Dragan Melkus (1860-1917)
A Blacksmith, 1887
oil on canvas
Dragan Melkus was a versatile cultural worker of Osijek’s cultural circle. He was not only a painter, but was also a writer (My Blue Friend and Other Stories), was involved in publishing, was a teacher and restorer. He was an instigator and promoter of artistic and literary life in Osijek, where he was one of the co-founding members of the Croatian Writers and Artists’ Club. He began studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and in 1880 continued his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He travelled for study purposes across France and Germany on several occasions. Melkus’s oeuvre comprises approximately 150 works, most of which are part of private collections. In terms of style, his works follow the legacy of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, without having ever come into contact with later, more contemporary phenomena, including those in Zagreb related to the appearance of Vlaho Bukovac. In this sense, Melkus’s A Blacksmith painting from his Munich-based period (i.e., from 1887) is one of his best personal and Croatian achievements in Realism in general, both in terms of theme and execution. With his head bowed and a serious, drained expression on his face due to hard work, the rough figure of a blacksmith was done in the manner of tonal painting. The composition is devoid of unnecessary descriptions of details and is reduced to large areas of earthy green tones, which are contrasted with the white surface of the rough fabric of the blacksmith’s shirt. Painting details, such as the blacksmith’s leather belt, was extremely popular amongst realist painters.
Although once he returned to Osijek Melkus remained artistically true to the style of painting fostered by the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich during his studies, this early painting of his can be considered to be a paradigm of the entire period of Realism in painting in Croatia.
Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, 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