Vlaho Bukovac – a glance on his canvas – and we’re transported to another place, another time: we can hear children’s voices and silk rustling, we can sense an ancient perfume mixed with fragrances of ripe fruit and wild roses, and we almost squint from the strong sunlight of a bright summer day…
that’s why many consider him the greatest Croatian painter ever.
Vlaho Bukovac was born Biagio Feggioni in Cavtat near Dubrovnik in 1855. His paintings saw many phases (from Academicism, Realism, Impressionism and Symbolism all up to modernism) and he was one of the most renowned Croatian painters at the turn of the 20th century. Vlaho Bukovac had an intense childhood during which he travels to the USA accompanied by his uncle, subsequently returning home on many occasions.
His work can be broken into several phases. The First Periodmarks the artist’s early work created in San Francisco from 1874 to 1877. Only a handful of portraits remained from this period, with Sultanate (1877) being the foremost of them. He meets poet Medo Pucić, along with Josip Juraj Strossmayer in Cavtat that same year. It is through the patronage of the latter that Bukovac starts studying painting under Cabanel in Paris.
Paris Period spans the time from 1877 to 1893. Bukovac’s oeuvre was greatly influenced by an Impressionist exhibition that had recently been opened and as soon as next year, in 1878, the Paris Salon featured his works.
After 16 years in Paris, Bukovac returns to Zagreb in 1893 marking the beginning of Zagreb Period which will last until 1898. Bukovac’s activity in Zagreb marks the beginning of the new era in Croatian painting. During these years his accomplishments go beyond his paintings as he establishes Croatian art scene and partakes in founding Croatian modernism. He opened a workshop named Zagrebačka šarena škola (The Colourful School of Zagreb) which produced some of the most renowned names in Croatian art. It was to his credit that the construction of Art Pavilion in Zagreb got under way in addition to forming a Secession group called The Association of Croatian Artists with his fellow young artists. Cavtat Intermezzo marks the period from 1898 to 1902, during which Bukovac parts with Secession in favour of Impressionism, or more precisely pointillism.
After Zagreb, his hometown Cavtat and later on Vienna, Bukovac leaves for Prague in 1903, where he will settle for the rest of his life. He continues to paint and assumes the role of a professor at the Art Academy. During his professor career, he passes on to his students the sense of colourism, and introduces pointillism to the Prague Academy.
Vlaho Bukovac left behind an oeuvre boasting four hundred portraits and more than a hundred of other paintings.
Recurring motifs in his paintings are oriental rugs, implying thus that he used to paint in his own studio. However, Bukovac’s oeuvre features family portraits, cycle of nude paintings and genre scenes, sometimes even sacral themes. Bukovac canvases seem as if constantly blazing, flickering and live an eternal flame. An astounding amount of vigour that bursts out of the painter’s play with light on the surfaces permeated every portrait and drapery, every rug and peony, taking back in time for a moment the nostalgic spectators to the warmth of their parents’ garments.
Employing to some extent horror vacui approach, Bukovac doesn’t let the smallest bit of canvas to linger but in the pointillistic manner creates his own realism. Observing these lavish scenes brimming with suspense that the painter creates, we briefly lose our sense of the present moment and live together in the painting and with the painting, looking in the eye the protagonists of that, not so obsolete, Bukovac’s time as well as Bukovac himself.