Front / Recto

  • Title Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
  • Negative Date 1911–12
  • Print Date 1911–25
  • Medium Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions Image 6 11/16 × 4 3/4" (17 × 12.1 cm)
  • Place Taken Zakopane
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange
  • MoMA Accession Number 1911.2001
  • Description

    Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz made this elusive portrait of Anna Oderfeld during a brief period in which he intended to marry her. Their love affair coincided with the heat of Witkiewicz’s engagement with photography, when he made extraordinary suites of close portraits of himself, his parents, and his friends that defied contemporary conventions. Witkiewicz’s father, Stanisław Witkiewicz, kindled his son’s interest in photography, and it appears he also deserves credit (or perhaps blame) for extinguishing the flame between the young couple: in a letter dated January 7, 1912, he warned his twenty-six-year-old son, “I don’t know Miss O. I only know that, as you say, she is pretty, intelligent, and 16 years old, which means she is a blank slate, on which life has yet to write . . . an X out of which something completely different may emerge to what is there today” (followed by a few anti-Semitic observations to support his argument).[1]

    On one level, this portrait by Witkacy, a nickname he adopted in 1913 to distinguish himself and his creative activities from those of his father, a notable painter, architect, and art theorist, is an intimate record of a young man’s romantic obsession, yet the blurred image and extremely tight cropping look nothing like a traditional portrait of a sweetheart. Witkacy’s father taught him how to make photographs as part of a broad artistic education, without any formal or theoretical prescriptions as to how they should look or function; the technical nonchalance and unprecedentedly close views that are characteristic of the best of Witkacy’s portraits reveal how he absorbed this open-minded attitude. Witkacy was similarly experimental with his choice of photographic papers. While this print has a very matte, textured surface and cool tonality, others from this era are warmer and glossier. He later quipped to young photographers, “You are photographers; I play with photography.”[2] 

    In the summer of 1912, Witkacy wrote excitedly about altering his camera, attaching the lens to a tube to extend the distance between lens and negative. This custom lens produced dramatically close views and, often, a slightly blurred image (the farther the negative is from the lens, the more light is needed to expose it properly and the longer the exposure). This portrait was likely made before the lens modification, but Witkacy achieved a similar effect with extendable bellows on the camera itself. As evidenced by the dark oval left by a negative clip in the top right corner, this is a Contact Print (from an 18 by 13 centimeter [7 1/8 by 5 1/8 inch] glass negative), and the light source—a paned window—is reflected in the dark of the subject’s eyes. Witkacy’s embrace of these technical “flaws” was not merely a signal of creative license; he was keenly attuned to their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

    —Sarah Hermanson Meister, Hanako Murata, Maciej Szymanowicz

    [1] Stanisław Witkiewicz, Listy do syna (Letters to his son), ed. Bożena Danek-Wojnowska and Anna Micińska (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1969), p. 532.

    [2] Ewa Franczak and Stafan Okołowicz, Przeciw nicoci (Against nothingness): Fotografie Stanisława Ignacego Witkiewisza (Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1986), p. 25; see Maciej Szymanowicz, “In the Private Sphere: The Photographic Work of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz,” on this website.  

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type No mount - evidence previous mounting
  • Marks and Inscriptions Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, top right: 0/41. Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, top right: 245 [with triangular outline]. Stamped in black ink on sheet verso, center: Collection/Ewa Franczak/Stefan Okołowicz [with square outline].
  • Provenance The artist; to the artist's estate, Zakopane, Poland, 1939 [1]; to Stefan Okolowicz, Warsaw, early 1970s [2]; purchased by Galerie Berinson, Berlin, 1976 [3]; purchased by Thomas Walther, October 1991 [4]; purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] Stefan Okolowicz, e-mail to Simon Bieling, June 20, 2005.
    [2] Ibid.; and MacGill/Walther 2001(3), p. 26.
    [3] MacGill/Walther 2001(3), p. 26; and Hendrik Berinson, telephone conversation with Maria Morris Hambourg, September 2013.
    [4] Galerie Berinson invoice, October 10, 1991.


  • Surface Sheen Matte
  • Techniques Retouching (additive)
    Contact print
  • PTM
    View of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Unknown
  • Weight Single weight
  • Thickness (mm) 0.22
  • UV Fluorescence Recto no data
    Verso no data
  • Fiber Analysis Softwood bleached sulfite 22%
    Rag 51%
    Bast 28%
  • Material Techniques Developing-out paper
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: S, Cl, Ca, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba, Pb
    • Mount: Si, P, Ca, Ti, Fe, Zn, Sr

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Si, P, S, Cl, Ca, Ti, Ag, Ba
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Fe, Zn, Sr, Ag, Pb

In Context

Related Images

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy). Arthur Rubinstein (Artur Rubinstein). 1913. Bromide print, 6 1/4 × 7 3/4" (16 × 12 cm). Collection Ewa Franczak and Stefan Okołowicz
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy). Self-Portrait (Autoportret). 1912. Toned bromide print, 7 × 5" (17.9 × 12.9 cm). Collection Ewa Franczak and Stefan Okołowicz
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy). Jadwiga Janczewska. c. 1913. Bromide print, 6 7/8 × 5" (17.5 × 12.6 cm). Collection Ewa Franczak and Stefan Okołowicz

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