Vladimir Varlaj, Klek, 1926

Vladimir Varlaj
Klek, 1926
oil on canvas
100 x 120 cm

Vladimir Varlaj (Zagreb, 1895 – 1962) attended Tomislav Krizman’s private painting school, and in 1912 he started studying painting at the Advanced School of Arts and Crafts. The beginning of World War I and military conscription interrupted his education, and after having spent two years at the front he returned to Zagreb a disabled military veteran.
Despite his difficult health situation, in 1918 he enrolled to study painting at the Academy in Prague. Having gained a wealth of painting experience in Prague, four young artists, Milivoj Uzelac, Vilko Gecan, Vladimir Varlaj and Marijan Trepše, as an informal group of the Prague Four, presented at the 7th Spring Salon in 1919 some of the works that are today considered to be the pinnacle of Expressionism in Croatia. In the following years, he staged frequent exhibitions at home and abroad (Geneva 1920, Philadelphia 1926, London 1930), he was one of the founders of the Group of Independent Artists (1924) and in parallel, he continued his painting studies at the Zagreb Academy, graduating in the class of Marino Tartaglia in 1934.
In the 1920s, Varlaj often travelled to Dalmatia and painted seascapes, but he was equally inspired by the landscapes of continental Croatia. The mountain of Klek stands out as the most frequent motif he painted from various locations at different times of day or year, in a broad time span. Klek reveals the cohesion of man and nature, and severe geometric shapes in the landscape, such as the railroad crossing the valley, the bridge and the houses are used by the painter to depict life at the foot of the mountain as subtly as possible. He created a recognisable magical-realistic expression with a specific palette of earthy hues.

Text: Marta Radman, curator trainee © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

Vladimir Becić, Peasant Woman, 1926

Vladimir Becić
(1886 – 1954)
Peasant Woman, 1926
oil on canvas, 170 x 88 cm

Vladimir Becić (Slavonski Brod, 1886 – Zagreb, 1954) started his art education at Menci Klement Crnčić’s and Bela Čikoš Sesija’s private painting school, then in 1905, he went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in the class of Hugo von Habermann, and with colleagues Miroslav Kraljević, Josip Račić and Oskar Herman he formed the so-called Munich Circle of Painters that will become the cornerstone of development of modern art in Croatia. Soon after, he moved to Paris (1909), where he continued his training at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, worked as an illustrator for the magazine Le Rire and exhibited his work at the Salon d’Automne. Having been a volunteer during World War I at the Macedonian Front, after the war ended, in 1915 he worked as a war correspondent, photographer and illustrator for the magazine L'ilustration.
In 1919, he settled with his family in Blažuj, founded the first art colony with painters Vilko Šeferov and Karlo Mijić, and stayed there until 1923. He then moved to Zagreb after accepting the position at the Academy where he worked until his retirement in 1947.
In the early 1920s, we notice a change in Becić’s painting towards a more pronounced purity of expression and plasticity of volume, which he builds with a reduced palette of earthy hues of brown, ochre, orange and red colours. The role of colour becomes increasingly important and we notice a distinct mark of the painter’s style. He frequently paints monumental female figures and nudes in plein air, such as the Peasant Woman, which represents the pinnacle of achievement in terms of the interpretation of volume of the female semi-nude.

Text: Marta Radman, trainee curator © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

