About Oton Iveković’s painting Vivat rex from the National Museum of Modern Art’s holdings at the artist’s retrospective at the Klovićevi dvori Gallery

Among the 230 exhibited works at the retrospective exhibition of Oton Iveković, the most prominent historicist painter in Croatia, which is currently being held at the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery in Zagreb, special attention is drawn by the painting of monumental dimensions (250 x 500 cm) titled “Vivat rex” from 1911, also known as “Croats Elect Ferdinand of Habsburg as Ruler”, “Vivat Habsburg” and “Parliament of 1527 at Cetingrad” from the holdings of the National Museum of Modern Art in Zagreb. The oil on canvas depicting the Parliament session at Cetingrad held in 1527, where the Croats elected the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg as the Croatian king, was commissioned by Izidor Kršnjavi, art historian, painter, professor, writer and a very influential man in the cultural and political life of Croatia at the time.

The painting has thus far been shown only at the Art Society exhibition held in May 1911, in the Art Pavilion in Zagreb, which was staged as a reaction to the International Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture in Rome that same year, where the Dalmatian artists assembled in the Medulić Association (Dešković, Krizman, Medović, Rački, Rendić, Rosandić), led by Meštrović and Bukovac, refused to exhibit their works in the Hungarian pavilion, because they were not allowed to highlight their national identity, so they decided to show their works in the pavilion of the Kingdom of Serbia instead. This act of the Dalmatian artists caused a furore in the Monarchy and among the Banovina artists, which included Iveković. Which is why Kršnjavi, in order to emphasise the cultural “loyalty” to the Habsburg Monarchy, wanted to organise a “counter-exhibition” titled “Vivat Habsburg” in Vienna, while the exhibition in Rome was still ongoing. However, his idea fell through, and it was all reduced to the aforementioned Art Society exhibition in Zagreb.
According to Miroslav Krleža’s notes in “Književna republika” from 1926, after the exhibition, Leopold Salvator, Archduke of Habsburg-Lorraine, wanted to buy the painting, however the Royal Land Government donated it to the Modern Gallery, today the National Museum of Modern Art – probably after the exhibition at the Art Pavilion, as recorded in the NMMU archive.

The painting “Vivat rex” had to be prepared for display, and Slobodan Radić, a consultant conservator-restorer and Head of the Department for Easel Painting 1 at the Croatian Conservation Institute, described the conducted restoration and conservation works in detail.
“The painting was executed in the oil technique using a classical chalk and glue preparation. The canvas is made of a thin tightly woven linen. It was found wrapped around a cardboard roll, with the painted side out, deformed and wavy, and there were vertical and diagonal cracks in the canvas in several places. There was visible damage to the paint and the foundation, especially along the canvas cracks, parts of which were lost. In several places, we also found remains of the Japanese paper used to glue the damage. For display purposes, the necessary conservation-restoration works have been carried out on the painting. First, we created a work surface measuring 600 x 300 cm. After the cleaning tests, deposits of dust and remains of Japanese paper were removed from the painted side using an appropriate solvent. The damages, as well as the broken parts of the paint and foundation, were glued with acrylic glue to prevent their further chipping and falling off. Several layers of thermo-active adhesive were applied to the back of the painting as well as to the new linen canvas. The painting was lined with a new linen canvas using a heated vacuum table. The missing parts of the foundation were reconstructed with acrylic putty in the texture of the original. We made a new wooden subframe that can be disassembled into parts for easier transport. Appropriate springs were also made for the system of permanent elastic tensioning of the painting, and stainless-steel rods and tensioning screws were acquired. The painting was then stretched on the subframe using the said system, which ensures its permanent tension and simple disassembly and assembly from the subframe. The reconstructed damage to the paint and foundation, as well as damage caused by scratching, was retouched and varnished with spray varnish.
After the works were finished, the painting was dismantled from the subframe and wrapped around a cardboard roll with a diameter of 40 cm. The subframe and the elastic tensioning system were also dismantled and transported with the painting to the Klovićevi Dvori Gallery. In the exhibition space, the subframe was reassembled and the painting stretched on it.

