Iso Kršnjavi, A Study of a Female Head, 1873-1874

Iso Kršnjavi
A Study of a Female Head, 1873-1874
oil on canvas
47×37 cm

Art historian, politician, painter and writer Izidor (Iso) Kršnjavi (1845-1927) was a key figure in Croatian culture in the second half of the 19th century. He was first taught painting by Hugo Conrad von Hötzendorf in Osijek. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts first in Vienna and later in Munich, where he was mentored by Professors Wilhelm von Lindenschmit the Younger and Wilhelm von Diez, artists who used informal teaching methods to steer their students towards observational studies and plein-air painting. Between 1872 and 1877 he stayed in Italy on several occasions – he had a studio in Rome and in southern Italy he painted together with painters Karl Hubert Frosch, Henryk Hektor Siemiradzki and Ferdinand (Ferdo) von Quiquerez-Beaujeu. Having become dissatisfied with his work, he stopped painting in 1877. He favoured small-scale oils on canvas, drawings and copper etchings in the vein of the Realism of Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts and, for the purpose of teaching, produced several sketches of the old masters reduced to basic strokes and colours. Kršnjavi founded the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University in Zagreb with a lecture he gave in 1877 under the title The Significance of the History and Archaeology of Art, and in 1879 he prompted to action the Art Society founded in 1868. From 1891 to 1895 he was the Minister of Education and Religion in Károly Khuen-Héderváry’s administration. In his capacity as president of the Art Society, in 1905 he founded the National Museum of Modern Art. Kršnjavi’s project of reconstructing and equipping the seat of the Department of Worship and Teaching is programmatically important. Based on Hermann Bollé’s project, and in line with the culture of Classicism, Humanism and Christianity, the reconstruction was executed in the spirit of Idealism and Realism by artists who later became representatives of Croatia’s Modernism.

Iso Kršnjavi’s A Study of a Female Head from 1873-1874 is an anthological painting of Croatian Realism, indirectly modelled in the vein of Wilhelm Leibl’s Realism, which is characterised by painting directly onto the canvas without any prior sketches being produced. The painting’s dark tone is livened up by freely applied coats of paint, with the girl’s face painted in the manner of Academicism. Kršnjavi’s distinct feeling for rhythm is particularly evident in the girl’s white collar which he painted almost abstractly.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, 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

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