A Polish Mistress of the Brush: Olga Boznańska
- A webinar with Ewa Bobrowska, Ph.D.
Olga Boznańska (1865-1940) was one of the most renowned Polish female artists, famous as a portrait painter for more than half a century. She came to know three important European artistic hubs: Krakow, Munich, and Paris, each representing its own particular artistic scale. Her works were exhibited in the most important cultural centers of the Old Continent, in the United States, and even in Japan. In Munich, she was part of a vibrant circle of young art students from all over the world. In Paris, she settled in the left‑bank Montparnasse, an area favored by innovative bohemians, whose international members followed various artistic trends. Her studio was the scene of many multilingual meetings. Her subjects included numerous Americans who sought to be portrayed by her and came from various social classes, primarily intellectuals, writers, painters, and musicians. She was an artist of the elite in the best sense of the word.
Even though her art has sometimes been dismissed by journalists and superficial art critics as "sad colors" or "grey paintings," and her story as "fame and mice," a misanthrope who, being disappointed in love, locked herself within the four walls of her studio with her menagerie consisting of a dog, a canary and a flock of gray mice, a careful analysis of her artistic strategies and choices indicates that they were not accidental. She knew perfectly well where she was going and which paths would be helpful to achieve her objectives, and which should be rejected. The painter appears as a thoroughly modern, emancipated woman, who clearly claims her place, not only on the local Parisian artistic scene but also internationally.
Ewa Bobrowska (Ph.D. University of Paris–Panthéon–Sorbonne), the art historian and psychologist, is a specialist of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, with particular emphasis on Polish artists abroad, especially in France, and Polish art in an international context. Currently Associate Program Officer of Research at the Terra Foundation for American Art in Paris, she was previously chief curator of the art collection of the Bibliothèque Polonaise in Paris. Her doctoral dissertation, Les artistes polonais en France 1890–1918 : Communautés et individualités, defended in Paris, was published in Polish in 2004. She has curated numerous shows in France and in Poland. Her particular interest in women artists led her to curate two exhibitions of Olga Boznanska's paintings: one in Paris in 1990 and, almost 25 years later, an important retrospective at the National Museums in Krakow and Warsaw (2014/2015). She also has devoted several texts to the artist.
Her research has focused on other women painters, such as Mela Muter ("Portret 'szalonych lat': Mela Muter na międzynarodowej scenie artystycznej Paryża," in Mela Muter: Malarstwo: Peinture, Toruń 2010) and the careers of women artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries ("Emancypantki? Artystki polskie na scenie artystycznej Paryża w XX wieku," in Archiwum Emigracji, 2012; "Les Polonaises s'organisent : les premières expositions de femmes artistes polonaises au tournant du XXe siècle," Artl@s Bulletin, vol. 8, n°1, 2019). She served in 2011 as co-curator of the exhibition Polonia: Les Polonais en France de 1830 à nos jours at the Cité national de l'histoire de l'immigration, Paris, and has published extensively on the milieu of Polish artists in Paris ("La présence des artistes polonais en France – état des lieux de la recherche," in Ligeia, 2009; "Polish Artists in Paris, 1890–1914: Between International Modernity and National Identity," in Foreign Artists and Communities in Modern Paris, 1870-1914, Ashgate 2015; "The Paris Fever: Polish Artists and the Legend of Ville Lumière," in Between Montmartre and Montparnasse : The works of Polish artists active in Paris in 1900-1939, Museum of Silesia, Katowice, 2017; "French Relations of the Brothers Hirszenberg: An Attempt to Organize the Data," in Hirszenberg Brothers: In Search of the Promised Land, Łódź – Warsaw, 2017; Simon Mondzain, Warsaw, 2012, among others). She is a member of the editorial staff of Archiwum Emigracji (The Archives of Polish and East European Emigration), a revue published by the University Nicolaus Copernicus in Torun).