a state school in 1910. Women were only granted free admission to the Academy in the academic year of 1920–1921.
The Academy in St. Petersburg originated from a school founded in 1757. Tsarina Catherine the Great changed its name to the Imperial Academy of Arts. The academy, closed in 1918 after the Russian Revolution, changed its status, name, structure and profile, and even location on several occasions. It started admitting women quite early, namely in 1873. The academy was faced with a crisis, which was caused by the student rebellion, called the “revolt of the fourteen” (1863) and the Peredvizhniki movement (1870).
Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris was founded in 1648 by the powerful cardinal Mazarin, the first minister of France who ruled over the country during Louis XIV’s nonage. In 1863, Napoleon III changed the name of the academy to École des Beaux-Arts. As early as in 1803, École Gratuite de Dessin for girls was founded in the capital of France. The school received state support a few years later. Its main goal was to train women to become designers. However, above all, Paris was the ideal place for wealthy amateurs who wanted to study art. From the 1830s, numerous private schools attracted them, and, from the 1860s, the opportunity to study nude works at many of them was also appealing. The reason for the reluctance towards the female students at the state École was the idea that they would study painting, drawing or sculpture on the basis of a naked model. In any case, women were being admitted into Académie Julian, which opened its doors to women as early as in 1873, but with a fee twice as high as the one men were charged with. École des Beaux-Arts was only opened to women in 1897. And it was only a year earlier that they were given access to the library there. Previously, they were allowed to apply for classes as auditors, provided that they were between the ages of fifteen and thirty.
In England, there were numerous schools where women could receive education related to applied arts and the teaching profession. One of them was Henry Sass’ private school in London, which has offered a workshop with a naked model since 1832. The Slade School of Fine Arts has offered such a possibility since 1871. The Female School of Design, founded in 1843, was intended for women of lower social standing, offering them design classes. Finally, the State School of Arts for Women was established in 1859. Shortly thereafter, in the 1960s, women were granted access to the Royal Academy of Arts, with the practice being quickly suspended and restored after a few years. However, they could not attend nude studies.
When it comes to implementing nudity into the education of future artists, a striking exception was the academy in Pennsylvania, United States. In 1868, the Ladies Life Class was created there, which offered workshops with a naked female model. They had to wait for a male model until 1877 (and even then he was covered with drapery).
In other countries, the process was analogous. State universities were closed for girls, so private or public schools and faculties of existing institutions were created instead. Sometimes, a limited quota of women participating in the academy’s classes was allowed, but the procedure required the fulfilment of many conditions. When female students were finally admitted to studying at academies, different assessment criteria were applied to them than to male students. The Royal Academy of Arts in London required men to make drawings of an entire figure, whereas women were required to only draw the heads. Women were not awarded prizes and were given feedback less frequently.

