(1821 – 1858)
Little Girl with a Doll, 1857
oil on canvas
Painter and composer Vjekoslav Karas (1821 - 1858) was one of the storied Croatian artists who, along with Josip Račić, whose life ended tragically by suicide because he felt that the world failed to understand him. Karas’s unsystematic education and training in painting began with him taking lessons from amateur Karlovac-based painters. Thanks to his patrons, in 1838 he travelled to Italy to be schooled. He first stayed in Florence, where the Zadar-born painter Franjo Salghetti-Drioli (1811-1877) set him up in a studio. Karas frequented Florence’s churches and public collections to make copies and studies, and attended anatomy classes at the Academy of Fine Arts. Between 1841 and 1847 he resided in Rome, where he became acquainted with the Romantic religious painting of the Nazarene Movement. Whilst in Rome, he also met the Rijeka-born painter Ivan Simonetti (1817-1880). During his occasional stays in Zagreb, he adopted Ljudevit Gaj’s Illyrian ideas. Owing to a lack of financial means, in 1848 he finally returned to Croatia. Abject poverty forced him to travel across Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and produce commissioned works. From 1852 to 1858 when he died, he lived and worked commuting between Karlovac and Zagreb.
In terms of style, Karas’s oeuvre features Classicism, Nazarene Romanticism and Biedermeier Realism, and it is so heterogeneous that each painting would require its own study because of inconsistency of style and composition (Nikola Albaneže). The painting Little Girl with a Doll from 1857 can be read through the painter’s focus on the gracefulness of the model, the naivety of the compositional scheme, but above all it shows the layered poetic and metaphorical coding of both the portrait and the mise-en-scène (Margarita Sveštarov Šimat). Karas did not sign the portraits because, as with most of his paintings, he was dissatisfied with their quality and “always strived to be better”, as he himself stated.
Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum advisor of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022