Nikola Mašić
Chicks / study, around 1878
oil on canvas
28,8 x 30, 8 cm

Known as a painter of compositions of the so-called beautified Realism and autonomous studies, Nikola Mašić (1852-1902) started his education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1872, but having become dissatisfied with its programme, he decided to continue his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In Alexander Wagner’s Komponierenklasse he acquires the necessary knowledge to work on large-scale figurative compositions. He had an affinity for the painting of Wilhelm von Liendenschmidt, a painter of historical compositions, whose palette became lighter under the influence of the modern Munich School of painting. He spent the summer of 1874 in and around Rome studying ancient monuments, which was supposed to help him paint his future figurative compositions. However, the sketches and studies he created at that time show a fascination with the atmosphere and light of the south. During his stay in Croatia, he painted in the region of Posavina. In 1878, he attended the Paris World Fair and became acquainted with Japonisme of the painter Marià Fortuny i Marsal. In 1879, as an acclaimed painter, he was given a studio in Munich and he continued to travel around Europe attending fine art events. Due to his deteriorating eyesight, he eventually returned to Zagreb in 1884, where he first worked as a drawing teacher at the School of Crafts, and in 1894 he was appointed as director of the Strossmayer Gallery.
Mašić made numerous studies of landscapes, animals and different flora by painting in nature. The direct painting of animals and plants is in accordance with the awakened sensibility of the time, a rediscovery or return to nature, as well as an interest in scientific research, but also the educational curriculum of the middle of the 19th century, from which new patrons of art and education threw out works of mythological and historical content. The direct study and painting of animal and plant life is the result of both the Munich schooling and work within the Naturklasse.
The conciseness and immediacy of the visual expression is the essence of every study, because the painter uses it to briefly record only what is most important for him in the visual sense. Conceptually, these studies represent a reminder for later work in the studio on large compositions. Chicken study is one of the many studies that Mašić executed during his solitary wanderings in nature (either in Posavina or Italy). It is a depiction of a small animal from four perspectives. Mašić studies not only shows the anatomy and morphology of the animal, but also its typical movements, which is particularly evident in this study. This attitude towards animal motifs defines him as our first true animalist.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum counselor at the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2023
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2023

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