Olga Boznańska’s paintings

The following descriptions have been contributed by Róża Książek-Czerwińska, an art historian from the Jagiellonian University's Museum. The tactile graphics have been prepared by Lech Kolasiński, a painting artist. Thanks to the graphic adaptations, blind and partially sighted persons can become familiar with the exhibits through touch.

Olga Boznańska, A Portrait of Xawery Pusłowski wearing the uniform of an officer of Polish light cavalry;

Technique: oil on cardboard; dimensions: 62 cm height, 46.5 length;
Time and place of origin: Krakow, circa 1928

   The model is sitting in an armchair placed at a slight angle in relation to the main axis of the painting and consequently his entire figure, with the exception of the head turned towards the viewer, is shown at three quarters. His legs are crossed, the elbows on the armrests and the hands locked in his lap. He constitutes the central point of the composition. The interior of the atelier where he is posing is hardly shown, the only visible elements being the armchair in which the model is sitting and an outline of some paintings, hanging and propped against the wall. The rest of the room is lost in an abstract melange of blots in various shades of grey, blue, green and yellow.
   Being an officer, Xawery Pusłowski is sitting with his back straight, striking a noble pose and looking at the person in front of him – over ninety years ago it was Olga Boznańska painting his portrait and today any beholder of the image. Behind Pusłowski's back, against a backdrop of a dark wall the gilded frames of paintings shimmer delicately in the dark. His head is shapely and small and because there is no hair above his forehead, it seems even higher. His face is that of a sensitive, thinking intellectual. His glasses in wire frames look as if woven out of mist. It is only by the flashes of the light reflected in them that one can make out the round glasses hiding his melancholy look. Under a small dark moustache, his mouth is clearly outlined, though in terms of colour, it is blurred with the light, even shiny complexion of the face, as if sculpted by delicate brush strokes. Its right half, with a clearly marked and slightly protruding ear, is strongly lit while the left ear and a section of the left cheek are in the dark, almost becoming one with the portrait’s dark background.
   Captain of the horse Xawery Pusłowski is wearing an inter-war officer’s uniform of Polish light cavalry (Uhlans): a grey-green double-breasted cavalryman’s jacket with shiny buttons and  a stand-up collar with a red trim. The buttons, two in the upper section and eight below, are shining against the dark fabric; from under the left shoulder-strap of the jacket a silver rank cord is hanging, flowing to the hands of the model locked in his lap; the symbols of his rank visible on the shoulder-straps are hardly legible. The edges of the white shirt cuffs are yet another light element of the painting. The model's hands emerge from them, slightly darker than the complexion of his face. On the ring finger of his left hand, there is a signet-ring with a dark stone in a gold setting. Xawery's dark-blue trousers are finished off with a red stripe.
   In this highly extraordinary portrait of a soldier-intellectual, the artist has been highly successful in conveying the model’s double nature who while wanting to serve the motherland as a military man, still remains an intellectual, dreamer and poet, despite his sincere will to adjust to that new role.

A Portrait of Xawery Pusłowski wearing the uniform of an officer of Polish light cavalry;A Portrait of Xawery Pusłowski wearing the uniform of an officer of Polish light cavalry;
Olga Boznańska, A Portrait of Zygmunt Pusłowski;
Technique: oil on cardboard; dimensions: 112 cm in height, 88 in length;
Time and place of the origin: Krakow, 1913

   The painting is a portrait of Zygmunt Pusłowski (1848–1913), a Krakow-based champion of artists, bibliophile and art collector, whose collections in the 1880s were among the richest in Poland.
   Pusłowski, clearly looking prematurely aged (he was 65 then), is sitting with his back straight and the face turned towards the viewer. His legs are crossed, the right hand on the knee, the left one propped against the armrest of the armchair, and his back hardly touching that of the armchair; as a result, the model’s pose suggests elegance, self-discipline and respect for the person standing in front of him, Olga Boznańska in this case, and in the future the beholder of his portrait. The figure of Pusłowski is the central and actually the only element of the composition. The interior when he is posing for the painter hardly exists here. Only an outline of the back of the armchair is visible where the artist has put him, with the rest lost in a melange of various shades of grey, green and blue, through which the yellowish colour of the old cardboard seeps through in places.
   Sitting with his back straight, Pusłowski is looking at the painter attentively, and at each of us, through his thick glasses. His face is virtually an emblematic face of a sage: as the high forehead is merging with the baldness of his head, it appears even higher. The grey hair on the temples is slightly ruffled. The model’s extensive baldness is compensated for by abundant grey facial hair: a moustache which slightly covers the mouth and almost square tousled beard partly obliterating the cut of his black overcoat. The face is yellowishly pale, the mouth bloodless and the tip of the bony and long nose slightly pinkish and shining, maybe a sign of his illness.  His tired green-blue eyes of swollen and the reddened eyelids looking from behind thick and slightly tinted glasses are the  focal point of the image. The look of his eyes, full of contemplation and melancholy, although clearly ironic, is very warm, which combined with the slightly pinkish cheeks conveys the impression that the old man is smiling. This may have been caused by the artist’s habit of entertaining her models with a conversation.
   Zygmunt Pusłowski is wearing visiting attire: a black overcoat, a dark, most probably also black vest and dark-ashen trousers. A light aspect of the uniform against the black of the overcoat is a small fragment of a white shirt visible in the vest cut, below the grey beard, buttoned up with a small golden jeweller’s button. A gold chainlet is shining at the height of the model’s watch strap. From the white cuffs of the shirt featuring a delicate glitter of the gold cuff-links, the hands emerge, pinkish and slightly disfigured by arthritis, yet somehow beautiful and full of expression. On the ring finger of the left hand sits a large ring with a noble stone, probably a signet ring.
   Pusłowski’s face and hands, just like the fragment of the white shirt and the cuffs of the sleeves, are radiant with light, and so the black colour of the overcoat seems darker. The entire presentation is surrounded by greenish and light-blue greys. The figure of Pusłowski sitting in the armchair is a natural part of the environment, making an organic whole with it. Although the face and hands were treated more realistically, the entirety of the painting is brilliant thanks to the afternoon light cast from the right side and so their contours are partly blurred and they connect smoothly with the other elements. By means of the play of light and shadow, Boznańska releases the world from its closed form, giving it oneiric and timeless nature. The painting has been made with delicate brush strokes. Just like the entire body of the artist’s work, it radiates with unusual freshness and lightness. The impression is that it was painted very fast. Yet Boznańska was known for her slow working pace, a fact mentioned jokingly by Zofia Stryjeńska in her diaries years later:  (...) She was a slow painter, portraits took her years to make. The model grew older, went bald, got married, became thinner and had to sit for her whether (s)he liked it or not, unless (s)he died.
[Z. Stryjeńska, Chleb prawie powszedni, Warsaw 1995]

A Portrait of Zygmunt Pusłowski

A Portrait of Zygmunt Pusłowski