Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Olga Boznanska

Interior of the Artist's Studio in Cracow
oil on cardboard
National Museum, Cracow, Poland

Olga Boznanska (1865-1940) was a Polish painter of the turn of the 20th century. She was a notable female painter in Poland and Europe, and was stylistically associated with the French impressionism. Working primarily on cardboard which gave the surface of her paintings a dry, matte appearance, her mature works are characterised by shimmering, scumbled brushwork, a lightness of touch, and intense emotional psychology, her later paintings often featuring solemn children, the elderly and themes of motherhood. While she painted numerous high quality still lives and landscapes, it is her portraits that are most noteworthy.

She was born in Krakow during foreign partitions of Poland. She was the daughter of a railway engineer. She developed a unique and fully resolved mature style. Despite this she is of course indebted to the work of Whistler and the impressionists, and the grand interiors and expensive frocks depicted mean her paintings are very much of their era. However, the melancholy which pervades her work, coupled with her approach to handling paint - the tiny, precise and nervous rendering of features and how they meet the tumult of brushwork around them, the sketchy and uncompromising state in which she left some of her works - are closer to more modern developments in painting.

She studied art at length at first under the guidance of her mother, and later under artists. Between 1886-1889 she studied at the Munich Academy of Fine arts, developing her skills by copying Old Masters in the Alte Pinakothek and relying on the group of Polish artists living in Munich at the time for support and encouragement. In 1898 she moved to Paris. While her Munich works were characterised by a formal and restrained academic approach, in Paris, under the influence of Whistler, her work matured and her approach became more painterly.

She found success in France, exhibiting widely, gaining commissions from throughout Europe, and winning many honours for her painting. She became a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts in 1904 and also enjoyed membership of the Society of Polish Artists in Paris, the Polish Artistic Society, the Association of Polish Women Artist in Krakow and the International Society of Sculptors, Engravers and Painters in London. She was awarded a gold medal at the international exhibition in Munich in 1905, the French Legion of Honour in 1912, the Grand Prix at the Expo Exhibition in Paris in 1939 and the Order of Polonia Restituta in 1938.
Despite her growing popularity in Europe it was a deep disappointment to her that her reputation in her native Poland never matched the acclaim she received elsewhere. By the 1930's the commercial popularity of her work was in decline, and not being someone who could ask favours of others, she fell into financial difficulties. Things became so bad that by 1934 friends in Poland had organised a committee to raise funds for her by eliciting commissions and donations from the government and wealthy patrons.

A number of personal tragedies during the late 1930's - the death of her father, the breaking off of an engagement to be married, the mental difficulties and suicide of her sister Izabela and then the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1940, left her in a fragile state and leading the life of a recluse in her Paris studio. Her health deteriorated rapidly and she died out of public view and in poverty.