About Anna Walinska
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 in Paris at the age of 19, Walinska later said, “in 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’Hote and at the Grand Chaumiere, and spent many hours at the Musee 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 work for himself. Walinska 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.”
In 1935, now an exhibit curator for the Federal Arts Project and determined to bring a French sensibility to the New York art world, Walinska opened the Guild Art Gallery on 57th Street. Arshile Gorky had his first New York one-man show at the Guild, where Walinska also exhibited the work of Raphael Soyer, Boris Aronson, Theodore Roszak, and Chaim Gross, among others.
Walinska journeyed solo around the world in 1955. Her stops included a four-month sojourn in Burma, where she found the hand-made Shan paper that became central to her collages. In the 1960’s, she visited Israel and began her study of the Kabbala. Her travel diaries are in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
She painted portraits of Prime Minister of Burma U Nu, Eleanor Roosevelt, artist friends Gorky, Mark Rothko, Louise Nevelson, Milton Avery and others. In her later years, she created a large body of work on the theme of the Holocaust, and a series of erotic drawings inspired by 17th century Japanese Shunga prints. Her work is included in numerous collections, including 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.
By the time of her death in 1997, Walinska had produced more than 2000 works on canvas and paper, created with oil, watercolor, charcoal, pastel, casein, ink, assemblage, and any combination of materials that intrigued her. Her work, Walinska wrote, “sought to convey the spirit of a search without boundaries.”