Bela Csikos Sesia
A Semi-Nude Woman, 1895.
oil on canvas, 46,5 x 37cm

Bela Csikos Sesia (1864-1931) is considered to be the father of Symbolism and one of the leading representatives of Modern art in Croatia. In 1887, he started studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and at the end of 1891 he attended the school of Leopold Carl Müller. Since 1892, he studied at the Munich Academy under Wilhelm von Liendenschmidt, and in 1894 under Carl von Marr, whose painting oeuvre, with its Academic Realism, impressionist and symbolist manner, and decorativeness corresponds to that of Csikos. On several occasions, he spent time in Southern Italy, where he painted vedutas in plain air with bright colours. He painted landscapes in the Croatian Zagorje in the same manner. In 1894, he returned to Zagreb and became Vlaho Bukovac’s associate. After a brief stay in the USA, in 1903 he opened a private painting school with Menci Clement Crnčić, which in 1907 became the Advanced School of Arts and Crafts – today’s Academy of Fine Arts.


Having an inclination for technological innovations he photographs the models himself, while in his paintings he achieves a multi-layered grainy faktura, in line with Segantini’s Divisionism. He worked on the decorative cycles for the Greek Catholic Church in Križevci, and the Department of Religious Affairs and Education. He influenced the paintress Slava Raškaj. In 1900, he painted the series Innocentia, in a symbolist manner based on imagining the unreal, as part of the Croatian Room at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.


Csikos materialises the theoretical postulates of Ivo Pilar’s and Milivoj Dežman’s Art Nouveau in symbolist paintings, as can be seen in the museum painting A Semi-Nude Woman, which he probably painted in 1895, at the same time as Vlaho Bukovac painted the same motif. With a bright, silvery-white flesh tone, rendered with a thin layer of paint, Csikos highlights the poetic nature of the representation of a wistful face that sinks into meditativeness.


Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum consultant © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

Foto: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2022.

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