At the Café 1908
watercolour on paper
28.5 x 22 cm
Josip Račić (1885 – 1908) was one of the founders of Modern art in Croatia, who achieved clear pictorial values in his painting. After having finished his lithography studies in 1903, he moved to Vienna in 1904 and then to Munich where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and studied painting under H. v. Habermann. His education in A. Ažbe’s private studio, which emphasised the principle of the sphere and crystallisation of colour, also had a significant influence on the development of Račić’s personality. On the basis of this, Račić creates a visual synthesis characterised by solid structural design and pronounced voluminousness. Familiar with the most important currents of Modern art, Račić early on formed a pictorial poetics built on the appreciation of the art of Velazquez, Rembrandt and Manet, but he was also influenced by the work of W. Leibl. In 1905, he met Becić. Together with Herman and later Kraljević, they formed the so-called Die Kroatische Schule (Croatian School) within the Munich Academy. In 1906, he spent time in Zagreb where he drew caricatures for the Koprive satirical magazine. In 1908, he moved to Paris, produced copies at the Louvre, painted the motifs of parks, riverbanks, cafés, portraits and self-portraits. His mysterious death at a young age, lamentations on poverty through the observations of various interpreters: (…) his canvases speak the language (…) of the grave (M. Krleža), are recounted by I. Zidić in the study Račić or the Boyhood of a Genius. Račić appreciated the importance of visual sensation, which is expressed in his portraits and self-portraits, studies that are psychologically deep and northernly sombre. The pronounced appreciation of visual phenomena revealed to him the importance of the optical conception of impressionists and post-impressionists. The peculiar lighting in Pont des Arts (1908) suggested speculations of Impressionism, however, the palette based on silvery-grey and the synthetic elements of the composition are not characteristic of Impressionism. His Parisian impressionist watercolours are particularly important. One such filmic frame is his watercolour At the Café (1908). Composed as a painting within a painting, it reveals the emptiness and hollowness of the café’s interior as a counterpoint to the brighter depiction of a young man with a hat and drink labels inscribed atop the adjacent bar. Mother and Child (1908) and Self-Portrait (1908) are Račić’s iconic paintings. They are tonally condensed realistic studies. Račić’s painting received its appropriate valorisation as late as 1920, when Lj. Babić, in addition to the first display of the NMMU collection at the Museum of Arts and Crafts, organised his first solo exhibition.
Text: Željko Marciuš, museum consultant 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