A Negress or Murzynka, its original title in Polish, is a realistic portrait study by the Polish artist Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz.
The painting is considered as a mature work of Anna Bilińska-Bohdanowicz, she was 27 years old when realised this painting. It belongs to the category of realistic portrait studies of various ethnic types, which was fashionable at end of the 19th century.
It is an oil on canvas portrait of a black woman shown from waist up and half-naked since the robe she is wearing lets a breast exposed. she wears a golden necklace, and a red scarf in a light background, painted in 1884.
According to Renata Higersberger, the model embodies the exotic beauty, strength, and femininity. The painting can be considered as an insightful psychological portrait in depicting an alienated person with a magical and mysterious look. Her unmoved lips, expressing at the same time fear and anxiety.
It is believed that Bilińska may refer here to Marie-Guillemine Benoist painting Portrait de Madeleine, which was painted 80 years earlier and that became a symbol of women’s emancipation and fight for human rights, topics that were very popular in the 19th century France. Bilińska painted it while she was in Paris as a student of the prestigious Académie Julian. As in other Bilińska’s paintings of the same period, she presents the model as seen from below and up close, what could result from a limited space in a small studio.
Bilińska’s works, portraits, genre scenes, landscapes, are considered as part of the European realistic trend.
- The canvas is signed in the upper right corner with the painter family’s name and the year of creation.
- The painting belonged to the collector Dominik Witke-Jeżewski, who deposited the canvas at the National Museum in Warsaw in 1933, six years later the painting was purchased by the Museum.
- During the Second World War the painting was stolen in unknown circumstances, and since 1945 was sought by the Polish. In 2011, the painting appeared at an auction in Germany, and was recovered thanks to the effort of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage with the support of the Kronenberg Foundation of Citi Handlowy Bank. Since 2012, the work is displayed at the National Museum in Warsaw.
If you want more information on the work of Marie-Guillemine Benoist or other depictions of female slaves in art, check this older post.