A Cynic, 1921
oil on canvas
Vilko Gecan’s A Cynic from 1921 points paradigmatically to the specificity of the way that Expressionism was conceived by Croatian artists in the 1920s. The young man in the painting is reading Der Sturm, a German art and literary magazine that played a key role in promoting Expressionism in both German speaking countries and Croatia.
The grimace that distorts the painter’s face beyond recognition, his dramatic gesture and body in spasm were undoubtedly inspired by German expressionist cinema and theatre. Thanks to Gecan having been a big fan of the 1920 German silent horror film Dr Caligari’s Cabinet, the painting radiates anxiety, which is built with the motifs of a sloping floor and an oversized table. In it, everything serves to facilitate expression – besides displaying a dramatic contrast between light and shadow, the composition is unstable featuring manifold perspectives.
Preceded by numerous drawings, A Cynic was first exhibited at The Spring Salon in Zagreb in 1921. One of the drawings was previously published in the avant-garde magazine Zenit published and edited by Serbian poet Ljubomir Micić, who underscored – despite claims that “there is no real Expressionism in our milieu” – the quality of Gecan’s drawings and etchings from his Clinic and Slavery in Sicily series inspired by his difficult experience of World War I.
After having spent three years in captivity on Sicily and after having volunteered to fight on the Macedonian Front, Gecan joined Milivoj Uzelac in 1919 in his move to Prague, where the two were taught by painter Jan Preisler. After his studies in Prague, he lived and worked in Zagreb, Berlin, New York and Chicago. Once he returned to Croatia in 1932, he painted intimist compositions featuring a strong colour scheme.
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