Zagreb, Bell Towers, 1948
Gouache on paper
It is not at all unusual for an architecture graduate to be interested in buildings and the city in general, even one who would rather paint than deal with architectural design, but it is quite unusual for the representation of rooftops in Zagreb, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, to look quite like this. In fact, in the first post-war years, the socialist system expected art to realistically portray the military victory and the reconstruction of the destroyed country, that is, to spread confidence in the government and foster belief in a better tomorrow. This artistic style was a global phenomenon. It appeared in all socialist countries, and it was especially widespread in the Soviet Union, which Yugoslavia severed all ties with in 1948 – precisely at the time this painting was created, choosing to follow its own path. In art history, this year is usually considered as the beginning of the end of Social Realism, so Rašica’s painting is more than a representation of Zagreb: it marks a clear turn by some of the artists, primarily in Zagreb, towards the basic tenets of modernist painting, culminating in the founding of Exat 51 Group, of which Rašica was a member.
And indeed, not only is Rašica’s painting far removed from Social Realism, it is in some ways foreign to realism in general. Any similarity to rooftops is overpowered by geometrization of the scene, and instead of entire buildings that are perspectivally organised in space, we observe a series of almost ornamentally arranged triangles and squares, the flatness of which is further emphasised with a grid of straight lines. Thus, immediately after the war, the historical part of Zagreb – the view from Gradec to Kaptol – was given a completely modern treatment.
Božidar Rašica was born in 1912 in Ljubljana. He studied architecture in Warsaw, Rome and Belgrade, and graduated in 1942 in Zagreb. In addition to architecture, he also worked as an urban planner, set designer and painter. He received the Vladimir Nazor Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979 and died in 1992 in Zagreb.
Texst: Klaudio Štefančić, curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art , Zagreb, 2022
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art , Zagreb, 2022