Red House, 1923
oil on canvas
74 x 62.5 cm
Vladimir Varlaj’s best-known painting, the Red House from 1923, is actually an emphatically expressionist exception in his oeuvre. The railway station in Moravice stands out from the reality of Gorski Kotar as a disturbing fantasy, achieved with deformations of form and space along the shortened diagonal, intense non-mimetic colours and the juxtaposition of light and dark. Otherwise, the spirit of the poetics of Magic Realism and an affective tension of the Red House, connect Varlaj with the informal group of the Prague Four and the expressionist tendencies of Uzelac, Gecan and Trepše.
Vladimir Varlaj started his art training in Zagreb with Professor Tomislav Kizman, and he graduated from the College of Arts and Crafts under the tutelage of Menci Clement Crnčić. He returned from the Eastern Front disabled by war in 1917, and the following year he went to visit his friend Milivoj Uzelac in Prague. There is not a single extant painting of Varlaj from the period preceding his first appearance at the 1919 Spring Salon in Zagreb. From 1921 to 1927, besides the Spring Salons, he also regularly participated in exhibitions of the Group of Independent Artists founded by Ljubo Babić. Varlaj’s anthological series of landscapes and vedutas with a pronounced plasticity and exceptional suggestiveness was interrupted by serious illness in 1934. The still lifes he painted later seemed to be his way of bidding goodbye both to painting and life. He died in 1962 without having had a single solo exhibition.
Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Gortan Vranić© National Museum of Modern Art Zagreb