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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Miodrag B. Protic

Painting and sculpture in the twentieth century

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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In relation to painting, sculpture had a different destiny: it practically did not exist until the middle of the nineteenth century. Before that, it lived in the form of ecclesiastic ornamental and folk plastic art, but not as sculpture in the narrower sense. The reason for its late appearance lies in the fact that the Orthodox church, unlike the Catholic church, was intolerant of it. Thus, it appeared in parallel with the increased influence of secular, civil authorities on art. While at the beginning of the twentieth century Serbian painting already had its own history and tradition, its own rises and falls, the history of Serbian sculpture had just begun - in the atmosphere of Academism, in fact neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Realism, Verism and Symbolism, as well as the first signs of the new, in terms of Impressionist, Rodin-like or Secessionist ideas.

Simeon Roksandic, Boy Who Walked His Feet Off, 1911, bronze, National Museum, Belgrade

The first and the second decade thus brought about only relative newness. However, the third decade saw fundamental changes - the "constructive", "synthetic" conception, as well as Avant-gardism from time to time; the fourth - the return to the intimate, real and social: the applied "constructive", "synthetic" Intimatist art, Realism and Social Art; the fifth decade - art in the war and renewal of the country: Social "engaged Realism"... After 1950 a new era began with a conceptual turning-point.

Sreten Stojanovic, Portrait of a Friend, 1920, bronze, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

One could say that Serbian sculpture in the nineteenth century had only one significant person. This was Petar Ubavkic (1852-1910), who belonged to the century not only chronologically, but poetically as well: Classicism swayed by Romanticism, which aimed to achieve Naturalism and Verism ("Gipsy Woman", 1885; "Queen Natalija", 1887; Vuk Karadzic, 1889). However, in discussing his genesis as an artist, a certain degree of courage is needed for taking the other two significant sculptors (in the Serbian milieu) into consideration: Djordje Jovanovic (1861-1953) and Simeon Roksandic (1874-1943). The former was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of the nineteenth century: Naturalism united with literature, the Academism of Munich, together with the Academism of Paris. The latter of these two artists was warmer and closer. The influence of established, academic schemes on his creative work was less significant and his feeling for life and form was more intimate and more vivid. This was a more delicate kind of Naturalism. The harmony between plastic and emotional values was achieved in two or three portraits, and in his figures of children and the famous "Fisherman".

Petar Palavicini, Portrait of Rastko Petrovic, 1922, stone, National Museum, Belgrade

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Academism was characterised by two basic, interdependent features: a relative stability, even an unchanging language and means of shaping, along with mimesis as a general philosophy of art. This is confirmed by the works of Jan Konjarek (1878-1952), Dragomir Arambasic (1881-1945), Pasko Vucetic (1871-1871), Zivojin Lukic (1889-1925); this brings one to the conclusion that, between 1870 and 1920, Academism in Serbia was very intensive (later as a weakened, sub-historical phenomenon, until 1950), in its various forms. Although craving for timeless art and the codification of "eternal", "unchangeable" norms, it actually encompassed a repertoire of forms, from neo-Classicism, through Baroque-like Romanticism, up to Verism, Naturalism, the Secession or Symbolism. It was based on the dualism of meaning and on an attempt to go beyond matter and move toward the transcendental, which occasionally emerged in the works of: Toma Rosandic (1878-1959) - "The Languishing" (1906), for example, with its affected sentimentalism, recalling the "Beatified Ludovica Albertoni" by Lorenzo Bernini, and Janko Konjarek, "Last Breath" (1906) and the "Portrait of Sima Pandurovic" (1907). Not completely parting with the dualism between semblance and essence, Symbolism endeavoured to diminish and even abolish it; the dualism of being is not hidden, but revealed. The symbol was sought in "illusion", in images of reality whose secrets directly provoke our questions and anxiety, rather than in the nature of the plastic composition. Thus, Academism had its motion and morphology as well.

