Slavko Kopač, Lady in White, 1938

Slavko Kopač
Lady in White, 1938
oil on canvas
93.5 x 73.5 mm
MG-1553

Slavko Kopač painted his Lady in White shortly after graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1937. Expressing his gratitude to his mentor Vladimir Becić and the realistic and post-impressionist tradition in which he was trained, Kopač announces his new sensibility in this poetic portrait through the striking contrast between the prevailing “powdery” impression of the painting, achieved through numerous white-pinkish tones, and the energetic red color in details such as the decoration on the lapel, lips, cheeks, and hair.
Later in France, Slavko Kopač (Vinkovci, 1913 – Paris, 1995) was considered a true visionary and pioneer in the use of non-painterly materials. The artistic expression of one of the most important protagonists of Art Informel and Art Brut initially developed from post-impressionist realism towards Kraljević’s expressionism. It culminated during Kopač’s training in Paris in 1939, where he came into contact with the chromatic facets of Leo Junek. After being compelled to leave France by the war, he briefly taught in Mostar. In 1943, he went to Florence, where he significantly distanced himself from the realistic and academic style. Through more spontaneous and elemental expressions, he created impressionistic visions and watercolors close to Surrealism. He finally returned to Paris in 1948 and soon began collaborating with Jean Dubuffet. For over thirty years, they explored, worked, and collected works of L’Art Brut (raw art). Kopač served as the secretary and curator of the Art Brut collection. He also collaborated with André Breton and exhibited at the surrealist gallery À l'étoile scellée alongside the greats such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, and René Magritte.

Text: Lada Bošnjak Velagić, senior curator of 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

Slavko Šohaj, A Boy II, 1938

Slavko Šohaj
(1908-2003)
A Boy II, 1938
oil on canvas
89x69.7 cm
MG-1806

Slavko Šohaj’s A Boy II painting from 1938 is an anthological work of Cézanneism in Croatia and represents a sure step along the road to European Modernism. With the help of Cézannesque construction and local colours, Šohaj did not describe a scene, but rather interpreted the atmosphere of his studio, the centre of both his creative universe and universe of life. A compositional and gestural discipline, and a narrow range of motifs and themes are the features of the seven decades of creativity of Šohaj, the ‘last classic of Croatian Modernism’.

Slavko Šohaj studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb under Prof. Vladimir Becić and Prof. Ljubo Babić. After graduation, he stayed and studied in Paris in 1931/32 and in 1939. Having been inspired by the works of Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, Šohaj strove for a painterly synthesis to express his own intimate world. In 1934 and 1935 he exhibited as a guest exhibitor at the exhibitions of The Group of Three (Ljubo Babić, Vladimir Becić and Jerolim Miše). Critics appreciate him as a master of figurative Poetic Realism. He worked as a draughtsman at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb (1935-1965) and exhibited regularly at group exhibitions. His appearance at the Venice Biennale in 1942 won him international acclaim. Although his first ever solo exhibition was held in Paris as early as 1952, it was not until 1968 that Croatia saw the opening of his first solo exhibition in Zagreb. Not having cared much about the post-war trends in art of the 1950s, he befriended and exhibited with Croatian painters Oton Postružnik and Fran Šimunović. He did not care much about the Neo-Avant-Garde of the 1960s and 1970s either. Šohaj’s impressive oeuvre is mainly devoted to intimist themes, self-portraits and portraits, nudes and still lifes. Slavko and his wife, Heda Dubac Šohaj, donated over 150 masterpieces to the National Museum of Modern Art.

