Frano Šimunović
Abandoning Darkness, 1977
oil on canvas
110×164 cm

Frano Šimunović (1908-1995) is a classic of pre-WWII Modernism and Gestural Painting of High Modernism. He was the son of writer Dinko Šimunović (1873-1933). In the earlier stages of his career (i.e., 1932-1946), he was extremely socially and critically engaged (e.g., his paintings The Inn of Freedoms from 1936 and A Circus from 1941). He studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in Zagreb until 1934 under Prof. Ljubo Babić and Prof. Jozo Kljaković. In the mid-1930s, he studied in Madrid, where he made copies of both Francisco Goya and Diego Velasquez’s work. Šimunović used to wander around the suburbs of Madrid, thanks to which he ended up deepening his social and expressive affinities in his drawings. He drew scenes from Madrid’s outskirts, cripples and beggars – those at the bottom of the social ladder – underscoring the cruel irony, drama and grotesqueness of life. Šimunović exhibited his works from Spain at his first solo exhibition in Zagreb in 1935. He also painted vedutas of the outskirts of Zagreb and landscapes of the region of Dalmatinska Zagora (Dalmatian Hinterland in translation) in intense colours under the influence of Vincent van Gogh. During WWII, he drew and painted not only refugees and concentration camps, but also circus scenes inspired by Francisco Goya. After WWII, he painted mythical and rugged landscapes of the region of Dalmatian Hinterland: stone fences, boundary walls, piles of stone, polarised between a dark and earthy palette of colours on the one hand, and flickers and glimmers of white on the other. He became permanently preoccupied with this motif. The terrestrial landscape of Šimunović’s Abandoning Darkness painting from 1977 becomes an otherworldly and cosmic, extra-terrestrial landscape. By lighting up the motif, he neared Gestural and Organic Abstraction. Šimunović also did illustration (e.g., for a collection of fairy tales by the Grimm brothers, and D. Šimunović’s short stories). In 1992, he donated a part of his and his wife and sculptor Ksenija Kantoci’s oeuvre to the National Museum of Modern Art. He became a member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1963, and received the 1972 Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award given yearly by Croatia’s Ministry of Culture and Media.

Text: Željko Marciuš, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

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