Vlaho Bukovac, Portrait of Samuel Berger’s Daughter, 1897

Vlaho Bukovac
(1855 – 1922)
Portrait of Samuel Berger's Daughter, 1897
oil on canvas
85x110.5 cm

Vlaho Bukovac (1855 - 1922), is considered to be the father of Modern art in Croatia. At a young age, his inquisitive and adventurous spirit took him to America. Thanks to the pan-Slavism-oriented writer Medo Pucić and Bishop Strossmayer, he attended the École des beaux-arts academy in Paris. His style of painting was influenced by Alexandre Cabanel, an eclectic painter of history paintings and religious compositions in the spirit of the official Academicism. With time, he became acquainted with impressionist painting and Orientalism, and he developed his own artistic expression drawing from Realism, Impressionism and occasionally Symbolism. After having completed his studies in 1880 and thanks to the successes he achieved at the Paris Salons, he set up a studio in Paris. He painted in Dalmatia and England concurrently, and in 1893 he settled in Zagreb, where in 1895 he initiated the construction of the Art Pavilion. In 1897, he founded the Society of Croatian Artists that opposes Kršnjavi’s Croatian Art Society founded in 1879, and invited artists to paint in plein air thus giving an impetus to the development of Modern art in Croatia. Under his influence, painters started using a brighter palette, rejecting the brown hues that dominated galleries at the time. As a result, a variant of Croatian realist painting with bright colours was birthed and soon became known as the Colourful School of Zagreb. Because of his disagreement with Kršnjavi, Bukovac first moved to Cavtat in 1898 and then to Prague in 1903 to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts there.
The Portrait of the Little Girl Berger, daughter of Samuel Berger, an industrialist and silk merchant whose Land Collection, along with several others, forms the initial part of the corpus of the Ethnographic Museum in Zagreb, is a typical representative portrait from the last years of Bukovac’s Zagreb phase. A little girl in a sumptuous dress in a semi-reclining position rests on a pillow with oriental motifs that are also visible on the carpet she is lying on. The luminous tonality of the painting is especially pronounced with different shades of white: from the opaque skin tones of the girl’s lovely face through the yellowish-white shades of the hat to the snow-white sumptuous dress decorated with intricate lace. The paint is applied in thick layers emphasising the opulent nature of the material of the dress, and indirectly the high social status to which the girl belongs. The painting once again reveals Bukovac’s extraordinary ease of playing with hues of predominantly one colour in the depiction of a given genre.

Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum consellor at 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

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