Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Anna Times Two

Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz "Self-Portrait with Apron and Brushes" 1887
National Museum, Krakow
You can sometimes find figurative painter Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz (1857–1893) claimed as Ukranian, sometimes as Polish, and even occasionally as Russian. The reason for this vagueness is probably that Bilińska-Bohdanowicz was born in the Ukraine to a Polish father (I could not discover the nationality of her mother) spent some of her youth in Russia, and then studied art and lived as a young adult in Poland. She also spent a few years in France, where she studied at the Académie Julian. While in Paris she met her future husband, a Polish medical doctor. The couple married in 1892 and then moved to Warsaw. Unfortunately, the artist died a year later, reportedly of a heart attack. 

In comparison with Marie Bashkirtseff (1858-1884) whose almost exact contemporary she was, Bilińska-Bohdanowicz appeared to be a somewhat slower-maturing artist. Although she died in her thirties rather than her twenties as Bashkirtseff did, she left us with much less information about herself and a smaller body of mature work. These two evocative self-portraits, the last one left unfinished by her death, are the pieces she left behind that most clearly hint at her individual genius, and the skill and power she was accruing. 

Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz "Self-Portrait" 1892
National Museum, Warsaw


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. What other subject matter did she paint? SB from a Dell

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Bilińska-Bohdanowicz was mainly a figurative painter (if you click the link in the post "smaller body of work" you'll be directed to her collection in the National Gallery of Warsaw.) However, her other well-known piece is a breathtaking cityscape painted while on a trip to Berlin in 1890, "Unter den Linden."

Anonymous said...

Yes - beautiful work. I had a chance to see "Self-Portrait with Apron and Brushes" in person awhile back; it still makes for a fresh and intense encounter with the artist. Not surprisingly, in the context of the National Museum, Krakow, she is presented as Polish. Perhaps, however, she did not embrace a singular ethnic identity. She lived during a century when such identities could be construed more fluidly, there being no autonomous Poland or Ukraine, etc. For all the difficulties of life under the Tsar, the Emperor and the Kaiser, nationalist developments subsequent to the fall of their empires have underlined the preciousness of such ambiguity.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Hi J-M, thanks for commenting! The fact being that she married a Polish man, and further, added his name (Bohdanowicz) to hers, then moved with him to live in Poland (where she died) lead me to suspect she self-identified as Polish, even if her "official" nationality was indeed somewhat ambiguous.

It's all water under the bridge now, but an interesting example of how an artist (once a certain level of fame has been achieved) will often be claimed by so many differing factions! ;-)

Alia El-Bermani said...

As a student, I first saw her painting "Self Portrait with Apron and Brushes" in a great book titled "Seeing Ourselves". It is filled with women's self portraits. I remember being drawn to this one for her strength and unforgiving yet gentle stare. Also, seeing another woman artist at work became a source for inspiration.

Sonja said...

The palette reminds me of early photographs. Wondering whether this was intentional --

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Interesting point. Her palette IS very limited. And she might have worked from photographs.... the first photograph was taken in 1826 and artists immediately grabbed onto this new medium with both hands. Degas, Lautrec, van Gogh...pretty much anyone who could, did.