Meeting at the Exhibition I, 1942
Slavko Šohaj was born in 1908 in Zagreb. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1931, and continued his studies in Paris in 1931–32 and 1939. He worked as an art associate at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb and became a member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1977. He was the recipient of the Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award in 1978. Šohaj will not stage his first solo exhibition until he was 60-years-old and already retired, at the National Museum of Modern Art, then Modern Gallery, in Zagreb in 1968, and he will have his last solo exhibition in the same city in 2000, a retrospective exhibition at the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery. He died in 2003.
The painting “Meeting at the Exhibition I” is an exception in the painter’s oeuvre. Two men, two exhibition visitors, are shown having a conversation as they view the paintings. In 1942, Šohaj exhibited, with a group of artists, at the Venice Biennale, representing the Independent State of Croatia, and perhaps this painting refers to that event. During World War II, Šohaj mostly paints still lifes and portraits, which Matko Peić will write about in 1961: “The first phase of grotesque and the second phase of Cézannism are followed by Slavko Šohaj’s third phase, one of the greatest artistic achievements created during the dark days of World War II. And that is why when we talk about painters who painted the horrors of war: burned houses and dead people – I think we should not forget, as a special painterly document of war: the solitary blue interiors of Slavko Šohaj”. Life and work during the war, however, had not been easy for Šohaj, despite working at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb and participating at the Venice Biennale. As Igor Zidić pointed out on the occasion of his exhibition at the NMMU in 2017, Šohaj was arrested and interrogated by the Ustasha authorities on suspicion of collaborating with the Communists, and his friend Marija Hanževački was shot in 1944, which deeply affected the painter.
Text Klaudio Štefančić, curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb