A Soup Kitchen, 1935
oil on plywood
Marijan Detoni’s A Soup Kitchen painting from 1935 sublimates the iconographic premises advocated by the Earth Association of Artists. The painting depicts the reality of poverty and hunger, insecurity and misfortune. Although social themes were the modus operandi of the members of the Earth Association of Artists, Detoni went a step further by having depicted young people abandoned by society as the protagonists of the painting. The motif of a brick wall, a trademark of sorts typical of the Earth Association of Artists, helps to underscore the impression of alienation in the depiction of human figures crowding as they await solace in the form of a charitable hot meal.
Marijan Detoni graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1928 in the class of Professor Ljubo Babić. His earlier works highlight volumes of a Cézannesque conception, and in 1926 he began to often depict scenes from provincial life into which he introduced elements of humour and the grotesque. While on a scholarship in Paris in 1934, he drew turbulent scenes from the streets of Paris and scenes from the lives of unemployed workers. He was a member of the Earth Association of Artists from 1932 to 1934, so he expressed himself through simple drawings, locally inspired colours and basic modelling in line with the aesthetic agenda of the association. His pre-war paintings feature a powerful colour palette. Having been a forerunner of abstract tendencies in Croatian painting, in 1938 he painted two nearly abstract compositions under the tautological name A Dilapidated Wall Fantasy. While in Paris in 1939, he was inspired by the Modernism of the School of Paris, after which he returned to social themes, but this time round imbued with euphoric experiences of light and colour. He joined the anti-fascist movement in World War II, and in the post-war years featuring the dictated aesthetics of Socialist Realism he centred on partisan war themes. Later he turned to inspiring, fantastic and phantasmagorical compositions, and fully abstract painting.
Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, senior curator 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