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Olga Boznańska

Olga Boznańska achieved a lofty position in the European art world already during her lifetime. She was born and raised in Kraków in a Polish-French family. She studied in Munich and later lived in Paris, from where she visited her native country and sent paintings for exhibitions.

She developed a highly individual formula for painting, placing very high demands on herself, continually developing her hand and eye, treating art seriously and seeing it as the sole purpose of her life. She specialized in portraits, although in the Munich period she also created genre scenes, and in the ensuing years, also views from the window of her studio, interiors and exquisite still lifes.

She painted portraits of adults and children, presenting the aristocracy, the intellectual and artistic elites, but also people from her immediate environment. She didn’t idealize her models. She depicted sensitive and thinking physiognomies, but was also able to emphasize the expression of pride, complacency or thoughtlessness. The careful psychological analysis was accompanied by a masterful rendering of the facial features, posture and hand gestures, which the artist treated as an element at times saying more (or something else) than the facial expression.

The secret of her painting lies in the combination of these distinctive characteristics of the model with a specific understatement of form obtained through the dispersion of shapes in a vibrating haze of small patches. On the surface, this technique resembles the experiments of the Impressionists, but the paintings of Boznańska are distinguished from them by a scattered, dim lighting and a limited range of colours, very rich in nuance, as well as a peculiar rough texture. She achieved it by painting with oil paints on a cardboard base, which gave the effect of a matte surface glowing with colours. Her understanding of the purpose of art was also different from that of the Impressionists. She did not attempt to show a fragment of reality that is changing under the influence of light, but wanted to explore that which is timeless, although existing within physical shapes. She did not strive for an objective account of reality, and instead presented an extremely subjective vision, shaped by her own personality, and the passion in seeking the truth about man and the essence of painting.

Urszula Makowska, PhD
Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences