Zoran Mušič, Korčula Motif, 1936

Zoran Mušič
Korčula Motif, 1936
36.5 x 58.5 cm

Zoran Mušič is part of the generation of Slovenian artists who received their education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb between the two World Wars, when Zagreb served as a regional hub for artistic pedagogy. During Mušič’s studies there, only nineteen Slovenian students were enrolled at the academy. Alongside Mušič, other notable figures from this group include Gabrijel Stupica, Marij Pregelj, Antun Zuppa, who have since gained recognition. Mušič was born in 1909 in Bukovica near Nova Gorica and attended the Zagreb Academy from 1930 to 1934. During his studies, he was profoundly influenced by Ljubo Babić, who initially guided him towards the Golden Age of Spanish painting (17th and 18th centuries), and then underscored the significance of landscape painting. Slovenian researchers highlight that Mušič, throughout his academic journey, not only absorbed Babić’s historical and theoretical insights but also directly followed his path – first to Korčula (Smokvica, Vela Luka, Korčula) and later settling permanently in Venice from 1945 onwards.
Dalmatian themes are prominent in Mušič’s artwork, particularly scenes depicting women loading donkeys. There are various iterations of this motif: from his early works in the 1930s where, like Antun Motika, Mušič used colour and light to dissolve the outlines of scenes – the ground, rocks, women, donkeys – to his post-war paintings where these motifs of landscapes, women, and donkeys lose their distinctiveness and transform into an emblem, a symbol of sorts, whose treatment evokes prehistoric art. Mušič’s relationship with Dalmatia, particularly with Korčula, held great significance for him. In interviews, he would often express how Dalmatia’s colours and the rounded contours of its island landscapes fascinated him. His paintings do not depict specific locales; instead, Mušič captures his interpretation of them, or as he describes it, his personal obsession.

Text: Klaudio Štefančić, senior 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

Frane Cota, Bust of a Woman (Portrait of My Wife), 1936

Frane Cota
(1898 – 1951)
Bust of a Woman (Portrait of My Wife), 1936
49.5 x 45.5 x 23 cm

After having graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1924, sculptor and architect Frane Cota then obtained a degree in architecture in Zagreb in 1929. He spent some time in Prague, Paris and Italy. Between 1934 and 1950 he taught architectural drawing at the Institute of Technology in Zagreb and in 1941 he started teaching drawing at the Teachers College in Zagreb.
Cota was an outstanding figure in Croatian modern art. Although he considered himself primarily a sculptor, he was just as successful as an architect whose understanding of space was functionalist and whose feeling for volume was sculptural. As a sculptor, he was initially influenced by the Vienna Secession and sculptor Ivan Meštrović, but soon transformed into a modernist favouring Realism. From amongst his sculptural works, his portraits, nudes, figures and reliefs stand out. He also created medals and plaques, such as the King Tomislav plaque from 1925.
The sculptor modelled the portrait of his wife Mrs. M. Cota with her head in profile and the bust cut at breast height. Academicism prevails in the manner of execution of this elegant bust, with a realistic understanding of portrait sculpture that Cota adopted like the other sculptors who exhibited at the Spring Salon, after having adapted it to his own artistic poetics. He emphasises the full volume and clear contour lines. Short, slightly wavy hair is parted in the middle and swept behind the ears. Her facial expression is calm with a subdued smile. The eyelids are accentuated and without pupils, as in most sculptures from that decade. The young woman’s bare shoulders and bust, with only a thin horizontal edge of clothing around the bust, emphasise her buxomness. This intimate and unobtrusive work stands out with its simple idea and discreet posture.

Text: Tatijana Gareljić, 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

Franjo Mraz, Winter, 1936

Franjo Mraz
Winter, 1936
tempera on glass
30×40.4 cm

The painting Winter or Villagers Taking Ice to Town from 1936 is a paradigmatic painting of the oeuvre of Franjo Mraz, a self-taught painter from the village of Hlebine. With the active encouragement of painter Krsto Hegedušić, Mraz recorded, together with Ivan Generalić, everyday village life during the 1930s in painting and drawing. Initially in pencil and watercolour, and then in tempera and oil, he painted ploughmen, diggers, reapers and field hands in the fields, as well as cattle, fields and forests, typical motifs and landscapes of the region of Podravina. Mraz painted two-dimensionally and applied soft-toned colours freely without drawing hard outlines. He used the technique of reverse painting on glass (verre églomisé in French, Hinterglasmalerei in German), which he emulated from the mostly sacral paintings on glass that the peasants of Podravina had long been buying from Austrian and Slovenian travelling painters. He was fascinated by the lustre of glass – a perfectly smooth and easily accessible material – that blends with colours. Using a traditional painting technique, Mraz painted scenes of specific lighting featuring a great freedom of colour and a powerful lyrical charge. He later painted the horrors of World War II realistically. He joined the ranks of the Partisans. Mraz’s illustrations for the partisan press were often inspired by his personal experiences and brutally expressive. In 1950 he moved to Belgrade, where in 1955 he became a professional painter. After a war and post-war period steeped in Realism, in the mid-1950s he returned to depictions of everyday village life, idyllic plains and people who reminded him of his beloved home of Podravina.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

Ljubo Babić, My Native Land, 1936

Ljubo Babić
My Native Land, 1936
oil on canvas
180×150 cm

Ljubo Babić’s My Native Land painting from 1936 is a paradigm of the creative and theoretical effort he put during the 1930s into affirming the values and specificities of Croatia and its people, and into involving Croatian culture in what was at the time the contemporary European context. Seeking to distance himself from the complex socio-political state of affairs – including the then current ideology of the Earth Association of Artists – Babić underscored the need for artistic idealisation and individual values close to the social class of the bourgeoisie. He recognised in some of his landscapes typical national elements on which he built his expression which he defined as “ours and genuine, and at the same time appropriate for today’s Europe”. In wanting to affirm the idea of ‘Croatian homeland’, he further elaborated the importance of the theme of landscape based on an earlier series of his inspired by a trip he took to Spain in 1920.

Ljubo Babić graduated from the College of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb and from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He later also studied in Paris and graduated in art history in Zagreb in 1932. Having been a painter, set and costume designer, graphic artist, art teacher and critic, art historian, museologist, writer and editor, Babić played a pivotal role in Croatia’s 20th century culture and art. He participated in the founding of Croatia’s Spring Salon, the Independent Group of Croatian Artists, the Group of Four, the Group of Three, the Group of Croatian Artists and Croatian Artists. Having been the first curator of the National Museum of Modern Art, he authored the first permanent exhibition set up in 1920 at what was then and is today the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb. In wanting to present the complex development of Croatian art of the 19th and 20th centuries, in 1948 he conceived, designed and authored the first ever permanent exhibition set up at the National Museum of Modern Art, for the purposes of which the building that today houses the national museum was fully renovated.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

Petar Smajić, Lovers / Adam and Eve, 1936

Petar Smajić
Lovers / Adam and Eve, 1936

Petar Smajić was a self-taught Croatian Naive sculptor. He carved in wood themes from everyday life, biblical scenes and symbolic compositions in pure and clear forms. He exhibited his work with the Earth Association of Artists as a guest exhibitor and was a founding member of the Naive Sculptors’ Colony in Ernestinovo, which has been active since 1973. Solo exhibitions of his work were set up in Osijek, Split and Zagreb.

Smajić modelled in wood static and flat human figures, heads, animals and symbolic figurative compositions featuring his unique and unusual feeling for the existential and the anecdotal. During his stay in Dalmatia, he sculpted small statues featuring stylised details, a good example of which is his Lovers / Adam and Eve sculpture from 1936. After he returned to Slavonia in 1941, his focus shifted towards static figures of reduced volume (e.g., Eva, post-1954).

During what is referred to as Smajić’s Dalmatian period when his artistic creation of refined simplicity and pure form reached its peak, this self-taught artist neared the postulates of Modernism. Smajić’s sublime figurative composition of Lovers / Adam and Eve of a rudimentary form from his early Dalmatian period of woodcarvings presents two tightly modelled figures of a peasant couple nestling their heads, shoulders and chests against one another. Adam’s left arm is wrapped around Eve’s neck and they both radiate archaic beauty.

