Leo Junek
A Self-Portrait in Front of a Wall, 1927/28
oil on canvas
50×62 cm

Flat forms, concise drawing and an open colour scheme helped Leo Junek to underscore in his A Self-Portrait in Front of a Wall from 1927/28 the sense of isolation and hopelessness felt by an individual imprisoned by modern-day anxiety. Together with Krsto Hegedušić, in 1929 Leo Junek initiated the founding of an art collective of a leftist political and social orientation called the Earth Association of Artists, which he parted ways with as early as the closing of their first exhibition in Zagreb in 1929. Although he often used the leitmotif of the Groszian-Krležian red brick typical of the work done by painters gathering around the Earth Association of Artists, Junek did not share the association’s pronounced political and revolutionary ideas or their desire for collective action given that he was devoted entirely to pure painting and Cézanneism. After he withdrew from the association, he treaded a more personal and urban path towards Modernism.

Once he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1925, Leo Junek moved to Paris as a French government scholarship holder and stayed in France for the rest of his life. Junek’s early work is typified by a series of self-portraits of an increasingly pronounced colour scheme. In the early 1930s he painted socially engaged compositions, after which he devoted himself to pure painting and the exploration of space, light and colour. Having been influenced by Raoul Dufy’s Fauvism, Junek painted two-dimensionally using local colours. In the 1940s, he painted masterpieces of a magical colour scheme and started nearing the ideas of Abstract Art and Tachisme. In 1950 he moved to Orsay and painted in the vein of colour-infused Lyrical Abstraction. Although he painted almost his entire oeuvre in France and had only four solo exhibitions set up in Croatia, Junek’s works and friendships exerted a significant influence on painting in Croatia, particularly in the interwar period.

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

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