Croatia’s National Museum of Modern Art (NMMA) is a feast for the eyes. A short walk from my apartment, it “holds the most important and comprehensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and drawings by 19th and 20th century Croatian artists”. Most of them are new to me.
The art is beautifully displayed on two floors in a former palace. I learned much about Croatia by researching the artists and paintings. Collections are listed below, and the photos included in this post are some of my favorites:
- 19th Century Croatian Paintings until the 1898 Croatian Salon
- Paintings from 1898 to 1918
- 20th Century Paintings from 1918 to 1945
- Paintings after 1945
- Sculpture Collection
- Watercolors, Drawings, and Prints
- Medals and Plaques
- New Media Photography, Objects, Installations, and Video Art
“The NMMA is a museum of fine arts that surveys the development of traditional art disciplines from the mid-19th century to present.”
The Museum was founded in 1899 by the Croatian Ministry of Culture and Media. Painter and art historian, Izidor Kršnjavi, created the museum’s concept and presented it to the Zagreb Art Society. The gallery “focuses on contemporary national art and artistic production”. Solo exhibitions of the Josip Račić Gallery were incorporated into the NMMA in 1992.
The NMMA collection includes 2,000 works displayed in the Vranyczany Palace, built in 1883 by Ljudevit Vranyczany-Dobrinović, a businessman and art patron. Its interesting history includes serving as the Italian Embassy from 1942-1945.
WWII and Homeland War 1991
During the 20th century, Croatia endured World War II and fifty years of Communist Yugoslavia. Communism fell after the 1991 Homeland War.
Banovina of Croatia
In 1939, Banovina of Croatia – a province of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia – purchased Vranyczany Palace. They made the renovations to accommodate an art gallery.
Artists on Artists
The exhibition Artists on Artists was a favorite. It’s a “Visual Panopticon” with portraits of “painters, sculptors, graphic artists, and photographers from the late 19th century portrayed by their colleagues”. The portraits “emphasize the relationship between painter and sitter, and their connection with the cultural and social environment”. The term “panopticism” is new to me.
19th Century Croatian Paintings to 1898 Croatian Salon
This collection has over 700 artworks representing 19th century painting styles – Classicism, Romanticism, and Biedermeier. The paintings reflect “influences that spread to Croatia from Venice, Rome, Vienna, Budapest, Munich, and Paris”. Works by foreign artists who lived in Croatia and had a significant impact on the country’s “cultural and creative milieu,” are also included:
- Austrian Friedrich von Amerling Portrait of a Young Woman
- Slovenian Mihael Story Portrait of Senator Kavić 18
- Czech Ivan Zasche’s Portrait of an Old Man 1857
The exhibition includes “regional paintings created in the absence of a Croatian art centre”. The collection features the work of artists from Austro-Hungarian drawing schools. Landscape paintings from this period are spectacular!
The exhibition includes “academic figurative compositions” and my favorite – Nikola Mašić’s A Geese Keeper on the Sava River 1870-1871. Blacksmith by Dragan Melkus is another favorite.
Paintings from 1898 to 1918
The Collection of 19th Century Paintings was formed in the mid-1980s, and later divided into two units – before 1898 and from 1898 to 1918. The Collection from 1898 to 1918 is oil on canvas, watercolor, prints on paper, and mixed media. It encompasses the period between the 19th and 20th centuries, from the Croatian Salon (1898) to the end of World War I.
“The two decades before and after the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century were the period when fundamentals were laid for artistic freedoms that led to the modern and avant-garde currents in art development.” Crosby Scientific Croatian Bibliography
The Art Nouveau movement is said to be about “modernizing design, escaping historical styles, and examining the meaning of human existence”. Important Croatian painters of this period include Vlaho Bukovac, Mato Celestin Medović, Emanuel Vidović, Bela Čikoš Sesija, Ferdo Kovačević, Mirko Rački, Menci Clement Crnčić, Miroslav Kraljević, Josip Račić, Vladimir Becić, Nasta Rojc, Milan Steiner, Anka Krizmanić, Zlatko Šulentić, and Ljubo Babić. A “thematically important place in this collection is the painting of landscapes, still lifes, portraits, nudes, and allegories”.
Viceroy Mažuranić, Bishop Strossmayer, Isidor Kršnjavi
“The significance of the collection is its documentation of the artistic rise in Croatian culture beginning in the 1870s. This was during the rule of Viceroy Ivan Mažuranić (1814–1890), known for his liberal worldview and efforts to “modernize and systematize criminal law”.
