Olga Boznańska

The greatest Polish painter of the Young Poland movement, active in Munich and Paris. Her most famous 1894 portrait of an unknown child Girl with Chrysanthemums fascinated her contemporaries by its symbolist atmosphere and psychological insight.

Boznańska was one of the best-known portrait painters living in Paris, the art capital of the world, at the turn of the twentieth century. Her atelier in the Montparnasse district was regularly visited by Paris’s intellectual elite, artists and art connoisseurs. She liked to portray her guests: painters, musicians like Artur Rubinstein and Frida Ellen Eissler, philosophers like Wincenty Lutosławski, or even her neighbours. What she valued the most in her models was their authenticity and naturalness. Her portraits express a full range of her creative and analytical skills. Boznańska had a keen sense of observation. “She could see in people what was hidden behind the mask of appearances. As Max Girl with Chrysanthemums, 1894 Goth wrote in his article in 1913, “she does not paint eyes but expressions; not lips but a smile, a sob, a grimace or unstudied sincerity,” Renata Higerberger from the National Museum in Warsaw, tells Poland.pl.

Olga Boznańska (1865-1940), who was born in Krakow and lived in Paris, is considered one of the greatest European female artists. She showed her paintings at prestigious exhibitions, salons, and renowned art galleries. A member of many art societies and groups, in 1912 she chaired the elite Society of Polish Artists "Sztuka". In 1904 she joined the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris. She was a citizen of Europe, living in Poland, Munich and Paris. 

Boznańska is regarded as a pioneer of gender equality in art, being the first generation of Polish female artists to practice art as a profession. She received a thorough education; she took private lessons with Kazimierz Pochwalski and Józef Siedlecki, and continued her studies at Adrian Baraniecki School for Women where she was taught by Hipolit Lipiński and Antoni Piotrowski, explains Renata Higersberger. Boznańska’s decision to become a professional artist was very mature and had nothing to do with dabbling in art as recreation, so popular with young society ladies at the time. “Boznańska always had her own artistic atelier. She liked to stress that she won artistic acclaim without any “favouritism” and that she owed her strong position in Paris’s cultural life to her work. She did not let the fact that she was a woman preclude her from pursuing her life’s only goal – artistic expression,” Renata Higersberger said.

Boznańska's artistic work evolved during her long life from academic paintings to expressive portraits showing the influence of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.