The Western woman in a Chinese “longpao dress” painted by the Armenian-Polish artist Teodor Axentowicz
The National Museum of Warsaw, Poland, houses a pastel portrait of an unknown Western woman wearing a Chinese dragon robe ( “Masters of pastel. From Marteau to Witkacy. Collection of the National Museum in Warsaw”, cat. I.5), executed by the celebrated Armenian-Polish artist Theodore Axentowicz (1859-1938). Dated to the 1920s, the current work channels the European vogue of the time related to the representations of female figures with European physiques, wearing Chinese gowns, Japanese kimonos, and Oriental costumes, as an epitome of exquisite, exotic taste and wealth.
Dragon robes, also known as gunlongpao (simplified Chinese: 袞龙袍; traditional Chinese: 袞龍袍) or “longpao” for short, is a form of everyday clothing that had a Chinese dragon, called “long” (龙), as the main decoration.
Teodor Axentowicz (Armenian: Թեոդոր Աքսենտովիչ) was a Polish-Armenian painter and university professor. A renowned artist of his times, he was also the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. As an artist, Axentowicz was famous for his portraits and subtle scenes of Hutsul life set in the Carpathians.
He was born on 13 May 1859 in Brașov, Hungary (now Romania), to a family of Polish-Armenian ancestry.
Between 1879 and 1882, Axentowicz studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. From there, he moved to Paris. During that time, he started a long-time cooperation with various journals and started his career as a copyist, duplicating the works of Tizian and Botticelli for Le Monde illustré. He traveled to London and Rome, where he prepared a set of portraits, one of the first in his career.
In 1894 he started a collaboration with Wojciech Kossak and Jan Styka during the preparation of the Racławice Panorama, one of the largest panoramic paintings in the history of Polish art. The following year he moved to Kraków, where he became a professor at the local Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1897 Axentowicz founded an artistic conservatory for women. He soon afterward became one of the founders of the Sztuka society, whose members were such artists as Józef Chełmoński, Julian Fałat, Jacek Malczewski, Józef Mehoffer, Jan Stanisławski, Włodzimierz Tetmajer, Leon Wyczółkowski, and Stanisław Wyspiański. In 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair, Axentowicz received a Special Commemorative Award in recognition of distinguished service in connection with various national sections of the Department of Art. In 1910 the artist became the rector of the Academy and, since 1928, was also an honorary member of the Zachęta Society. While in Paris, he received the prestigious title of Officier d’Académie Ordre des Palmes académiques and Member of Académie des Beaux-Arts. He died on 26 August 1938 in Kraków.
Throughout his lifetime, Axentowicz has had numerous exhibitions, both in Poland and abroad. He was awarded gold metals at both national and international exhibitions. The most notable ones were held in Berlin (1896, 1913), St. Louis (1904), Munich (1905, 1935), London (1906), Vienna (1908), Rome (1911), Venice (1914, 1926), Paris (1921), Chicago (1927), and Prague (1927). His paintings can be found in merely all public collections in Poland and numerous private ones there and abroad.