A Cafe on a Boulevard, 1908
watercolour on paper
Besides Miroslav Kraljević, Oskar Herman and Vladimir Becić, Josip Račić was one of the pioneers of Modernism in Croatian painting. He was born in Zagreb in 1885, where he studied lithography. In 1904 he moved to Munich, where he first attended Anton Ažbe’ school of painting and where in 1905 he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts to study painting. The watercolours he created in Paris are a special segment of his oeuvre. Intoxicated by its allure, Račić moved to Paris without having first completed his studies at Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts. He frequented the Louvre, produced copies of the old masters, absorbed Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and indulged in the dynamics of city life. In addition to portraits, he started to paint typical Parisian motifs more and more often: bridges, parks, cafes, boulevards, etc. A Cafe on a Boulevard is Račić’s perhaps most famous watercolour.
What draws viewers’ attention in this night scene is, first and foremost, a contrast between the light coming from the inside of the cafe and the semi-darkness that dominates the pavement walked on by passers-by. The faces of the passers-by and their clothing or its details are not defined – all in the painting is subordinated to the contrast between light and semi-darkness, and to the special rhythm that Račić achieved with a series of illuminated windows on the facade of the building on the one hand, and a line of passers-by on the pavement on the other. What makes A Cafe on a Boulevard exceptional is Račić’s perspective with which he built the scene. The cafe itself and the passers-by are positioned in the background, while the foreground is occupied by the semi-darkness of the pavement. It is in this semi-darkness, in this empty space, that we can imagine the painter observing the scene which he is so close to – literally across the street! – and yet which he is so clearly detached from. Moreover, it is in this space we can imagine ourselves as we observe the world around us, half-present, half-distant.
Texst: Klaudio Štefančić, senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art ©National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković
Foto: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb