Olga Boznańska — painter of tomorrows


Olga Boznańska (1865 – 1940)

Impressionist painters fractured light, space, and substance into quanta of color. I’ve come across a painter associated stylistically with French Impressionism by commentators, but whose work suggests to me an additional quality of effect. She fractured something else: time, allowing it to cascade almost tangibly into various tomorrows.

Boznańska was Polish and painted mostly portraits. There does seem to be an Impressionist style or sensibility to her artistic technique and temperament. But to me, she was a spooky-unique Impressionist. How many painters — even Postimpressionists, Abstractionists, Expressionists, and Surrealists — were able to mess with, manipulate, distend time? I recommend caution about judging any given form of art as outmoded, as thinking Impressionism became exhausted and superseded. I suspect there are old canvases always alive with magic and strange being. This is true, I think, with any art. Take the music of Beethoven, for instance. At the time of its composition, it already transcended the future. In my opinion, no later music can compete with the permanent avant-garde of the Grosse Fugue.

So, I’m fascinated with Boznańska’s ability to take a present moment and make it equivocal, transpose it into a question about the sitter’s future: “How did things go for this person a decade or decades hence?”

Corot was also a master of the portrait. Those paintings capture an intensity of the sitter’s present. I look on appreciatively at how he situated that presence — the sitter’s personality and soul — in an artistic context of form and color. That’s certainly a noble function of art, but it’s not the brushing onto canvas of pigmented augury. I don’t find myself considering the future of his subjects. Boznańska was somehow able to expand the dimensions of presence into locations of imagined fate. She painted an art of latent circumstance into the expressions, postures, and still gestures of her subjects.

A subsidiary thought: most portraits give us faces projecting a universal humanity; whereas, Boznańska gives us faces suggesting a cultural-spiritual physiognomy, expressions manifesting a Polish quiddity. Remarkable.

1896 Olga Boznanska (Polish Impressionist painter, 1865-1945) Portret dziewczynki 1896

Portrait of a Girl in a Red Dress (1896)

In tomorrows, will she transmute the weight of early trauma and deep observation into poems too shy and profound for the eyes of others?


Japonka (1889)

In tomorrows, will she confront the changing weathers of culture and fortune with an equanimity deriving from her innate eccentric opinion of life?

1912 Olga Boznanska (Polish Impressionist painter, 1865-1945) Gabriela Reval 1912

Portrait of Gabriela Reval (1912)

In tomorrows, will the pain of a hopeless love continue to slowly unhinge her, causing servants and relatives to tread lightly in zones of proximity?


Study of a Young Girl (1887)

In tomorrows, will a celibate village priest take notice of her and then soon recant God for the holiness of her eyes?


Portrait of a Woman in a White Dress (1890)

In tomorrows, will she begin to write a dissertation titled On the Melancholy of Emergent Phenomena and Certain Equations that will be refused by a panel of conventional, uncomprehending professors?

Cyganka 1888

Gypsy Woman (1888)

In tomorrows, will she end up in Berlin as a singer and dancer who will mesmerize members of the nightlife literati to the point of altered thematic concern and semantic gesture, a few of them even casting oaths of adventure toward Byzantium and Abyssinia?


Portrait of Helena and Wladyslaw Chmielarczyk (1906) detail

In tomorrows, will one sister austerely and efficiently manage her large household, while the other gradually succumbs to anti-Semitic propaganda and paranoia?

A link to some biographical information on the artist: Art Inconnu

Posted by Tim Buck

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