Anna Bilińska „Portrait of George Gray Barnard”

Portrait of George Gray Barnard shown in the exhibition entitled The Artist. Anna Bilińska 1854-1893 at National Museum in Warsaw was immediately received with great acclaim. The representation of the young sculptor drew visitors’ attention equally due to its size and the beauty of the sitting subject. This is by no means surprising; even 130 years ago it awoke similar emotions.

Anna Bilińska, Portrait of Sculptor George Grey Barnard in His Atelier | 1890, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg

275 hours, five thousand francs

Anna Bilińska painted her greatest painting (at least in terms of the size) in Paris between April 1889 and September 1890. It represents a young American sculptor George Grey Barnard. The meticulous artist duly noted in her notebook that she devoted 275 hours to work on the painting. To put things in perspective – the same notebook reveals that most of the oil portraits she produced took only several dozens of hours, pastel portraits just a few hours. What we also learn from the same source is how much she was paid for the portrait: five thousand francs. It is the second highest amount listed in the column “jobs sold”. The only more expensive painting she created (the difference is exactly one thousand francs) is Portrait of a Young Pianist, Józef Hofmann.

Anna Bilińska, Portrait of Sculptor George Grey Barnard in His Atelier, detail | 1890, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg

The two most expensive paintings have a common denominator – the commissioner, Alfred Corning Clark (1844-1896), who was an American philanthropist and patron of the arts. His father won a fortune as a business partner of Isaac Singer, the manufacturer of the famous sewing machines. He invested the money he had made wisely and owing to that his son could generously support artists. Barnard and Hoffmann were both Clark’s protégées, therefore he commissioned Bilińska, who was at that time a widely recognised and acclaimed artist, to paint their portraits.