Leo Junek
(1899 – 1993)
Cherche Midi, Paris, 1938
oil on canvas
73 x 92 cm

After having graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Leo Junek moved to Paris in 1925 to continue his education. Junek’s early work is typified by self-portraits of monumental simplicity and an increasingly pronounced colour scheme, which is going to culminate in the early 1930s in Parisian vedutas and landscapes of magical pictorial power. Under the influence of Cézanne and Fauvist role-models and a direct contact with Raoul Dufy, Junek created his own visionary world using refined colour harmonies in seemingly simple broad surfaces and blotches. In Junek’s interpretation, the building of the military prison Cherche Midi in Paris, with barred windows and high fence wall, has grown from a cityscape into a unique rhythmic play of colour, light and texture. In the 1940s, Junek’s painting neared the ideas of Abstract art, and after he moved to Orsay in 1950, he started painting entirely in the vein of colour-infused Lyrical Abstraction. Leo Junek (Lorris Junec) painted almost his entire oeuvre in France, and although he lived in Croatia only for a short time and had relatively few exhibitions, he exerted a significant influence on Croatian painting. Between the two world wars, many of Croatian scholarship recipients in Paris turned to him for help (Juraj Plančić, Vjekoslav Parać, Marijan Detoni, Slavko Kopač). He collaborated intensively with Krsto Hegedušić on the foundation of the Earth Association of Artists, but faithful to his more personal and urban path towards modernism he parted ways with the Association as early as the closing of their first exhibition in 1929. Junek’s poetics exerted a particular influence on Croatian painters with a distinct sensibility for colour (Edo Kovačević, Vera Nikolić, Slavko Kopač, Antun Mezdjić, Edo Murtić, Josip Vaništa).

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, senior curator at the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023.
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023.

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