The girl is wearing an ordinary blue and grey dress which covers her neck and her arms above the cuffs. She has a straw hat on her head. Her body is slightly bent and her legs are crossed; her pose is both strikingly natural and nonchalant. With one hand, she is touching a branch, and in the other she is holding a basket with cut flowers. The girl's face is slightly red, which could mean that she is embarrassed by the guest's sudden appearance. Her pose, gaze, and blush evoke feelings of abashment, and even confusion or indecisiveness. They also give the scene an impression of randomness, as if the viewer has surprised the girl picking flowers in the orangery.
The work was painted during the artist's time in Kraków. Despite her young age – she was only 25 at the time – Boznańska had already completed her artistic education which began with Adrian Baraniecki's painting courses in Kraków and finished with a stay in Karl Kricheldorf's and Wilhelm Dürr's private schools in Munich, where she lived at Theresienstrasse.
Photographs of Olga Boznańska – Image Gallery
In 1890, she painted two large oil compositions (235x180 cm). She presented In the Orangery together with another painting titled On Good Friday at the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts. These two works had to have been very important to her because she never painted on such big canvases again. They are undoubtedly a reference to the old academic tradition, according to which such large formats were destined for exceptional paintings and important topics or ones with special significance to the painter. In the Orangery was exhibited again in February 1892 in Warsaw's Zachęta and received an enthusiastic review by Henryk Piątkowski who praised, first and foremost, the painting's pictorial qualities, its harmonious colour scheme, and its light and subtle mood.
Nowadays, Olga Boznańska's œuvre has been contextualized and reinterpreted through the lens of feminist theory. The painter's career, so unusual at the time, provokes researchers into ask questions about its social and artistic conditions and brings out interesting analyses of the artist's biography in light of the customs of the era she lived in. The difficulties which Boznańska had to overcome were shared by many female artists of the time. What helped Boznańska to excel was her access to education in Munich, the opportunity to live abroad, and, finally, the possibility to move to Paris for good.
Boznańska's paintings are sometimes also read in the context of the theme of corporeality. Joanna Sosnowska based her interpretation of the artist's work on the observation of ‘the lack of the body’ in her depictions of figures. Enveloped in loose draperies, painted thickly with bold brush strokes, Boznańska's human silhouettes seem to drown in matter – both the matter of their costumes and in the purely pictorial matter. Sosnowska linked this painting style with the artist's biography. Tragic but unknown events from her childhood were supposed to have made it difficult for Boznańska to accept her body. This was reflected in her works, in which the lack of representation of the body is supposed to be a sign of repressed trauma. Sosnowska manages to find only a few exceptional works by Boznańska in which the model's physicality is clearly exhibited. However, this interpretation does not take the monumental painting In the Orangery into account – a depiction of a young girl which provokes the viewer to delve into the issue of corporealness, which could even be considered to be the painting's main topic.
Serres Chaudes (Greenhouses) – an 1889 poetry book by Maurice Maeterlinck – was linked to Boznańska's art by William Ritter. In 1896, in an article for Gazette des Beaux-Artes, he noticed a connection between her paintings and Maeterlinck's poems:
Madame Olga Boznańska is not only a portraitist with a peculiar psychology, like Carrier: she realized the contemporary ideal of the character from Maeterlinck’s poem, that of a fair, pale girl with curious, disturbing eyes resembling ink drops spilling onto a transparent face.
In his review, the critic noticed Boznańska's interest in the psychology of childhood and adolescence which was reflected in numerous portraits of young girls with flowers. In the same vein, In the Orangery can be seen in the context of Maeterlinck's poetic accounts of the awakening of womanhood. He writes about a female gardener who is compared to an exotic flower that grew in anguish. In Boznańska's work, the greenhouse can be read as a metaphor for a young girl's adolescence (in its physical aspect as well). Her carnality is perfectly emphasised by the painter. The silhouette is clearly accentuated by the dress and the pronounced blush on her face is also very important.
The greenhouse can also be read as a reference to the atmosphere of the family home from which the artist wanted to escape at all costs. Anna Król manages to plausibly juxtapose both of Boznańska's large-format 1890 canvases which she treats as an autobiographical commentary. Both paintings share the same theme and form – seemingly, they are genre scenes depicting lone women in interiors. The first one could be depicting the beginning of Boznańska's artistic journey as she was trying to free herself from the suffocating aura of a bourgeois home. The second one, depicting a nun in a church interior, lost in prayer or contemplation, can represent the cloister of art in which Boznańska locked herself in. In her era, in order to become an artist, she had to carry out the necessary sacrifice.
- Polish artists exhibition catalogue, National Museum in Warsaw, 1991
- Joanna Sosnowska, Poza kanonem. Sztuka polskich artystek 1880-1939, Warsaw 2003
- Anna Król, Boznańska nieznana, Szczecin 2005.
Originally written in Polish by Magdalena Wróblewska, Dec 2009, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Aug 2018