Text: lada Bošnjak Velagić, 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

Leo Junek, Cherche Midi, Paris, 1938

Leo Junek
(1899 – 1993)
Cherche Midi, Paris, 1938
oil on canvas
73 x 92 cm
MG-1487

After having graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Leo Junek moved to Paris in 1925 to continue his education. Junek’s early work is typified by self-portraits of monumental simplicity and an increasingly pronounced colour scheme, which is going to culminate in the early 1930s in Parisian vedutas and landscapes of magical pictorial power. Under the influence of Cézanne and Fauvist role-models and a direct contact with Raoul Dufy, Junek created his own visionary world using refined colour harmonies in seemingly simple broad surfaces and blotches. In Junek’s interpretation, the building of the military prison Cherche Midi in Paris, with barred windows and high fence wall, has grown from a cityscape into a unique rhythmic play of colour, light and texture. In the 1940s, Junek’s painting neared the ideas of Abstract art, and after he moved to Orsay in 1950, he started painting entirely in the vein of colour-infused Lyrical Abstraction. Leo Junek (Lorris Junec) painted almost his entire oeuvre in France, and although he lived in Croatia only for a short time and had relatively few exhibitions, he exerted a significant influence on Croatian painting. Between the two world wars, many of Croatian scholarship recipients in Paris turned to him for help (Juraj Plančić, Vjekoslav Parać, Marijan Detoni, Slavko Kopač). He collaborated intensively with Krsto Hegedušić on the foundation of the Earth Association of Artists, but faithful to his more personal and urban path towards modernism he parted ways with the Association as early as the closing of their first exhibition in 1929. Junek’s poetics exerted a particular influence on Croatian painters with a distinct sensibility for colour (Edo Kovačević, Vera Nikolić, Slavko Kopač, Antun Mezdjić, Edo Murtić, Josip Vaništa).

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.

Marijan Detoni, A Dilapidated Wall Fantasy, 1938

Marijan Detoni
A Dilapidated Wall Fantasy, 1938
oil on canvas
53 × 67,5 cm
MG-1994

A Dilapidated Wall Fantasy, Marijan Detoni’s experimental canvas, opened up endless possibilities of interpretation akin to Lyrical Abstraction as early as 1938. It is in a labyrinth of wet traces and puddles which young Detoni was referred to by Da Vinci after he read the latter’s A Treatise on Painting that he revealed the power of stains, signs, material and gesture, having thus anticipated the Avant-Garde movements of post-war European painting. In the painting, the motif of the brick – a trademark of sorts of the Zemlja (Earth) group of artists to which Detoni belonged from 1932 to 1934 – as well as condensed human figures and war machines moving dramatically presaging the inevitable doom of Europe are recognisable.

Marijan Detoni graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in 1928 in the class of Professor Ljubo Babić. In his earlier works, Detoni highlights volumes of a Cézannesque conception, and from 1926 he often depicted scenes from provincial life into which he introduced elements of humour and the grotesque. While on a scholarship in Paris in 1934, he drew turbulent scenes from the streets of Paris and scenes from the lives of unemployed workers. Detoni expressed himself masterfully through simple drawings, locally inspired colours and basic modelling. His pre-war paintings feature Colourism, and as a forerunner of abstract tendencies in Croatian painting, in 1938 he painted two Dilapidated Wall Fantasies. While in Paris in 1939, he was inspired by the Modernism of the School of Paris, after which he returned to local themes and euphoric experiences of light and colour. He joined the partisan movement in World War II, and in the post-war years featuring the dictated aesthetics of Socialist Realism he centred on partisan war themes. Later he painted inspiring visions, fantastic and phantasmagorical compositions and totally abstract paintings.

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

Marta Ehrlich, An Interior with a Chest of Drawers, 1938

Marta Ehrlich
(1910-1980)
An Interior with a Chest of Drawers, 1938
tempera on paper

During her career as an artist, Marta Ehrlich drew and painted numerous cityscapes, the most interesting of which are those depicting Paris. The view of most of her compositions seems to be from the inside looking outwards, from an interior directed towards an exterior. The angle is always slightly raised, and her paintings are dominated by trees which she painted in their entirety, through whose canopy the eye makes its way so as to recognise, down below, at the very bottom of her scenes, a pavement with human figures reduced to stains, while the top of her compositions is dominated by rooftops and the sky. The logic of the interior we are bringing here is reversed. That is, the composition looks as if it was painted from the outside looking inside. Quite in line with the difference between public (city) and private life which Modernism in art has insisted on since its very beginnings, Marta Ehrlich’s interior exudes a calm, meditative atmosphere, which is contributed to the most not only by her choice of pastel colours, but also by the depth of the space she depicted.

