A Model

Every time I pass this painting on the gallery it catches my eye. I wonder who was this black woman who posed for the Polish painter at Académie Julian in Paris. How did she get to France? Did she work as a model at the school for female artists, or was it a one-off event? Two women on both sides of the easel. Anna Bilińska was then a young, ambitious painter who risked everything to study in Paris. This painting brought her much attention, although its heroine remained anonymous to us. She lent her face and naked body to create fantasy about exotic sexuality. Dressed in ornaments that she could not afford – a gold heavy necklace and earrings, a Japanese fan and a muslin scarf, highlighting the deep dark tones of her skin. They all distance us from the truth about herself. Only in her eyes there is something personal – concentration, fatigue, and a splinter of life for which there was no place in an academic study.

Anna Bilińska, Bust of Black Woman, 1884, National Museum in Warsaw

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