An American Artist in Paris
From the time she attended the Art Students League at the age of 12, Anna Walinska (1906-1997) dreamed of going to Paris to study art. But her father, a self-made Russian immigrant labor leader, wanted his daughter to attend college and refused financial support. Undeterred, Walinska boldly approached the owner of the leather goods company where her father worked.
She told him she needed $2,000 to cover expenses for a year, and proposed an arrangement – if he would provide the funds, she would paint him a copy of a masterpiece. He wrote a check on the spot.
Sailing off to live the life of an American artist in Paris at the age of 19, Walinska later said, “the time of Matisse, Picasso, and Schoenberg’s music, the time of Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, is indicative of a certain kind of daring and adventurousness that I’ve always had.”
It was 1926. Walinska lived on the Left Bank around the corner from Gertrude Stein, studied with Andre L’Hôte and at the Grande Chaumiere.
She spent many hours at the Musée Luxembourg perched on a ladder, copying Paul Baudry’s La Fortune et le Jeune Enfant for her benefactor.
Many months later, when she came home to New York with the painting, her father was sufficiently impressed, promptly reimbursed his boss, and kept the painting for himself.
Walinska boarded the Ile de France and returned to Paris for the remainder of the decade, exhibiting original work at the Salon des Independents and developing what she termed “the calligraphy of line that stayed with me from then on.”
Walinska sketched daily at the Academie Colarossi, shopped at the Galleries Lafayette for material to include in her still lifes, attended the Theatre de Dix Heures, and delighted in the food and scenes at Café Select, Le Dome, and La Coupole. She screen tested for the Gaumont film Joan of Arc, and met Maurice Chevalier and Josephine Baker on set.
Matisse and Picasso were her greatest influences. Writer Karl Kraus, who was teaching at the Sorbonne, brought her to see private collections of Old Master drawings.
But she formed her closest friendships with musicians – Schoenberg, Poulenc, Jascha Heifetz, composer Edgard Varese, pianist Josefa Rosanska and her husband Rudolf Kolisch. She found her first romance with Schoenberg’s student Max Deutsch, with whom she frequently walked to the Longchamps racetrack in the Bois de Bologne and later said, “I have loved horses since then.”
In 1935, now a curator for the Federal Arts Project and determined to bring the French sensibility to the New York art world, Walinska opened the Guild Art Gallery and gave Arshile Gorky his first NYC one-man show. She had become fluent in French during her years in Paris, a skill, which enabled her to seek out Fernand Leger at a nearby hotel and convince him to view Gorky’s work.
By the time of her death in 1997, Walinska had created more than 2000 works on canvas and paper. She is included in many prestigious collections, among them the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of American Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Rose Art Museum, the Jewish Museum, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Yad Vashem.
As with her first trip to Paris, her work, she wrote, “sought to convey the spirit of a search without boundaries.” Works from the Paris years are currently on display at Chloe Fine Arts in San Francisco.