Marta Ehrlich Tompa (1910-1980) attended painter Vladimir Becić’s private painting school in Zagreb from 1929 to 1934. Between 1935 and 1938, she studied in Paris. After World War II, she rejected the style of painting of the School of Paris and started turning increasingly to themes and symbols which she portrayed in the vein of Abstract Art. She also designed pottery, worked on fabric designs and created stage designs.

Text: Klaudio Štefančić, 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

Slavko Šohaj, A Boy II, 1938

Slavko Šohaj
(1908-2003)
A Boy II, 1938
oil on canvas
89x69.7 cm
MG-1806

Slavko Šohaj’s A Boy II painting from 1938 is an anthological work of Cézanneism in Croatia and represents a sure step along the road to European Modernism. With the help of Cézannesque construction and local colours, Šohaj did not describe a scene, but rather interpreted the atmosphere of his studio, the centre of both his creative universe and universe of life. A compositional and gestural discipline, and a narrow range of motifs and themes are the features of the seven decades of creativity of Šohaj, the ‘last classic of Croatian Modernism’.
Slavko Šohaj studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb under Prof. Vladimir Becić and Prof. Ljubo Babić. After graduation, he stayed and studied in Paris in 1931/32 and in 1939. Having been inspired by the works of Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, Šohaj strove for a painterly synthesis to express his own intimate world. In 1934 and 1935 he exhibited as a guest exhibitor at the exhibitions of The Group of Three (Ljubo Babić, Vladimir Becić and Jerolim Miše). Critics appreciate him as a master of figurative Poetic Realism. He worked as a draughtsman at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb (1935-1965) and exhibited regularly at group exhibitions. His appearance at the Venice Biennale in 1942 won him international acclaim. Although his first ever solo exhibition was held in Paris as early as 1952, it was not until 1968 that Croatia saw the opening of his first solo exhibition in Zagreb. Not having cared much about the post-war trends in art of the 1950s, he befriended and exhibited with Croatian painters Oton Postružnik and Fran Šimunović. He did not care much about the Neo-Avant-Garde of the 1960s and 1970s either. Šohaj’s impressive oeuvre is mainly devoted to intimist themes, self-portraits and portraits, nudes and still lifes. Slavko and his wife, Heda Dubac Šohaj, donated over 150 masterpieces to the National Museum of Modern Art.

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

Marijan Detoni, In the Struggle, 1938

Marijan Detoni
In the Struggle, 1938
lithography
MG-6755

Detoni’s lithograph “In the Struggle” is part of his oeuvre that is marked by the participation in the work of the art group Zemlja, a group that strongly advocated, within the framework of Croatian and Yugoslav art between the two world wars, for an active role of artists in society. The extent of this group’s influence and the topicality of its program is best illustrated by the fact that it was banned from public work by the authorities in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1935. Marijan Detoni was born in 1905, and he graduated from the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts in 1928. In 1933, as a recipient of the French government scholarship, he spent a year in Paris where he visited museums, but his attention was more preoccupied with the social unrest, which ignited on the streets of Paris in those years as a result of the great economic crisis. One year later, he will publish a portfolio of 30 linocuts, “People from the Seine” in Vukovar, as a kind of reflection of his stay in Paris and probably one of the best print portfolios in Croatian art.
In this lithograph, the entire frame is filled with men pushing, shouting at each other, clashing. Each figure is shown in a position that suggests intense movement. In cases where only the head is shown, Detoni depicts the face in a grimace, thus suggesting the movement of the body. In the background, a series of two-storey houses marks the scene of the unrest – the city. There is nothing in the image that is indicative of the cause of the conflict, but knowing Detoni’s work from that period, we will not be mistaken if we recognize in this scene the street riots caused by the social and economic crisis.

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

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