Oscar Artur Alexander
Self-portrait, 1896
oil on canvas, 96.5 x 75 cm
O. Aleksander 1896

The Self-portrait from 1896, is certainly one of the best paintings of the lesser-known painter-portraitist Alexander. Embittered by the behaviour of his contemporaries towards him and having been left alone in Samobor, where he retreated, he prohibited the exhibition of his works in Croatian museums. It seems that erasing everything that was created in the past and the memory of those who have created something before, is a constant in Croatian culture, with the aim of usurping the present moment and themselves because it all begins anew with those who are currently shaping that culture. The life and painting of Oscar Artur Alexander is more than a paradigmatic example of such an attitude towards one’s predecessors. Hailing from a wealthy merchant family that laid the foundations of Croatian 19th and 20th century industry (little of which is known today or is overlooked), he was able to study in Europe’s most prestigious cities – he spent time in Paris on two occasions, and briefly studied at the Academy in Vienna. During his first stay in Paris, he attended the Academie Juliàn, and later worked in the studios of Eugene Carrière and James McNeil Whistler. The second time Alexander stayed in Paris (1898 - 1902) is even more important for the formation of his painterly expression. Around 1900, Paris is a dynamic space of cultural creation and the site of various art events. Alexander will socialize with Matoš, among others, who also spent time in Paris, and they will attend exhibitions together and discuss art. As an exceptional portraitist, he will be influenced by Renoir’s version of Impressionism, and between Whistler’s and Carrière’s Symbolism, he will opt for the latter. In Paris, he was also introduced to the work of Ferdinand Hodler (Snježana Pintarić, 1998). Around 1905, Alexander moved to Vienna again where he became a full member of the Hagebund.

In the Self-portrait from 1896, Alexander finds himself half-way between academic principles and the intuitive manner of modern painting. Illuminating his palette when painting the background, he also uses the free application of paint with a visible brushstroke, in line with Bukovac’s portraits. He portrayed himself as a self-confident young man with a penetrating gaze. The decision to immortalize himself in a dark suit and tie adds to the seriousness of this self-portrait! What particularly stands out in this three quarter view portrait are the painter’s basic “tools” – the eyes and the right hand, which we could include in the imaginary gallery of masterpieces of painted hands. Alexander’s palette will later be further illuminated, sometimes to the point of fluidity, especially in his symbolist works, and he will make a few excursions towards the expressionism of colour.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, Museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

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