Mela Muter, a Polish artist in Paris

black and white portrait photograph of Mela Muter

Painting the beauty of everyday life

Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Mela Muter was a Polish artist based in Paris from the early 1900s onwards. She was one of the few Jewish women artists of her time who gained international recognition for her work.

Who was Mela Muter?

Born in 1876 in Warsaw, her birth name was Maria Melania Klingsland.

She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In 1899, she married art critic and writer Michal Mutermilch, while continuing her own artistic studies. In 1901, she moved with her family to Paris, where she enrolled at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.

black and white drawing of a witch, wearing a spotted dress
black and white drawing, double portrait of a man from the shoulders upward

She began to exhibit her paintings both in Paris and Poland, captivating the Parisian art scene during the early 1900s.

Muter gained a reputation as a popular portrait painter in Paris, portraying wealthy and notable individuals in the city. She also made many artworks which had motherhood as a theme, as well as still lifes and landscapes.

colour painting, a city landscape surrounding a lake with a tree on its bank
colour painting of an old man holding a tray with toys
colour portrait painting of a man, sitting in a chair, resting his head on his right hand
black and white drawing of a woman holding a child in her arms

During World War I, she had an affair with writer and activist Raymond Lefebvre which led to her and her husband divorcing.

How was Mela Muter connected to Girona?

In March 1914, she first visited Girona in Spain, returning several times.

She introduced the local artistic community to the new trends of the cosmopolitan art of Paris. Her impact in Girona's art scene was such that today a square in the city is named after her.

black and white group photograph of five people standing outside a building
black and white photograph of Mela Muter who holds an umbrella and looks out a window

After World War I, Muter's style again changed. She no longer wished to paint reality but hoped to capture the beauty in her surroundings.

She converted to Catholicism in 1924, after her father's death. However, during World War II, due to her Jewish origins, she felt in danger during Nazi occupation. She moved from Paris to Avignon where she taught drawing, art history and literature.

colour painting of a city landscape
colour drawing of women working while kneeling on the ground

After the war, she returned to Paris. Despite problems with her eyesight, she continued to paint until her death in 1967 at the age of 85.

Her legacy as a pioneering female artist has endured, and her work continues to be admired for its bold, expressive style and its celebration of the beauty and vitality of everyday life.