Artist Annie Bortnick, of Chestnut Hill, returns to her native France every other year, if possible, “although Apple’s Face-Time has eased communication over the long distance to France!”

by Len Lear

Annie Bortnick, a native of France who has lived in Chestnut Hill for 40 years, is a portrait painter who captures the soul of her subjects with a jeweler’s eye. She is a bonfire in a field of deep kindling. Her work is all killer and no filler.

“Many experiences inspire me,” said Annie, 71, last week. “For example, It could be a deep red poppy in a field, a cobalt blue sky, a green-eyed cat, a famous painting, a touching photo, a poetic reading, a young women with bright white bonnets, a deep purple or blue dress covered by a black apron, peacefully baking and cooking at the Reading Terminal, a peaceful Philadelphia street, a gentle dog while out for a walk. I am always looking forward to the next painting.

“I love painting cats and dogs in an effort to capture their individual personality, uniqueness and cuteness. I love their innocence, unconditional love, funny behaviors and unusual poses. They have beautiful coats and eyes.”

Annie grew up in the Auvergne region of Central France, where volcanoes like Puy de Dôme sometimes host the finish line in the famed Tour de France bicycling competition. She attended Blaise Pascal University in Clermont Ferrand, capital of the Auvergne region, not far from where her family lived.

She first discovered her gift as a visual artist at a young age while experimenting with charcoal and pencil drawings. Her pieces earned her accolades and many first place prizes in school. Her family, including three sisters, were also artistically inclined. “Everyone in my family enjoys works of art, including my late mother, who throughout her life created remarkable decorative crochet pieces.” (Annie’s mother, Paulette passed away in 2013 at the age of 91.)

Bortnick has painted countless landscapes at Cape Cod and in the south of France, like these gorgeous water lilies.

But it wasn’t until later in life that Annie took up painting, which would eventually help define her career. “I began painting later on inspired by my uncle’s landscapes of Provence and encouraged by my nephew, who attended École des Beaux Arts in Paris.” (Provence is a beautiful region of southeastern France, where artists come from many countries to paint, and École des Beaux Arts is a famous art school.)

Annie taught philosophy to high school students in France and prepared them for the Baccalaureate exam, a requirement for students planning to attend universities in France. However, she and her American husband, Karl, a technology consultant, moved here in 1975. She wound up teaching courses in History of the Arts in Western Civilization at the Performing Arts High School in center city for 15 years as well as the Lionville Middle School for the Downingtown Area School District for 22 years.

“I consider my greatest achievement to be transmitting and sharing my knowledge and love of art with my students. As a child, I always wanted to be a teacher, and teaching was a very rewarding profession. Without the continued contact I have had with my former students, I would not have had the opportunity to be part of larger artistic projects like translating with my husband Germaine Tillion’s operetta, ‘Le Verfügbar aux Enfers.’

“One of my former students, Dr. Meghan Brodie, produced this operetta at the University of Maine in 2014, a premiere in the U.S. Former students have become generous, supportive and bright colleagues. They are my friends today along with my former teaching colleagues. I have coached students for public speaking tournaments, Knowledge Bowls and Shakespeare Festivals Competitions.”

In the past four years Annie has had numerous exhibits of her work at Good Karma Café 928 Pine St., where she will have another one this winter. She has also has exhibits at Earth, Bread & Brewery in Mt. Airy and Head House in Old City.

Annie painted this portrait of her daughter, Anna, an M.D. and Ph.D. who is an assistant professor at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Who are Annie’s favorite artists, living and/or dead? “Elizabeth Peyton is one of my favorite portraitists. With smooth, colorful lines, she keeps her paintings fresh and simple. I like the way she zooms in on famous people’s faces with loose brushstrokes. I recently paid homage to several famous artists I like by appropriating their signature portraits with my color palette applied to their compositions. See my website for my paintings inspired by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Derain, Delaunay, Picasso and Frida Kahlo.”

Annie does some portraits of both people and animals on commission. When she paints animal subjects, she asks clients to make a donation to animal shelters. She is very fond of Chestnut Hill. “It is charming,” she said. “There are flowers and beautiful gardens everywhere. There are splendid houses and lovely shops. People are friendly and welcoming.”

Annie and her husband have two daughters — Anna, an M.D. and Ph.D. in New York, and Alexandra, a Ph.D. and post-doctoral fellow at the University of California in San Diego.

What person, living or dead, would Annie most like to meet? “I would like to meet and spend an hour with Camille Claudel.  She was an incredible sculptor. We would talk about her life with Rodin and how she managed to capture ephemeral moments like she did. Her marble sculptures are overwhelmingly beautiful. I would ask about the works we believe are from Rodin but might be hers.”

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