Approximately a century has passed since Miroslav Kraljevič, considered the first Croatian modernist painter, painted his first and last masterpiece.
These are his Self-portrait with dog, in Munich, dating from 1910 and the end of his academic training – which was immediately favourably acclaimed by critics – and Self-portrait, painted in Zagreb in 1912, just six months before his death.
A little more than 70 years ago, his works were displayed for the first time in Venice: this was in 1942, and the then commissioner of the Croatian pavilion at the Giardini, a sculptor called Ivan Meštrovič, included five of his oil paintings at the 23rd Venice Art Biennale, including the Self-portrait with dog and Bon-vivant (1912). However, this event is not much remembered today, despite the fact that Kraljević is one of those modernists with marked qualities as a painter who travelled beyond the borders of his native country.
A decisive point in the painter’s development was a period of residence in Paris between 1911 and 1912 when, what is probably one of the most complex transformations of Croatian art of the period took place in just 13 months: a change that would lay the foundations for the steps forward immediately after his death, noticeable above all in the works of painters who would influence the second decade and start of the third decade of the 20th century.
After leaving the town of Požega, Kraljevič travelled through Vienna and Munich before arriving in Paris, where he tasted the attractions of being a flaneur and appropriated the values of pure pictorial art.
A new mood with fresh potential in terms of content and form, together with the dissolute and high-spirited life of the artistic scene in the French capital in the first decade of the 20th century, offered an inexhaustible source of subjects, providing him with the foundations for a new expressive sensitivity, and enabling him to discover the appeal of a life lived at full speed.
Alongside the finest of the artist’s self-portraits, the exhibition will display some other fundamental works from this same period, such as Vive la joie, In a Parisian cafe and Golgota, which helped project Kraljevič to the centre of the European artistic scene.
Miroslav Kraljevič died in April 1913 in Zagreb at the age of just 27, worn out by the effects of his long sickness, and leaving an oeuvre behind him which, after more than a century has passed, still appears perfectly topical and charged with an unequalled distinctive trait and interpretative force.