Ivo Režek, Bathing Female Nude, 1926

Ivo Režek
Bathing Female Nude, 1926
oil on canvas
99.9 x 72.5 cm

Bathing Female Nude is one of Ivo Režek’s most successful works that helped him become established in Paris in the mid-1920s. At the source of European modern painting, Režek achieves a perfect synthesis of monumental form and deep inner peace in a series of paintings depicting bathers. This distinctly suggestive cycle is executed with a thin lapidary layer of paint and a very restrained colour palette.
Režek’s education at the Zagreb College of Arts and Crafts was interrupted by military conscription. After the war he became one of the best students at the Academy in Prague. Following the expressionist phase during which he used thick layers of paint, he chose the path of new reality. He came to Paris in 1924 as an already formed painter, and developed the neoclassical style under the influence of Derain’s proportions and Picasso’s return to figuration. He is preoccupied with form and strives for order. He also studied fresco techniques with Lenoir. Despite being met with an environment unaccustomed to the avant-garde upon his return to Zagreb in 1931, Režek continued to cultivate figuration. In the vein of Magical Realism, he honestly portrays the life of his native Zagorje. In addition to a series of psychological portraits from the 1930s, Režek’s drawing oeuvre is also characterized by purity of conception and sensitivity. He publishes caricatures with sharp criticism of the socio-political situation and fascism in the magazines Koprive and Kerempuh. After the war he taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. He painted church frescoes (Trsat, Mihaljevci near Požega) and Mediterranean landscapes, while remaining permanently devoted to figuration.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, museum consultant 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

Anka Krizmanić, Medvednica After the Rain, 1926

Anka Krizmanić
Medvednica After the Rain, 1926
pastel on paper
50 x 58 cm

Anka Krizmanić (1896 – 1987) was a child painting prodigy and the youngest student at the Krizman School of Painting. Having already exhibited with the Medulić Group as a fourteen-year-old, her considerable talent and drawing skills acquired at such an early age were noticed at the School of Applied Arts in Dresden, which she graduated from in 1917. Despite the extreme forms of Expressionism and the radical New Reality that were prevalent in Dresden at that time, Anka Krizmanić persisted in emphasizing the true essence of life precisely in the beauty of the human body and nature. She reached the pinnacle of stylistic maturity between 1926 and 1929 in the series of landscapes, portraits and figural compositions that combine constructive and magical elements. In the pastel Medvednica After the Rain from 1926, the painter highlights the preternatural harmony and elemental beauty of the native landscape, and builds her vision on clear forms of solid plasticity consolidated by warm blue-green tonal harmony.

Anka Krizmanić herself said that she was made only for painting. Although she has worked for a long time as a draughtswoman at the School of Medicine and occasionally supported herself doing other jobs, she produced an impressive oeuvre of almost 6,000 recorded works, paintings, drawings, prints, sketches for tapestries and theatre… Until 1970, she has shown her works at about twenty solo and group exhibitions in Croatia and abroad.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, Senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2022
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb 2022

Ljubo Babić, Croatian Peasant, 1926

Ljubo Babić
Croatian Peasant, 1926
oil on canvas
151 x 120.5 cm

With his painting the Croatian Peasant, Ljubo Babić pays tribute to the strong, hard-working and honest Croatian peasant whose efforts and labour the homeland rests upon. In the spirit of contemporary Neorealism, Babić emphasizes, with the monumental figure, the meaning and not the manifestation of reality. Instead of a portrait, Babić paints a personification of important national, but also universal human virtues. Although he participated in the founding of the Croatian Spring Salon, Ljubo Babić stopped participating in their exhibitions in the early 1920s and formed the Independent Group of Artists. In contrast to the Salon, which was then more oriented towards European trends, the Independents aspired to create their own original artistic expression without foreign influences. Babić will soon theoretically explain the need for national artistic singularity and elaborate it further as a painter. Babić’s creative and theoretical efforts related to ‘our’ expression left a significant mark on Croatian art from the end of the 19th century until World War II.

As a painter, set and costume designer, graphic artist, art pedagogue and critic, art historian, museologist, writer and editor, Ljubo Babić was an epochal figure in the 20th century Croatian culture and art, and after the Independent Group of Artists he also participated in the foundation of the Group of Four, Group of Three, Group of Croatian Artists and Croatian Artists. As the first curator of the National Museum of Modern Art, he was the author of its first permanent display shown in 1920 in the Museum of Arts and Crafts. In 1948, he designed the first display of the National Museum of Modern Art’s collection, which represents the complex development of 19th and 20th century Croatian art, for which purpose today’s building underwent extensive renovations.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, Senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

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