Gwendolyn Laan Ozols: The Portraits

Portrait of Gwendolyn. Magtilt Laan Van Thiel. 1968. Oil on Linen, Private Collection

The late Gwendolyn Laan Ozols survives in countless portraits painted by Auseklis Ozols and Magtilt Laan Van Thiel. During her life she managed to capture the heart, canvas, and soul of nearly everyone she encountered. She lives in endless works of art and will forever gaze at the world through paintings she inspired as a 29 year old beacon of peace, hope, and beauty.

She was the wife and muse of Auseklis Ozols. She supported him as they envisioned and founded the Academy in 1978. The founding documents of NOAFA are all in her handwriting, the lists of supplies and lumber for the Ozols designed easels; the first rosters of students, of faculty schedules, of receptions, events, and every other part of establishing an arts institution were written by her. Her dedicated support eased the studio and visual arts practice into place for structuring NOAFA. She helped attract a supporting community of arts and culture loving friends that she grew up with in New Orleans. She sailed, she played guitar, classical piano; she danced and she sang.

Many different aspects of her countenance are revealed in these paintings. Always mysterious, beautiful, nurturing and beyond physical reach.

The paintings come together not only through subject but also through style. These works are by either A. Ozols or her Gwendolyn’s sister, Magtilt Van Thiel. Both artists studied at PAFA and PENN in Philadelphia, and both were star students each winning a William Emlen Cresson European traveling Scholarship (the highest honor available from the Pennsylvania Academy) among many other prizes and accolades. Magtilt was one of the first teachers at NOAFA having direct knowledge, experience, and influence regarding the artistic mission. It was also through her that Ozols met Gwendolyn.

The paintings exemplify techniques of American Realist painting; they emphasize drawing, dramatic light, emphasis on planes of the hand, head, figure. There is strong chiaroscuro, evidence of their teacher Walter Stuemphig’s hand is clear. Compositions are often sparse, relationships between negative and positive space working in unison to allow the dramatic abstract of the atmosphere a voice.

Swamp Queen. Auseklis Ozols, 1977. Oil on Linen, Private Collection

Swamp Queen depicts Gwendolyn on the Gulf of Mexico in Ocean Springs Mississippi in 1977. Her parents had a house on the East Beach and The Ozols would often drive through the area and seek out painting spots. This painting depicts one of the once empty beaches which is now fully developed with modern structures.

Gwendolyn and Auseklis. Auseklis Ozols, 1976. Oil on Linen. Private Collection. Canvas buckled, needs protective varnish.
Faces of Gwendolyn. Auseklis Ozols, Conte on Matte Board, 1978. Private Collection. (Damaged: water stains, tears.)
Portrait of Gwendolyn with Dutch Heirlooms. Magtilt Laan Van Thiel, 1968, Private Collection.

Portrait of Gwendolyn with Heirlooms depicts Gwendolyn seated with some of her mother’s things from Holland. Gwendolyn was born in New Orleans, (the youngest of 6 children) although her parents emigrated from the Netherlands.

Gwendolyn on Horn Island, Auseklis Ozols. Oil on Linen, 1976, Private Collection. (Damaged: Darkened varnish, canvas buckling)