The period is marked by the activities of – Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer (1815–1905) known for his “dedication to the well-being of the people,” and Isidor Kršnjavi (1845–1927)”. Kršnjavi was not only a painter and art historian, but also a curator, politician, and member of the Croatian Parliament 1884-1887.
20th Century Paintings from 1918 to 1945
This collection includes over 960 works created between 1918 and 1945, “representing the development of Croatian visual modernity between World War I and the end of World War II”. The period focus was on new and contemporary European art movements. This was a time, when Croatian artists were “congregating around the Spring Salon“.
“The Spring Salon was the most important art and cultural event in the period from 1916 to 1928. It identified the main trends and development pathways of Croatian art in the 20th century.” Croatian Art Historian Radovan Vuković
A group of Croatian painters known as “the Prague Four” – Vilko Gecan, Milivoj Uzelac, Marijan Trepše, and Vladimir Varlaj – were the “key protagonists of Croatian expressionism”. They “derived their style from Cézanneism and Expressionism while moving towards Cubism and Post-Cubism”.
The incredible paintings in this collection represent imaginative works that exhibit “intimately intoned scenes and energetic Mediterranean colour schemes”.
During the fourth decade of the 20th century, the collection “contextualises the works of Ivan Generalić and Franjo Mraz. These two artists founded Naïve Art in Croatia”. Their aim was to “collect, study, and exhibit the works of peasant painters and sculptors, who were called naïve artists at that time”. There’s a Croatian Museum of Naïve Art in Zagreb.
“Naïve Art is highly colourful and emotional. Made by self-taught painters and sculptors who developed their own unique style.” Visit Zagreb
The NMMA Sculpture collection contains 785 sculptures from the mid-19th century to present. Works include reliefs, installations, and objects made of bronze, marble, plaster, terracotta, porcelain, plexiglass, and mixed media. Zagreb is a city rich in sculptures. They’re found all over the city and include pieces by Ivan Meštrović, known as the “most prominent Croatian sculptor of the first half of the 20th century”. I visited the Meštrović Gallery in Split in 2013 and wrote a blog post. The Meštrović Atelier Gallery in Zagreb is temporarily closed.
“Croatian sculptors Rudolf Valdec, Robert Frangeš-Mihanović, and Ivo Kerdić marked the beginning of the 20th century with their modernist work under the auspices of Secession.”
The sculptures displayed at NMMA were interspersed with painting collections, and I was so taken by the paintings, I didn’t focus much on the sculptings. Noted pieces include the equestrian sculptures of Viceroy Josip Jelačić and St. George Slaying the Dragon by Viennese sculptor Anton Dominik Fernkorn. The first Croatian sculptors in this period include Vatroslav Donegani and Ivan Rendić, both educated in Venice.
I’m adjusting to another new environment and slowly exploring Zagreb. Every day, I walk a few miles mesmerized by the sights and sounds. In addition to the captivating buildings and art, food in Zagreb is wonderful. Dolac Market is a world of its own. A recent discovery was an Indian restaurant near the NMMA, where I enjoyed one of the best curries ever tasted! The weather has been great, and autumn colors in the trees and parks are gorgeous, but rain and colder temperatures are on the way. Fun European Christmas Markets will start popping up soon.
So much to see in that museum. Too much for one visit!
And I well remember the “corn road”. I drove the route from Viskovo (near Rijeka) to Vincovci, and sometimes on to Vukovar, several times in 1979/80. Miles and miles of flat land planted with what I referred to as maize. Luckily for me, I left before the ware broke out.
Freshly baked (same day) cornbread is all the rage at Dolac Market. It’s a large open-air food market – tons of wonderful fresh produce where the “real locals” shop – post will follow. I watched an older woman (grandmother with daughter and grandson in tow) haggle over produce with a farmer. She bought large quantities of everything. I’m sure the farmer made up for any losses by what he charged me for a few mandarins, tomatoes, lemons, and a pomegranate. Only vague memories of Rijeka. Really only saw a smidgeon of Zagreb during the last trip…
Here’s recipe – https://mogwaisoup.com/2021/03/10/croatian-corn-bread/
Maybe it’s a Zagreb thing – don’t remember it from other parts of Croatia either, but a warm piece of fresh cornbread is nice!