Vlaho Bukovac
A Portrait of Hugo Vasilij Hoyos, 1895
oil on canvas
145×98 cm

Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) is considered to be the father of Modernism in Croatia. In his childhood, his inquisitive and adventurous spirit took him to the USA. Thanks to pan-Slavicist writer Medo Pucić and Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, he attended École des beaux-arts in Prague. His style of painting was influenced by Alexandre Cabanel, an eclectic painter of history paintings and religious compositions in the spirit of Academicism, which was considered to be official at the time. With time, he became acquainted with Impressionism and Orientalism, and developed his artistic expression drawing from Realism, Impressionism and occasionally Symbolism. After having completed his studies in 1880 and thanks to the successes he achieved at the Salons in Paris, he set up a studio in Paris. He painted in Dalmatia and the UK concurrently, and in 1893 he settled in Zagreb, where in 1895 he initiated the construction of the Art Pavilion. In opposition to Croatian painter, art historian, curator and politician Izidor Kršnjavi’s Croatian Art Society founded in 1879, in 1897 Bukovac founded the Society of Croatian Artists inviting artists to paint plein-air, which gave impetus to the development of Modernism in Croatia. Under his influence, painters started using a lighter palette and rejecting the brown hues that dominated galleries at the time. As a result, a variant of Croatian realist painting of bright colours was birthed and soon became known as The Colourful School of Zagreb. Because of his disagreement with Kršnjavi, Bukovac first moved to Cavtat in 1898 and then to Prague in 1903 to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts there.
Vlaho Bukovac’s most prolific period was what is referred to as his Zagreb-based period (1893-1898), which was, in terms of style, a continuation of his Paris-based period of plein-air painting. One of the many portraits he painted in that period is the portrait of the young and elegant Hugo Vasilij Hoyos. Bukovac’s subtle feeling for light hues is evident in the skin tones of Hoyos’s face and the slightly vibrant surface of his suit. The figure of the young man emerges from the dark background featuring a decorative rug painted using tiny brushstrokes, which lends a certain symbolic quality to the painting. Hoyos’s elegant hands and fingers with inconspicuous rings on two are the very pinnacle of Bukovac’s painterly skills.

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

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