In this thesis I consider the unique position that Polish artist Zofia Stryjeńska (1891-1974) occupied during the interwar period. Lauded during her time as the most popular artist in Poland, the acceptance of Stryjeńska's female voice in representing a national vocabulary was unprecedented and deserves closer examination. I assert that Poland's history of oppression created a unique environment where women as archetypal figures often took on masculine roles. These 'transgressive types' were visible in the literature and art of the 19th and 20th centuries. Stryjeńska's art, as well as her behavior, capitalized on these transgressive traditions. Women played an important role as visual and ideological figures within the national mythologies of Poland, and while these mythologies situated women as authorities in protecting, cultivating, and renewing the land, and by extension the nation, few women actually achieved the status of shaping them. Zofia Stryjeńska was an example of one who did. At the age of twenty-one Zofia cut her hair, dressed as her brother, and, as a boy, enrolled in the academy of fine art in Munich. This act found precedence in the years of Polish imagery and it ultimately allowed her to create a space for herself and her art. This thesis pays particular attention to Stryjeńska's part in the 1928 renovation of the Warsaw town square. Like many other artists at this time, she worked in many mediums and employed folk-art motifs and styles in the quest to create a truly "Polish" style. Stryjeńska's art drew on national images of Polish women as the Virgin Mary, the good Polish Mother, and Pagan Goddess. Idealized tropes, such as these, often represented a disconnect between everyday social norms and the greater ideals of a national identity. Zofia Stryjeńska embodied this juxtaposition. Her art drew on national images of Polish women filled with blurred gender boundaries. These images, prominent for centuries, at once empowered Polish women while also being relegated safely to the abstract realm of legend and myth. These female ideals, therefore, served as less of a threat to the rigid gender expectations that were a part of everyday Polish life. Zofia Stryjeńska was an example of a woman who laid claim to the female ideals of Polish culture. She used myth to define her behavior; her studies in Munich, and by doing so launched her life into the realm of myth, creating a sensationalized image more legend than reality.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Visual Arts



Date Submitted


Document Type





Zofia Stryjeńska, Polish Art, National Myth, Female Artist, Gender Reversal



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Art Practice Commons