Stanisława de Karłowska (8 May 1876 – 9 December 1952), the Polish-born artist, was the daughter of Aleksander Prawdzic Karłowski and Paulina z Tuchołków. Her father’s family was descended from the Polish nobility (szlachta) and had substantial estates centred on Wszeliwy, near Łowicz, in central Poland. The de Karłowski family had a long history of patriotic activity, her father having fought with Lajos Kossuth and Józef Bem to establish Hungarian independence from Austrian rule in the late 1840s. Following the Third Partition of Poland, in 1795, the area in which the de Karłowskis lived was occupied by the Russians who, with the Prussians and Austrians, had taken control of the country.
Aleksander was to play a part in the Polish rebellion of 1863 against the Russian occupation, known as the January Uprising. This began as a spontaneous protest by young Poles against conscription into the Imperial Russian Army, but they were soon joined by high-ranking Polish-Lithuanian officers, various politicians and many landowners. The insurrectionists, severely outnumbered and lacking serious outside support, were forced to resort to guerrilla warfare tactics. The uprising was put down, and according to official Russian figures, 396 persons were executed and 18,672 were exiled to Siberia. Large numbers of men and women were sent to the interior of Russia and to the Caucasus, Urals and other regions. Altogether about 70,000 persons were imprisoned and exiled in remote regions of Russia. The Russians confiscated 1,660 estates in Poland and 1,794 in Lithuania and enacted punitive laws that put landowners under great pressure. A 10% income tax was also imposed on all estates as a war indemnity.
This was unveiled at a ceremony in 2013 to commemorate his part in the January Uprising of 1863.
One of Stanisława’s maternal ancestors, Franciszek Tuchołka, had taken part at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 with the famous Winged Hussars. His coat of arms is amongst those hanging on the walls of the church of St Joseph on Kahlenberg, just north of the city.
In his biography of his father, Robert Alexander Bevan, Stanisława’s son, wrote of the family:
“They had substantial estates, but they were not absentee landlords; they farmed the land themselves. They bred horses and cattle for themselves and for sale; they had their own water-mills, their own small forests and sawmills. They ate their own meat, poultry, and game, and fish from their own fish-ponds. Their sugar was made from their own sugar-beet. Bread was baked from their own wheat and rye. There was not very much flow of cash, but it was a life full of varied character: always something to see and do and talk about.”
Stanisława, always known as ‘Stasia’, wanted to become an artist and studied fine art at Ludwik Wiesiołowski’s Painting School for Women in Warsaw. In 1890 she took part in an exhibition there of the current students at the Aleksander Krywult Salon. Stasia was one of many artists who left Poland in the late nineteenth century to experience artistic life in one of Europe’s capital cities. She chose Paris where a community of Polish modernists had begun to congregate in the 1830s, their aim being to ‘define and defend the national identity through works that inspired solidarity’. A number of these artists attended the prestigious Académie Julian where she enrolled in 1896. It was here that she became close friends with a fellow Polish student, Janina Flamm.
It was at the Académie Julian that one of her colleagues made this drawing of her:
In the following July Stasia travelled to Jersey to be bridesmaid at her marriage to the artist Eric Forbes Robertson (1865-1935). Robertson had spent some years in Pont-Aven where he had met Gauguin, as well as another artist, Robert Polhill Bevan (1865-1925). Bevan had been working alone in Exmoor for three years when he received the invitation to his friend’s wedding. Bevan, then thirty-two, was instantly attracted to the twenty-one year old de Karłowska. When she returned to Poland in July they began to send lengthy and passionate letters to each other in French, the only language which they could both understand. The letters are now housed in the Tate archive.
Robert Polhill Bevan; Stanisława de Karłowska and Eric Forbes Robertson
In the first letter on 25th July, Bevan said that ‘la nuit après ton départ, j’ai pleuré, pleuré à chaudes larmes’ (the night after you left, I wept, wept hot tears), and invites her to call him ‘Bob’, calling her ‘Ma très, très chère Stasia’ (My very, very dear Stasia). On receiving a letter from Bevan in which he proposed to visit her in Poland that October, Karłowska wrote in phonetic French, ‘Je n’ai peu pas même t’ai dire quel joie tu me fais de venir si tôt’ (I cannot express how much joy you give to me by coming here so soon) and that ‘J’ai compte déjà les jours qui nous separt’ (I have already started counting the days we are apart). Further expressing her love, she wrote, ‘Tu sais quand je pense que bientôt nous serons ensemble, je suis tellement heureuse que je n’ai peu pas t’exprimer le sentiment que j’en ai’ (You know when I think that we will soon be together, I am so happy that I cannot express to you the feeling I have about it).
In October, only three months after their first meeting, Bevan set off for Stanisława’s family home, in Poland. He ignored all her instructions on how to enter Russian-occupied Poland and made his way by train and horse across Europe without even knowing the location of her house. All he had was her name and that of the village in which she lived. An account of the episode is given by her friend Marjorie Lilly, in her biography of the painter Walter Sickert:
“She told me that she was combing her hair when she heard the clatter of hoofs in the courtyard and looked through the window to see the rider and dropped the comb in surprise, saying ‘Why that’s my Englishman’. This pursuit must have been most flattering; Bevan had travelled many versts across Poland to find her, but her father was not so impressed, he wanted to know more about this young Lochinvar before he gave his consent to the marriage.”
Shortly after, on 9th December 1897, the couple married at the Holy Cross Church, in central Warsaw, spending their honeymoon in Vienna before travelling back to England. For a few months they lived with Bevan’s parents at Horsgate, their estate near Cuckfield in Sussex, where their first child, Edith Halina (known as ‘Halszka’), was born on 28th December 1898. Following a brief period at 3 Buxton Road, in Brighton, where Bevan is thought to have produced the lithograph of Stasia, The Artist’s Wife, 1898, they came to London. In 1900 they moved to 14 Adamson Road in Swiss Cottage, north London where they lived for the next twenty five years.
Here is a photograph of Stasia that was taken at the same time as the lithograph was made.
See the gallery below for some examples of her work. For an account of Stanisława’s later life and examples of her later work see Part 2
The best work on the subject is Frances Stenlake’s. Robert Bevan from Gauguin to Camden Town. Unicorn Press. 2008. I have also used information from the Tate Camden Town Group web pages.
Bevan, R.A. Robert Bevan 1865-1925. A memoir by his son. Studio Vista, London. 1965.
Cavanaugh, Jan. Out Looking In: Early Modern Polish Art 1890-1918. London. 2000
Chamot, Mary, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. Oldbourne Press, London. 1964.
Foster, Alicia. Tate Women Artists. Tate Publishing, London. 2004.
Lilly, Marjorie. Sickert. The Painter and his Circle. Elek, London. 1971
Moren-Bialostocka ed., Slownik Artystow Polskich I Obcych w Polsce Dzialajacych-Malarze, Rzezbiarze, Graficy (Dictionary of Polish and Foreign Artists based in Poland-Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers); Volume III (letters H-Ki). Wroclaw. 1979, p.363
The New Age, Vol 6, No. 19, p. 452.
Sokol, Stanley S. The Artists of Poland: A Biographical Dictionary from the 14th Century to the Present Day. Jefferson, North Carolina and London. 2000
Tate Britain. The Camden Town Group in Context Stanisława de Karłowska
Tate. Typescript Notes. nd.
Yeates, John. NW1. The Camden Town Artists. A social history. Somerset, Heale Gallery. 2007.
The nearby villages of Paulinka and Aleksandrów were named after Aleksander and Paulina Karłowski.