* * *

Józef Szujski wrote in the 1860s: “Savantesses, the exalted female sentimentalists have brought excesses, perversities, nervous diseases, and similar unthinkabilities upon our homeland [...]. There is no pursuit of progress in women’s education, there is no desire for research, no great curiosity”.[8] His words referred to women who desired an academic career. Equally contemptuous voices were heard with reference to female artists who “squiggled eyesores,”[9] because they expressed “thoughts swirling in a small, coiffed head,” or even worse: they listened to their hearts “beating weakly under a tight corset.”[10]
Nowadays, these words sound ridiculous. Problems still exist, however, but, owing to their more subtle nature, they are less noticeable than a ban on university admission or access to the library. They are associated with the reflexive valuation of women’s activities, with admiration (or lack thereof) directed towards them. Finally, let us quote some authoritative examples from the Polish history of modern art. Let’s see if female artists are still less important and stand in the shadows, or whether they are gaining a more prominent spot on the art scene. In Młode malarstwo polskie 1944–1974 by Aleksander Wojciechowski, published for the first time in 1975, we have the following proportions of female artists to all the authors discussed (women and men): female artists make up only 12.3 percent of the total number. The situation looks similar in Alicja Kępińska’s book, Nowa sztuka. Sztuka polska w latach 19451978, published in 1981. The female artists here constitute an even more scant percentage, namely 11.5 percent of all the artists discussed. Let’s take a look at a newer title from 2007 Nowe zjawiska w sztuce polskiej po 2000 that was created at a time when sensitivity towards the issue of underrepresentation of female artists in all kinds of lists had already begun to appear obvious. The work edited by Grzegorz Borkowski, Monika Branicka and Adam Mazur, reaches 30 percent of women in relation to the total number of those presented.
Let’s look at the collections of Kraków’s institutions specialising in contemporary art. The MOCAK Museum owns works of 296 male and female artists. Women (and people identifying as women) constitute less than 20 percent of all artists in the museum’s collection. On the other hand, the collection of the Bunkier Sztuki art gallery includes works by 187 artists. The percentage of female artists is 27 percent of the total. This is not a bad result, considering that the collection was initiated at a time when no one bothered about the artist’s gender (by default: preferring male authors).
The quoted data is random and approximate. However, one could conclude from it that stereotypes are still alive, as they are repeated and perpetuated by researchers, collectors and critics. To show their conventional nature, shock therapy is needed. In America in 1985, the artistic militia Guerilla Girls was created. Its members make only dry facts public. The question Do women have to be naked to enter the Metropolitan Museum? which appeared on public transport buses in New York in 1989 was accompanied by a calculation. In this museum’s permanent exhibition, women represent less than 5 percent of exhibited artists, while they are depicted in 85 percent of works, most often as nude bodies.
In Poland, we come across the following situation: in art schools, the number of female students prevails quantitatively, but among the scientific and didactic staff there are significantly fewer women than men. In the study, prepared by the Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation, Marne szanse na awanse (2016), the following data was quoted: in 2013, women constiuted 77 percent of all students at art schools. Meanwhile, they constitute only 35 percent of the total number of employees, including 50 percent of assistants, 34 percent of assisttant professors and only 22 percent of professors. The reasons for this disparity were defined as resulting from the airtight nature of the visual arts community, as well as from the discouragement of female students to develop their own careers, which are suppossed to be pursued at universities.

* * *

Women’s struggle for the right to education lasted over two hundred years and was a huge success. However, it still remains unfinished. The right to education should be understood more broadly: as the right to choose your own way of life, which might be an artistic path. On this path, female artists often stumble over bumps. Free admission to universities is not enough, since it is not followed by serious treatment and recognition. There are silent beliefs at play that no one considers because they are so deeply-rooted in each and every one of us that they seem natural.

Elaborated by Magdalena Ujma,
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License..

[1]     Linda Nochlin: Why have there been no great female artists? translated by Barbara Limanowska, OŚKA. Letter from the National Women's Information Center, vol. 3 (8), 1999, p. 54.
[2]     Ibidem.
[3]     Aleksander Świętochowski. Gabryela — Narcyza Żmichowska [in:] Wybór pism krytycznoliterackich, PIW, Warsaw 1973, p. 85.
[4]    Quote in: Maria Janion, Maria Komornicka — in memoriam [in:] Kobiety i duch inności, Wydawnictwo Sic !, Warsaw 1996, p. 255.
[5]     Quote in: Michał Pilikowski, Walka kobiet o prawo do studiowania w Akademii w latach 1818-1895Wiadomości ASP, vol. 81, April 2018, p. 36.
[6]     Full name: Dr. Adrian Baraniecki's Higher Courses for Women.
[7]    Agata Jakubowska, Zofia Stryjeńska [in;] Artystki polskie, edited by eadem, Wydawnictwo Szkolne PWN, Park Edukacja, Warsaw — Bielsko-Biała 2011, p. 200.
[8]    Quote In: Jolanta Kolbuszewska, Polki na uniwersytetach — trudne początkiSensus Historiae, vol. XXVI (2017/1) p.42.
[9]     Fr. Karol Antoni Niedziałkowski, Nie tędy droga Szanowne Panie! (Studium o emancypacji kobiet), Rola 1896, No. 11, p. 161, quoted by: Krystyna Kłosińska, Ciało, pożądanie, ubranie, Wydawnictwo eFKa, Cracow 1999, p. 13.
[10]    This and the previous quote; Jan Ludwik Popławski, Sztandar ze spódnicyPrawda, 1885, No. 35, quoted by: ibidem, p. 10.


“Self-portrait” by Wanda Ślędzińska



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