Olga Boznańska

The painter of human souls



Olga Boznańska is considered the greatest Polish female painter of the late nineteenth century and certainly one of the greatest female painters in Europe. Although her paintings may seem to belong with the Impressionists, Olga always denied being a part of that movement. She evolved her own style of painting and portraying, considered by many as sorrowful and sad, her works are widely admired even today. Meet Olga Boznańska!


She was born in 1865 in Cracow, then a part of Austro-Hungarian empire, to a rather wealthy family. Her father was a Polish engineer and her mother was a French artist interested in arts.


On the one hand, Olga’s youth was very privileged - her mother cared for her artistic education and the good financial situation in the family enabled the young girl to be taught by the best Cracovian artists. On the other hand, in those times females had very few rights, Olga, whose artistic talent was quickly discovered. couldn't study in the Cracovian Academy of Fine arts, because such education was reserved only for men. If she wanted to gain further artistic education she had to move overseas.


That is why in 1886 she moved to Munich, where she attended the private fine arts schools led by reputable German artists. Munich was the city where Olga blossomed artistically. She visited multiple Munich art galleries, which gave her inspiration to begin her own artistic work. She opened her atelier, where she painted one of her most famous masterpieces.


The Girl with Chrysanthemums or Grandmother's Name Day.


The Portrait of Paweł Nauen, which was awarded with a golden medal at Vienna competition in 1896 brought her more recognition and fame. Then she realised that it was only in Paris, the art capital of the world, that she would be able to entirely develop her creativeness. She moved there and found huge success, having many exhibitions in major European cities, such as London and Amsterdam.

Although she succeeded in her profession, Olga's social life wasn't very fulfilling. She had to break up with Józef Czajkowski, a Polish painter to whom she was engaged, because of her unwillingness to return to Poland. Every time she visited Poland, she wished to go back to her atelier and continue her artistic work. As long as her father was alive she led a carefree life and she had no reason to worry about money and her financial situation. That is why she devoted her whole life to painting and put other issues such as social life aside. She spent a great deal of time in her atelier, where she was accompanied by pets: her dog – Kiki (present in the first picture), canary birds and mice. She was never married.


In 1906 her father died, which exposed her for the first time to financial problems. Shortly after her sister became mentally ill and committed suicide. These tragic events made withdraw deeper and deeper into herself and her own world of painting. She died in 1940 in Paris.


Olga’s style was highly individual. It cannot be confused with impressionism. The artist, once asked by the critics about her relation with impressionism, replied haughtily: "Me and Impressionism?"


All the works of Olga Boznańska have an underlying quality of sadness and were perceived as sad by the critics and viewers. Once asked, why her paintings carry such sadness she said: "What can I do with the fact that they are sad? I cannot be different than I am, if the base is sad, then everything that will grow on it must be sad too"

They are all subtle, moody, enigmatic and all carry emotions. Such characteristic distinguishes her portraits from others and makes them totally different. In the process of creating the painting Olga always gave prominence to the psychological insight of people she portrayed, which is why she was called the painter of human souls. She had uncanny ability to uncover what was hidden behind the mask of physical appearance. She was observant and analytical.


Boznańska was an amazing character. In those times of gender inequality and unequal chances being a woman was very hard, but she was able to overcome the obstacles and live the fulfilling life she wanted for herself.


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