Text: Tatijana Gareljić, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

Vilko Šeferov, Dubrovnik Landscape, 1936

Vilko Šeferov
Dubrovnik Landscape, 1936
oil on hardboard
93.5×69 cm

The Dubrovnik Landscape painting from 1936 depicts the ambience of a summer’s day, which Vilko Šeferov painted as his immediate experience of the world around him whilst spontaneously inspired. This inspiration, which later turned into a flow of thoughts and a “flow of the brush”, represents the very beginning of his work on the painting. The painting’s impressionistic effect is highlighted by Šeferov’s use of a wide range of colours, which take precedence over the other elements of the composition. This is why and how Šeferov created a pronounced colouristic charge in his landscapes of a meditative mood.
Vilko Šeferov was born in Mostar in 1895. He enrolled in the Art School in Belgrade in 1912 under Prof. Vladimir Becić, but the outbreak of World War I interrupted his studies. After having graduated from the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in Budapest, he moved to Sarajevo, where he participated in the founding of the Association of Artists of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1924 he moved to Zagreb, where he exhibited at The Spring Salon. During his stay in Zagreb, he surrounded himself with artists and writers of contemporary worldviews, which started manifesting itself in his depictions of socially engaged themes. At that time he also produced many portraits of his friends and members of his “intellectual circle”. His study stays in the USA in 1951/1952 and in Egypt in 1962 proved to be of great importance for his style because this was where and when he enriched his repertoire of themes and adopted novel colouristic tendencies. Together with painter Vladimir Becić, Šeferov set up an art colony in Blažuj in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was one of the founding members of the Rovinj Art Colony and Gallery in Croatia. He exhibited at many solo exhibitions in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Prague, Vienna, Venice, New York, Los Angeles, San Pedro, etc., and received the 1974 Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award given yearly by Croatia’s Ministry of Culture.

Text: Zlatko Tot, curatorial intern © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Photo:Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb

Milivoj Uzelac Seine with the Eiffel Tower, 1936

Milivoj Uzelac
Seine with the Eiffel Tower, 1936
oil on canvas, 92 x 65 cm

The veduta Seine with the Eiffel Tower from 1936 is one of the best works from the second, Parisian-Provençal phase in Milivoj Uzelac’s oeuvre. After the expressionist ferocity and engaged and provocative paintings full of doubts from the earlier Prague-Zagreb period, Uzelac’s painting after moving to France in 1923 is characterized by a ‘return to order’ and the ubiquitous desire for the affirmation of colour, harmony and the beauty of life. In Paris, Uzelac paints and exhibits intensively, and his scenes of fascinating spontaneity and vitality are very popular with fashionable French audiences. Apart from nudes and portraits, Uzelac’s exceptional gift is particularly confirmed in a series of cityscapes and panoramas with delicate colour refinement and structural balance. With the surreal, somnambular view of the Seine with the Eiffel Tower, Milivoj Uzelac closes the circle started by the lapidary Pons des Arts by Josip Račić in 1908.
Milivoj Uzelac (Mostar, 1897 – Cotignac, 1977) was educated in Banja Luka, Zagreb and Prague. Although he lived in France for more than half a century, he maintained close contacts with the Croatian art scene and colleagues, particularly Vilko Gecan, with whom he was very close both privately and professionally since young age. He staged regular exhibitions in his homeland. Milivoj Uzelac’s Cézanneism, his expressionist and later neo-classicist advances contributed significantly to the development of Croatian artistic modernity, especially in the period between the two world wars.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagic, Senior curator of the National Museum of
Modern Art© National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranic© Nacionalni muzej moderne umjetnosti, Zagreb





Ivan Generalić, Washerwoman, 1936

Ivan Generalić
Washerwoman, 1936
oil on glass; 29 x 33 cm

The colour palette, typology and motif of Ivan Generalić’s Washerwoman is typical for the early Naïve art of Hlebine. During the 1930s, at the encouragement of Krsto Hegedušić, self-taught artists from the Podravina village of Hlebine painted and drew scenes from everyday life, so the ‘Washerwoman” is characterized by clear drawing, flat composition and pronounced symbolic local colours. The disproportionate figure is devoid of personal features, and the location specifies the characteristic ambience with Podravina houses and coral willow canopies.
Starting with readily available pencils and watercolours, the Hlebine painters-peasants later also painted in tempera and oil. Raised in the tradition of buying mostly religious paintings on glass (glaži), which have long been sold in villages of the Podravina region by Austrian and Slovenian itinerant painters, the Hlebine painters, besides paper and canvas, often also painted on glass, an easily available material of fascinating lustre. In 1930 in Hlebine, Krsto Hegedušić recognized and started to encourage Ivan Generalić’s fascinating innate talent. From 1931, Generalić started to exhibit as a guest artist in exhibitions of the Association Zemlja. He initially critically painted images of village life in watercolours, and later often in oil and tempera on glass. After World War II he became the central figure of the so-called Hlebine Peasant Art School, and his rural scenes approached lyrical idealization, metaphor and phantasy. In the 1970s, he devoted himself to symbolic and existential themes. He received international acclaim and held around seventy solo exhibitions in Croatia and abroad.

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

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