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Anna Walinska

Anna Walinska (1906---1997) [1], American painter, came to know Margaret Lefranc through her parents. Anna’s mother was a sculptress and her father, a labor leader, and both Anna’s and Margaret’s parents lived near each other in New York City.  Both sets of parents were of Russian Jewish heritage.

Born in London, Anna studied dance, followed by painting at the Art Students League in New York. By 1926, she was in Paris, living close by Gertrude Stein’s residence. Paris was then a great synergistic gathering place for avant garde artists working in all manner of expressions from all over the Western World. Anna became friends with composers Poulenc and Schoenberg. Her work was exhibited at Salon des Independents where artists not selected for the Beaux Art Exhibitions struck out with their own shows for modern art, many of whom became quite famous, including Picasso. The style she developed from her decade in Paris she termed, “the calligraphy of line that stayed with me from then on.”

Margaret Lefranc had long discussed opening an art gallery for American artists with her sister Celeste. However, Margaret returned to America from Europe several years before Celeste and so, in 1935 debuted the Guild Art Gallery, at 37 West 57th St. in New York City, with Anna Walinska [2]

The Gallery opened primarily with Lefranc’s funding and Walinska’s greater connections. Anna also worked for the Federal Art Project (FAP), as did many artists at a time of few jobs in America. The FAP not only enabled artists to continue their craft, but also to get paid, and to exhibit.  It was a model program for the arts. 

Anna is known for her portrait of Arshile Gorky that is now in the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian. Gorky was friends and colleagues with both Walinska and Lefranc, who gave him his first exhibition in New York. The Guild Art Gallery closed in 1937 due to disagreements between the two proprietors. 

However the two painters shared the fact that both spent time in Europe, were fluent in French, painted many figural compositions and were from families that could have supported their daughter’s love and study of art, but mostly did not. Both got little and yet made their way as artists in a very difficult time in the world. Their lives occurred during WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII. 

In 1954---55, Walinska adventurously traveled around the world. Her longest stay was with her brother in Burma, where Louis was an advisor to the Burmese Government. She spent time with Burmese artists while there. Later in her life, she wrote that “her life’s work sought to convey the spirit of a search without boundaries.” Anna became a proponent of the Shan handmade paper she encountered there.

Her art was included in exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Academy of Design, the Museum of Modern Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Riverside Museum, where she became an artist in residence.

One of the most enlightened religious spaces in America, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, exhibited her HOLOCAUST-Paintings & Drawings, 1953-1978 in a solo exhibit, perhaps her most significant, in their Museum of Religious Art in 1979. Best known for her extensive body of work on the Holocaust that was later exhibited in both Europe and the United States, it is now disbursed in several collections of Jewish art around the world [3].   


[1] Katz, Lois.  A Lifetime of Imaging:  The Art of Margaret Lefranc.  Miami:  Nouveau Ventures Unlimited, Inc., in association with the Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, 2007

[2] Pappas, Andrea.  “In Search of a Jewish Audience:  New York’s Guild Art Gallery, 1935---1937.”  American Jewish History. Volume 98 #4 (October 2014):  263-288.  Schoonover (Lefranc), Margaret.  “Archives of American Art.”  Smithsonian. 


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