Stanislawa de Karlowska (fig.1), known to her family and friends as ‘Stasia’,1 was not a member of the Camden Town Group, a male-only exhibiting body, but was quickly elected in early 1914 to its successor, the London Group, which did not exclude women.2 Yet her work, which compares with that of her husband Robert Bevan, relates closely to what is thought of as Camden Town painting, using a modern post-impressionist style with bright colours to depict the local urban environment,3 the growing industrial landscape,4 and the countryside.5 Karlowska’s work was also inspired by her Polish heritage.6 The flat perspectives, intense colours, elongated figures and dream-like atmosphere of her paintings correspond somewhat with the stylised nature of Eastern European folk art, inviting comparison with other modern artists also drawing on folk-art traditions such as the Russian-born Marc Chagall (1887–1985)7 and the Polish Zofia Stryjeńska (1891–1976).
Stanislawa de Karlowska was born on 8 May 1876 at the family estate at Szeliwy, near the town of Lowicz in Russian-occupied Poland (fig.2).8 Her father, Alexander de Karlowski, was a Polish patriot who had fought in struggles for independence under the famous General Bem in 1848 and 1849, and taken part in the uprising of 1863, for which he reputedly ‘endangered his life and suffered considerable financial loss’.9 Karlowska’s son, Robert A. Bevan, said that her father and her brothers-in-law could best be described as ‘squirearchs’:
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.10