Conservation-restoration works”.
The restoration work on the “Vivat rex” painting was conducted by the employees of the Croatian Conservation Institute – senior conservators-restorers from the Department for Easel Painting 1, Ana Pohl, Renata Majcan Šragalj, Tanja Rihtar and conservator-restorer Jurica Milinković. The wooden subframe for the painting was made by the restorer master-carpenter Dragutin Furdi, and the elastic tensioning system was made by Slobodan Radić. In addition, 29 other paintings from the holdings of the National Museum of Modern Art are presented at the ongoing retrospective exhibition of Oton Iveković’s works. Most of them were prepared for display by the employees of the National Museum of Modern Art, senior conservator-restorer Petra Kursar and conservators-restorers Marija Kalmeta and Lana Linda Fisković.
* Art historian Krunoslav Kamenov, MA, revealed to us several interesting facts about the painting: “Oton Iveković had allegedly mentioned this historical event to Franz Joseph as early as 1895, when the latter visited Zagreb. Čikoš’s and Iveković’s watercolour vedutas from Croatia and Slavonia, among them Cetingrad, which Iveković interpreted for the king, were exhibited at the exhibition that the Art Society organized for the king, in the still unfinished hall of Department of Religious Affairs and Education. When the king asked if Cetingrad was a seaside town, Iveković responded that it is in Kordun and that it was an important event where the Croats recognised the Habsburgs as their rulers. But it seems that he was a little too talkative, so Franz Joseph moved away from him…” He also told us “that the painting seemed unfinished to some of the artists represented at the exhibition (1911) and that it needed to be refined, and also that Iveković, at the end of that same year, after Crnčić and Krušlin who exhibited the vedutas of Velebit, also staged a solo exhibition at the Ulrich Gallery where he also presented the studies for the painting “Vivat rex”, which critics judged to be better than the Velebit landscapes that lagged behind those of Crnčić and Krušlin.”

* How long did Iveković paint “Vivat rex” considering its dimensions and how is it that the painting has not been exhibited for more than a hundred years, we asked Ivan Kokeza, art historian and curator at the Croatian History Museum, who defended his doctoral dissertation titled “History Painting in Croatia from the Illyrian Movement to the Second World War” at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb in 2022.
Iveković was not in the habit of rendering such large scenes, so in that sense “Vivat rex” is actually an exception. And he has certainly been dealing with Cetingrad as a motif for a long time, so it is quite possible that he already elaborated certain motifs before he created the painting. We know that he studied uniforms, weapons, created sketches… and that he just sublimated all this into the painting for the exhibition in 1911. And as for the painting not being exhibited, we should take into consideration the social, political and historical-artistic circumstances. First of all, the period of war and the first and second Yugoslavia, as well as the political context in which everything that glorified the Austro-Hungarian sentiment was not welcome. Where did Iveković paint such a large canvas, where was the painting kept during the whirlwind of the two great wars – these are all questions that require extensive research.
- The National Museum of Modern Art would like to thank the Croatian Conservation Institute and the conservator-restorer Mr. Slobodan Radić for the photos submitted for publication as well as the detailed description of the conservation and restoration procedures conducted on Oton Iveković’s painting “Vivat rex”.

Reproductions: source Croatian Conservation Institute, Zagreb 2023

Sources:
Miroslav Krleža Institute of Lexicography, One Croat, who was late to Kosovo – a polemical note by Miroslav Krleža published in “Književna republika”, 1926, book III, no. 3, on the occasion of the painter O. Iveković’s affirmative article about Vidovdan and the anniversary of the Kosovo Battle (newspaper Novosti, 27 June 1926)
Riha Journal 0266 – Dragan Damjanović The Habsburgs and Public Monuments in 19th-Century Croatia, 10th July 2021
Croatian History Museum, Zagreb, 1969, Catalogue of Museum Collections III; Marijana Schneider, History Painting in Croatia, p. 37.
Journal of the Institute for Historical Science of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zadar (63 / 2021), Filip Šimetin Šegvić, Art as Propaganda: Ivan Meštrović, Conflicting Parallel Cultural Policies and the Great War, p. 332

Prepared and interviewed: Lana Šetka
Translated by: Robertina Tomić

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