Toma Rosandic, Harpist, bronze, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

After that, in the second period, Serbian sculpture evolved. Transposition achieved stylisation, but still remained a model: Toma Rosandic with the ornateness and diapason of the old masters, in many ways similar to Mestrovic, but in many ways different from him; Sreten Stojanovic (1898-1960), Bourdelle's student, a powerful portraitist and a meticulous analyst, rustically elemental at the same time; Stevan Bodnarov (1905-1993). A special role was played by Zivojin Lukic (1889-1934), Petar Palavicini (1887-1958) and Risto Stijovic (1894-1974), who possessed Mediterranean calmness, the masters of the figurine and poets of the female body, and, later, Dusan Jovanovic Djukin (1891-1945). All four of them bore witness to a decisive turning point which occurred in the third decade. Sculpture appeared for the first time as a closed monolith, against which space is sprawled out. The relation between space and form within the sculpture is uniform, without mutual permeation, and without the rhythm of the solid and the empty. It is frontal, static, as if being immersed into space, to which it offers resistance with its impenetrable density and with a kind of energy which comes from within, from the centre of its form. However, an interesting reversal occurred in the fourth decade: the protagonists of that "synthetic", "constructive" poetics (Palavicini: "Don Quijote", "Portrait of Rastko Petrovic") "betrayed" the prototype by an operative "intimist" application and with a change of general attitude, achieving the functional transformation of the same model by removing generalisation. This was dictated by sociological characteristics of Serbian milieu. Generally speaking, Serbian sculpture in that period ranged from miniatures to public monuments. Due to its pronounced practical purposes (monuments, busts), it was changing somewhat more slowly than painting.

Risto Stijovic, Byzantine, 1924, wood, National Museum, Belgrade

After 1945 as well, and especially after 1950, this fact was confirmed by the opus of Petar Palavicini, Risto Stijovic and Sreten Stojanovic. While painters of their generation made efforts to bring themselves into step with current trends, they mostly carried on their pre-war poetics: P. Palavicini created delicate female nudes in stone and bronze; R. Stijovic, who was more rustic - nudes and animals in wood; and S. Stojanovic - monumental plastic art, as well as the psychological portrait, which was established by him. Many younger sculptors have added wealth to the traditional figurative concept with their individual sense and style (Nikola Jankovic, 1926, and others). Others have transformed it more radically, by means of dramatic expression (Mira Jurisic, b. 1928, Matija Vukovic, 1925-1985, Jovan Soldatovic, b. 1920, Nandor Glid, b. 1924, Vida Jocic, b. 1921) or a greater and calmer autonomy of forms (Boris Nastasijevic, b. 1926, Misa Popovic, b. 1925, Aleksandar Zarin, b. 1923, Momcilo Krkovic, b. 1929, Nebojsa Mitric, 1931-1989, and others).

Matija Vukovic, Woman with Dead Child, 1955, bronze, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

Deeper changes and new poetics have been brought into Serbian post-war sculpture by sculptors who have progressed from associative anthropomorphism to its abandonment, the acceptance of organic or geometric trends. Olga Jevric (b. 1922), after dealing with unfailingly simplified portraits, in terms of Egyptian-like, firm and compact volumes, has turned to a new concept. She has introduced amorphous shapes, like those in nature, into a dynamic relationship by means of an arabesque of straight iron rods, which emanate a twofold value - constructive and impressive. The works of Olga Jancic (b. 1929), no matter how transposed and reduced they might be, offer a note of the classical: she has used stone and bronze exclusively, as well as memory. Only recently dealing with the human body, she has moved her focus toward organic forms from nature. Ana Beslic (b. 1912) is similar to her, but different at the same time, using new materials and polychromy. The following authors should be singled out as well: Oto Logo (b. 1931), with his sculpture-symbols, Jovan Kratohvil (b. 1924), Lidija Misic (b. 1932), Kosta Bogdanovic (b. 1930), Tomislav Kauzlaric (b. 1934), Velizar Mihic (b. 1933), Milos Saric (b. 1927), along with several outstanding sculptors of the most recent "post- Modernist" generation (Srdjan Bojic).

Mira Jurisic, Flowing, 1963, bronze, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

A long series of artists has created and transformed modern Serbian sculpture. It ranges from the new anthropomorphism to its abandonment, through associative or abstract form or through geometric purism, that is, post-Modernism, which has sometimes continued the "eternal return of the same" with its memory, and sometimes abandoned it, seeking for a new definition of creation, sculpture and art itself, most often demanding the erasure boundaries between media. Generally speaking, in the period after 1950, it has expressed all the essential tendencies of plastic art today, engaging all kinds of materials, classical ones as much as those produced by technological civilization, and all the potentials of the human being - affective, ideological and constructive.

Olga Jancic, Motherhood II, 1957, stone, Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade

Moreover, a mutation of the medium itself is noticeable - the appearance of colour is a sign of the occasional tendencies of sculpture toward painting or, more exactly, of painting toward relief and mass. An illusionist representation of still life or a scene is sometimes transformed into a real object, existing in actual space, or into an "event". Thus sculpture sometimes appears as the result of painting as well, which has changed its ontological status, aiming at visual-tactile impressiveness and real space.

// Projekat Rastko / The history of Serbian culture //
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