In 1952, the Peasant Art Gallery was founded in Zagreb; from 1956 it operated under the name of the Gallery of Primitive Art, while since 1994, in line with a decision by the Croatian Parliament, its title has been the Croatian Museum of Naive Art. From the very beginning the establishment was organized and run according to strict museological principles, and is thus deemed to be the world’s first museum of naive art.
The Croatian Museum of Naive Art holds more than 1,600 works of art – paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints – mainly by Croatian artists.
The permanent display of the Museum was established according to the maxim: Naive Art as a Segment of Modern Art. Some eighty anthology-piece paintings and sculptures of a score of classics of the Croatian Naive are on display, from the early thirties to the 1980s. The focus is on Croatian artists – of the celebrated Hlebine School, and a few of the more highly-valued independent artists. In conjunction with their works, artworks of significant artists of other nations are also on show.
In the first room are the pictures of Ivan Generalić (1914-1992) the first master of the Hlebine School, and the first among the naive painters of Croatia to create a personal style and art of a high level. The display starts with the early works, created at the beginning of the 1930s when the social question was stressed (The Requisition, 1934), goes on through works of poetic realism, with a powerful Romantic charge (Cows in the Forest, 1938; Harvesters 1939), to the surreal phantasmagorias of the 1950s and 1960s (The Death of Virius, 1959). Then come the refined approaches of the seventies, where powerful condensation can be seen, acts of summation and empty, abstract backgrounds (Self-Portrait, 1975).
In the pictures of Franjo Mraz (1910-1981), who started painting and exhibiting contemporaneously with Generalić, and in the works of Mirko Virius (1889-1943), who appeared a few years later (Return in the Rain, 1939; Harvest, 1938), we can see many diverse scenes of rural life. The stone sculptures of Lavoslav Torti (1875-1942), alongside those in wood of Petar Smajić (1910-1985), are the first examples of Croatian naive sculpture.
Room 2 shows works of Hlebine School masters of the second generation, Ivan Večenaj (1920) and Mijo Kovačić (1935). In Večenaj there are burlesque and grotesque figures (Goiterous Jana, 1962) as well as works inspired by Biblical topics, with a strong and unrestrained handling of colour (The Evangelists on Calvary, 1966). In Kovačić we can see flooded land and expanses covered in snow-drifts (Swineherd, 1967; Singeing a Pig, 1962), as well as religious images and scenes of catastrophe.
After this come the veristic and psychological portraits of Dragan Gaži (1930-1983), distinguished representative of the Hlebine School, whose works are characterized by a tonal manner of construction (Old Man Krančec, 1956; Portrait of Mate Bujina, 1959), and also the portraits of Martin Mehkek (1936), with his characteristic type-presentations (My Neighbour, 1962). In the third room also are the paintings of Ivan Lacković Croata (1931-2004), author of twilight scenes (Autumn, 1964) and distinctive, melancholic elongated landscapes (Long Winter, 1966). Lacković is one of the most brilliant and remarkable draughtsmen in the world Naive.
The fourth room has pictures of Ivan Rabuzin (1921) who by the end of the fifties and the early sixties was creating works in an idiosyncratic and clearly-established style of enormous lyricism (On the Hills – Primeval Forest, 1960; Dawn, 1963); with systematic abstraction, simplification and stylisation he arrived at a-real creations (Three Flowers, 1967).
The pictures of Emerik Feješ (1904-1969) are examples of the urban Naive, with themes of exclusively city scenes and architecture (St Mark’s, Venice, 1956). His works are characterized by a markedly geometrical composition and vivid, expressive handling of colour (Milan Cathedral, 1966). Also in this room are the sculptures of Petar Smajić, master of clean simple forms in wood (Adam and Eve, 1934; Mother and Child, 1934).
Room 5 holds the works of Matija Skurjeni (1898-1990), the most distinguished, alongside Rabuzin and Feješ, of the independent artists. His pictures are characterized by fantasy motifs and a mood of the unreal. Alongside lyrical landscapes (My Homeland, 1960), there are also dreamlike works, with powerful distortions and alogicalities in perspectives and proportions (Roaming Athletes, 1960; Soccer Players, 1961).
Then come the burlesque and phantasmagoric works of Josip Generalić (1936), the painting of whom departs from the standard Hlebine iconography with draughts on themes from contemporary life (Guiana, 1978) and the paintings of Drago Jurak (1911-1994), the creator of a fantastic architecture in his “phantasmopolises”. The works of Slavko Stolnik (1929-1991) have a very expressive colour, and although the artist is not by origins part of the Hlebine School, he did adopt its style and poetics. Eugen Buktenica (1914-1997), the first Dalmatian naive painter, shows mainly life on the sea.
From the collection of foreign artists, only a few of the most outstanding painters and sculptors are represented in the permanent collection, mainly for reasons of space. Germain van der Steen (1897-1985) is a French painter who started working before the beginning of World War II, his works featuring a forceful handling of colour. He particularly dealt with cityscapes (Notre-Dame, 1963) and animals (Moon Faced Cat , 1962).
He is followed by the works of Simon Schwartzenberg (1895-1990), another French artist, who was recognized in the early sixties as one of the most striking masters of the world Naive of the second half of the 20th century. His pictures are characterized by fancy, an alogical perspective and a very decorous and lyrical handling of colour (The Three Graces, about 1965).
Nikifor (around 1895-1968) is the most celebrated Polish naive artist, endorsed in his homeland as early as the late 1940s, achieving a European reputation in the second half of the century, after the great world exhibition of the Naive in Knokke-le-Zoute in Belgium in 1958. He mainly used his transparent watercolours to depict architectural scenes with letters of the alphabet worked into them, primarily as a rhythmical structure, for he was only barely literate (Motif from Krynica, about 1960).
Italian naive artists are represented by Enrico Benassi (1902-1978), whose works are characterized by marked stylisations, powerful rhythm and gentle colours, and Pietro Ghizzardi (1906-1986), a highly expressive master, a painter who also used powerful stylisation and rhythmicization.
The sculptures of Sofija Naletilić Penavuša (1913-1994), a Croat woman artist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, achieved recognition in the late 1980s and early 1990s, because of their clean, reduced forms and powerful polychromy, one of the most striking phenomena in the European contemporary Naive (Large Owl, 1985).
To close, we can mention the Dutchman Willem van Genk (1927), who in the last two decades has confirmed himself as one of the key personalities at the borderline between the Naive and Art Brut – with his dark and dismal scenes from the life of the big city, full of existential angsts (Leipzig, 1950). Quite the opposite of him can be found in Pavel Leonov (1920), the most celebrated Russian autodidact, a painter of modern compositional treatments, with a number of simultaneous and yet separately framed events, numerous narrative scenes that frequently have an allegorical meaning (Russian Travellers in Africa, 1996).
Hrvatski muzej naivne umjetnosti
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