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Above all, Olga Boznańska is a portraitist, an artist of portraits painted in muted colours, sometimes almost monochrome. The figures in her paintings are usually represented indoors, against a neutral background constructed with diffused and subdued lighting, subtly defining the space and imparting her paintings with an aura of the unreal.

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Above all, Olga Boznańska is a portraitist, an artist of portraits painted in muted colours, sometimes almost monochrome. The figures in her paintings are usually represented indoors, against a neutral background constructed with diffused and subdued lighting, subtly defining the space and imparting her paintings with an aura of the unreal.
While in Munich in 1894, Olga Boznańska painted one of her best pieces — Girl with Chrysanthemums — a true colour bravado restricting itself to subtle tones of silver and grey applied with delicate strokes. The artist created a new kind of child portrait with this painting. By showing a child against a background of a neutral grey and white wall, Boznańska broke with the tradition of representing children in smart costumes and elegant stylish interiors.
Unusually serious for her age, the lonely girl dressed in a modest dress is holding lightly-coloured chrysanthemums with her entwined hands; her pale face and large eyes, extraordinary in their blackness and glowing like with a fever, truly captivate the viewer. The expression of her eyes, looking ahead and filled with a mix of tension, curiosity and confidence, makes the portrayed girl come into a psychological contact with the viewer, just like a hypnotist.
The portrait exudes a pensive, sad, mysterious and vague aura, similar to that created by Maurice Maeterlinck, a poet Boznańska was very fond of. This similarity was observed in 1896 by William Ritter. In the pages of Paris Gazette des Beaux-Arts, he wrote of a portrait of “a girl with strange disquieting eyes, as if two drops of ink spilling out onto the morbidly pale face, a contemporary ideal of Maeterlinck's character. It is an enigmatic child that will drive mad those who scrutinise her for too long (…). The girl is so frightening, so pale and so white that she sends shivers up the spine.

Elaborated by Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Olga Boznańska. Search for independence

The creative position of women in the 19th century was subject to numerous conditions and threats. Conditions primarily originated in the professionalization and institutionalization of artistic life, which—at least for women of this generation—were a hindrance to an artistic career. Difficulties arose from the limited access to institutions, from customary conventions, but also from a life full of personal tragedies and financial dependency. The women of Olga Boznańska’s generation constituted the first distinct group practicing art professionally, unlike their predecessors, who, with few exceptions, were amateurish, often talented and artistically educated.

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The creative position of women in the 19th century was subject to numerous conditions and threats. Conditions primarily originated in the professionalization and institutionalization of artistic life, which—at least for women of this generation—were a hindrance to an artistic career. Difficulties arose from the limited access to institutions, from customary conventions, but also from a life full of personal tragedies and financial dependency. The women of Olga Boznańska’s generation constituted the first distinct group practicing art professionally, unlike their predecessors, who, with few exceptions, were amateurish, often talented and artistically educated [1].
In the mid-nineteenth century, Krakow was the seat of the most important Polish scientific and artistic institutions, of which the Jagiellonian University was the most important. At the same time, private schools operated in Krakow, which women were allowed to study in. These were Higher Courses for Women, founded in 1868 by Dr Adrian Baraniecki. However, the greatest impact on the artistic sensitivity of Boznańska came from teachers of art history, first Marian Sokołowski, and then Konstanty Maria Górski, one of the most prominent figures of Krakow, a poet, critic, and historian of literature and art, who introduced new ideas to the Krakow environment.
Olga Boznańska was a daughter of a Frenchman and a Pole, born in Krakow, and this is where she received her initial artistic education. She lived in a house at 17 Wolska Street (today: 21 Piłsudskiego street), where the former artist's studio is located, which now serves Krakow's painters. Olga and her sister Iza spent their childhood and early youth in this house. Olga Boznańska began painting at private courses; she continued her studies in Munich. Encouraged by world successes, she settled in Paris in 1898: the capital of the then artistic world. Her international portraitist career developed there. In Paris, as a mature woman, she achieved a consciously developed style and a high level of training. An important stage in her career was the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts exhibition, for which, in 1896, two paintings by Olga Boznańska were accepted. Since then, every year she participated in the exhibitions of this association, and, in 1904—as the only woman at that time—she was accepted as its member. Outside of Paris, her paintings were exhibited in Berlin, Dresden, London, Vienna, Munich, Düsseldorf, Venice, Antwerp, Barcelona, Brussels, Pittsburgh and, of course, in Krakow, Warszawa, Lviv, and Poznań, where she exhibited with the “Art” Society of Artists.
Olga Boznańska painted for over half a century. She came to know three important centres of artistic life in Europe: Krakow, Munich and Paris. She exhibited in the most important cultural centres of Europe, and in the United States. In Munich, she circulated within a vibrant circle of young adepts from around the world. In Paris, she met creators from various countries, various nationalities, speaking many languages, and representing various art trends[2]. Her studio was located in the Montparnasse district, among the innovative bohemia. The art of Diego Velazquez, Edouard Manet, and James McNeill Whistler had an essential influence on the artistic attitude of Boznańska. The thematic repertoire of Boznańska painting included still lifes and interior studies, sometimes landscapes; the portrait remained the domain of her art. In her paintings, the artist focused on the model's face, reflecting the state of his psyche, the mood of the moment, and characterological features at the same time. Boznańska, despite the age which she lived in, remained an independent person, and her painting developed its own course and it is difficult to classify it unequivocally.

[1] M. Poprzęcka, Pochwała malartstwa. Studia z historii i teorii sztuki  , Gdańsk 2000, p. 191;
[2] E. Bobrowska, Olga Boznańska and her artistic friendships. Catalog from the exhibition at the National Museum, Krakow 2014, p. 63.

Elaborated by Mirosława Bałazy (Editorial Team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

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

See also:
Painting Girl with Chrysanthemums by Olga Boznańska


 

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Painting “Girl with Chrysanthemums” by Olga Boznańska

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Obraz „Dziewczynka z chryzantemami” Olgi Boznańskiej [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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Obraz „Dziewczynka z chryzantemami” Olgi Boznańskiej odc. A Tells: Piotr Krasny
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