Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938)

After finishing high school in Lwow Axentowicz spent four years (1878-1882) studying art at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts under Gabriel Hackel, Alexander Wagner and Guyl Benczur. His advanced training was acquired in the studio of Carolus-Duran during a residence in Paris (1892-1895). While in that city he worked as an illustrator for Le monde illustre and further augmented his income with a series of avidly sought copies of works by such masters as Botticelli, Titian, Velazquez, and Correggio. He also traveled frequently to London to fulfill portrait commissions. In 1890 alone, for example he painted twelve portraits.

In London, Axentowicz took an interest in eighteenth-century English painters (George Romney and Thomas Gainsborough, among others), contemporary American artists such as John Singer Sargent and James A. Whistler, and the Pre-Raphaelites. In Parisian artistic and intellectual circles , Polish as well as French, he was highly acclaimed as a portrait painter. His subjects included the actress Sarah Bernhardt, Henrietta Fouquier (renowned as one of the great beauties of her time), Wladyslaw Czartoryski, and Wladyslaw Oslawski. The Oslawski portrait earned him membership in the Societe nationale des beaux arts in 1890. Axentowicz advanced the art of portraiture primarily through his pastel technique, as is most evident in his delicate portraits of women , with their symbolist and Secessionist elements.

His cosmopolitan notwithstanding Axentowicz took a keen interest in the folk life of the eastern Malopolska region. The spectacle of secular and religious holidays there inspired in him desire to transfer the decorativeness of folk art – of costume and iconography, for example – t o "professional" easel painting. Compositions in this vein include The Blessing of Waters, East Dinner, Procession, Kolomyjka, and Oberek, the latter two inspired by popular dances, Axetnowicz`s legacy includes, in addition to the oils and pastels, watercolors and lithographs.

In 1895, Axentowicz moved to Krakow, where until 1934 he was professor in the School of Fine Arts (after the 1900 the Academy of Fine Arts), which had been reorganized by the artist Julian Falat. He was twice elected rector of the institution. In 1898 he founded a school of painting for women. Axentowicz was also one of the "Sztuka" Society of Polish Artists and took part in virtually all its domestic and foreign exhibitions. A member of the Vienna Secession, he contributed to its journal Ver Sacrum. In 1904 he spent a few months in Saint Louis, Missouri and one of the organizers of the Polish section of the International Exposition. He participated also in exhibitions in Dresden, Vienna, (The IX International), Munich (1905) and Rome (1911). He served as director of the Polish section of the International Exposition in Venice in 1914 and had several one-man shows in Poland ( Krakow, 1923 and 1927; Lodz and Warszawa, 1938). A posthumous retrospective was held at the Society of Fine Arts in Krakow in 1938 and the Fallowing year in Lwow. His paintings can be found in almost all public collections in Poland and in numerous private ones there and abroad.

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