Vilko Gecan
At the Table (Family), 1919
oil on canvas
113.5 x 98 cm

Friends Vilko Gecan and Milivoj Uzelac started painting at the Banja Luka grammar school. Soon after, they both moved to Zagreb and continued their studies with Tomislav Krizman. Gecan’s successfully started education at the Munich Academy in 1912 was unfortunately interrupted by the war and army conscription in 1914. After spending several years as a prisoner of war in Sicily, he briefly returned home in 1919. He joined his family in Gomirje in Gorski Kotar, and during the few months he spent there he was finally able to fully devote himself to artistic work. Despite his modest previous experience, Gecan conceived and executed in oil his largest and most ambitious composition to date, titled At the Table (Family). In a typically expressionist composition without a solid focal point, the oversized figures are strung around the empty table and threatened by the cramped space. Father, mother, brother and sisters are all absorbed in their own thoughts and do not communicate with each other at all. Instead of a family idyll, Gecan uses divergent angles and pronounced light contrasts to create a scene with strong emotional tension and striking expressivity, as in the ominous frames of Fritz Lang and German New Wave films of the 1920s.
The most important part of Gecan’s oeuvre, created from 1919 to 1933, begins with the paintings from Gomirje, which was particularly influenced by his time spent in Prague with Uzelac. Besides Zagreb, Gecan has later also lived and worked in Berlin, New York and Chicago. As time went by, illness made it increasingly difficult for him to paint, and he created mostly intimate compositions with intense colours. He died in 1973.

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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