Gundulić Contemplating Osman, 1894
oil on canvas
Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) introduced Modernism into Croatia. In his childhood, his inquisitive and adventurous spirit took him to the USA. Thanks to a pan-Slavicist writer, Medo Pucić, and Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer, he attended École des beaux-arts in Prague. His style of painting was influenced by Alexandre Cabanel, an eclectic painter of historical and religious compositions in the spirit of Academicism. With time, he became acquainted with Impressionism and Orientalism, and developed his artistic expression drawing from Realism and Impressionism, and occasionally from Symbolism. After having completed his studies in 1880 and thanks to the successes he achieved at the Salons in Paris, he set up a studio in Paris. Concurrently, he also painted in Dalmatia and the UK, and in 1893 he settled in Zagreb, where in 1895 he initiated the construction of the Art Pavilion. In opposition to Izidor Kršnjavi’s Croatian Art Society founded in 1879, in 1897 Bukovac founded the Society of Croatian Artists inviting artists to paint en plein air, which gave impetus to the development of Modernism in Croatia. Under his influence, painters started using a lighter palette and rejecting the brown hues that dominated galleries. As a result, a variant of Croatian realist painting of bright colours came about, dubbed the Colourful School of Zagreb. Because of his disagreement with Kršnjavi, Bukovac first went to Cavtat in 1898 and then to Prague in 1903 to teach at the academy there.
Gundulić Contemplating Osman, a painting which Bukovac started in Paris and finished in Zagreb in 1894, shows Ivan Gundulić, a Croatian Baroque writer, contemplating his historical and romantic epic, Osman. The diagonal Baroque composition and the characters are academically realistic, while Gundulić’s gaze is fixed on the impressionistically treated haze and the gleam of light above the water. The ease with which he painted is evident not only in the realistic depiction of the draperies and incarnations, but also in the details of the plants and rocks in the foreground. The fact that both the painting’s theme and Baroque composition are a reference/citation makes Gundulić Contemplating Osman nevertheless be in the vein of History Painting.
Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum consultant of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Ana Janković © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb