Negotiating the Gaze: Olga Boznanska as a Portraitist *

By Shallcross, Bozena | Indiana Slavic Studies, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

Negotiating the Gaze: Olga Boznanska as a Portraitist *


Shallcross, Bozena, Indiana Slavic Studies


The Eyes Cast Down

The Polish artist Olga Boznanska's (1865-1940) paintings possess a certain quiet and unassuming quality. Over the years she distilled her gifts into a peculiar talent for chromatic understatement, vaguely delineated objects as if seen by a myopic eye, and subdued psychological commentary. On first glance the shift from her early colorful works to the muted paintings of her professional maturity seem a somewhat perverse striving for a deliberately undemonstrative style. (1) This pictorial development, however, reveals a strategy based not on limiting reduction but on careful substitution. Within this Post-Impressionist's masterful art of portraiture, the renunciation of a more vivid palette for the sake of tones comprising mostly black, white, and gray hues allowed her to create a subtle atmosphere in which she focused on perhaps the most enigmatic and certainly the most controversial aspect of the relationship between a portraitist and a sitter-the intricate exchange of gazes. Fascinated by Velazquez and Goya, Boznanska mingled these old masters' achievements with those of her immediate role models--Whistler, Vuillard, and Bonnard--to develop her own unmistakable style.

After attending art classes in Munich and traveling through Germany, Austria, and Italy, in 1898 Boznanska came to Paris, where she subsequently settled for good. She arrived in the bustling French capital approximately thirty years after the heady period during which the expatriate artist Mary Cassatt began participating in Impressionist exhibitions with other women painters, such as Berthe Morisot and Marie Bracquemond. While art during the 1860s in France was in a state of experimental ferment, the country's conservative gender politics, as in Victorian England, stigmatized women who "dared" to walk unchaperoned down the street or to exchange glances with men in public. Moralistic conventions of this nature, obsessed with notions of propriety and impropriety, inevitably affected the sphere of art. Appropriate subjects for female painters were confined to evocations of motherhood, scenes involving one or more women, or images of domesticity and family life. For a woman artist, who in painting men (particularly of her own generation) looked more closely at them than her profession minimally required, it meant to court the accusation of "impropriety" (Broude 36), of participation in an act of intimacy. Consequently, to avoid the likelihood of public censure, Cassatt and other women artists of the late nineteenth century painted only those men who were their relatives or were deemed "acceptable" acquaintances. Contrary to the widespread assumption that women painters of the early modern era thematized difference sexuelle by painting children and women, I adhere to Griselda Pollock's argument that these gynocentric themes were explored by women because their societies sanctioned no other subjects for female artists. (2) Ironically, theirs was a gesture of involuntary exclusion, of proscribing male presence in their overly "protected"' painterly world in the interests of coercive notions of "respectability."

To what extent did such societally-imposed controlling mechanisms at the turn of the century function in Boznanska's professional and private experience? Certain prohibitive factors rampant during Cassatt's French debut unquestionably operated in Poland during Boznanska's early years: rigid societal mores, intensified by the power of the Polish Catholic church and exacerbated by the rather parochial atmosphere of her native Krakow, then a provincial city on the border of the Austro-Hungarian empire; and, perhaps more prominently in the young Boznanka's case, the academism and conservative attitudes of the Krakow artistic milieu under the often oppressive aegis of the revered master of historical painting, Jan Matejko. Her protective but supportive parents notwithstanding, these factors prompted the serious young painter to seek her fortune in a less restrictive environment, first, in Munich, where she continued the studies she had begun at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, and later, in Paris, where she developed her considerable gifts as a painter and eventually established a career. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Negotiating the Gaze: Olga Boznanska as a Portraitist *
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.