Anna Bilińska was the first Polish female artist to gain international recognition. Her first solo retrospective at the National Museum in Warsaw takes place just now, in 2021, but it’s better late than never. Bilińska used oil paints, pastels and watercolours to create portraits, still lifes, genre scenes and landscapes in the style of European realism. The artist brilliantly mastered the basics of the painting technique, evidenced by her academic studies of models, which strike the viewer with their synthetic approach to the form and with their casual technique of painting. Of course, the artist also simultaneously continued the clear contour style, exemplified by her Male Nude Study (1885), Study for a Male Nude (ca. 1884-85) and Boy Nude (ca. 1884-85). Sketches for the historical and biblical compositions which Bilińska created in her youth have similar qualities but also display a bold expression of colour juxtaposition, as exemplified by Joseph Interprets Dreams (1883) and Inquisition (1884). Bilińska’s mature works consist predominantly of portraits and portrait studies of various ethnic types which were fashionable at that time. These pieces merge the refined simplicity of realism with an academic discipline of the painting technique, such as Head of a Serb (ca. 1884) or Old Man with a Book (ca. 1890s).Bilińska’s self-awareness and thoughts on the artist’s position in the world, which manifested itself in, among others, the representation of her own image in self-portraits, make her works so powerful. And still, the artist’s entire oeuvre and life story have yet to be thoroughly analysed and rediscovered…
The exhibition is on view until 10th of October 2021.
The National Museum in Warsaw is worth a visit in general! Here are some of my favourite artworks, especially from the 19th and 20th century galleries, from Józef Mehoffer’s enchanting Stange Garden to Jacek Malczewski’s prophetic visions.
Photos by Edward Kanarecki.