Vlaho Bukovac
(1855 – 1922)
Montenegrin Woman at a Rendezvous, 1883
oil on canvas
200 x 104 cm

Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922), is considered to be the father of Modern art in Croatia. At a young age, his inquisitive and adventurous spirit took him to America. Thanks to the pan-Slavism oriented writer Medo Pucić and Bishop Strossmayer, he attended the École des beaux-arts academy in Paris. His style of painting was influenced by Alexandre Cabanel, an eclectic painter of history paintings and religious compositions in the spirit of the official Academicism. With time, he became acquainted with impressionist painting and Orientalism, and developed his artistic expression drawing from Realism, Impressionism and occasionally Symbolism. After having completed his studies in 1880 and thanks to the successes he achieved at the Paris Salons, he set up a studio in Paris. He painted in Dalmatia and England concurrently, and in 1893 he settled in Zagreb, where in 1895 he initiated the construction of the Art Pavilion. In 1897, he founded the Society of Croatian Artists that opposes Kršnjavi’s Croatian Art Society founded in 1879, and invited artists to paint in plein air thus giving an impetus to the development of Modern art in Croatia. Under his influence, painters started using a brighter palette, rejecting the brown hues that dominated galleries at the time. As a result, a variant of Croatian realist painting with bright colours was birthed and soon became known as the Colourful School of Zagreb. Because of his disagreement with Kršnjavi, Bukovac first moved to Cavtat in 1898 and then to Prague in 1903 to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts there.

Montenegrin Woman at a Rendezvous is part of Bukovac’s Montenegrin series, and it was created under the influence of the Czech painter Jaroslav Čermák (1831 – 1878), who himself took part in the battles against the Turks in Montenegro. His painting from 1873, A Wounded Montenegrin, is also kept in the collection of the National Museum of Modern Art. The composition of Bukovac’s Montenegrin Woman is reminiscent precisely of this painting by Čermák, and was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1888. It is a portrait of a young woman with a sad, even somewhat romantic melancholy gaze who came to the rendezvous alone. The skin tone is refined and differs somewhat from the serious-heavy depiction of the costume. The similarity with Čermák’s method is also reflected in the landscape features, the studies of which were created in plein air, in Fontainebleau. The painting gamut varies in a series of dark hues of the subdued studio scale, with bright accents of certain parts of the folk costume. Paintings with Montenegrin motifs are a reflection of the ubiquitous orientalism of the time which, in this case, was inspired by examples from the immediate surroundings.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, Museum Advisor © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2022

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