2016: ACCENT OF FEBRUARY
CELESTIN MEDOVIĆ (1857–1920)
Roman Woman, circa 1901
Oil on canvas, 78 x 110 cm
The Croatian painter Celestin Medović worked in a period characterised by an exceptional dynamism in the processes of art. His searches of the late 19th. and early 20th. centuries illustrate not only the development of Art Nouveau outside the typical centres of this artistic movement, but that of Symbolism, Realism, Academicism and Neo-Impressionism. For Croatian art, Medović remains a formative artist. His universalism and the scale of his talent reflect the aesthetic emphases and contradictions of the era. The artist created large and complex historical compositions, as well as a series of religious works distinguished by their depth. He is the only Croatian painter who, during that period, worked in the sphere of landscape, and his contribution is considered fundamental to the Croatian modernist genre.
Celestin Medović was born in a small Croatian village. He received his schooling in the Franciscan monastery on the Pelješac peninsula. Celestin was his monastic name. The Abbot of the Franciscan Order, Bernardo del Vago da Portogruaro, himself noticed and patronised the talent of the boy, who was sent to study in Rome, Florence and Munich. For the period 1895–1907, the artist settled in Zagreb and worked with artists from the circle of Blaise Bukovac, another prominent representative of Croatian Modernism. He spent the last years of his life in isolation on the Pelješac peninsula, painting landscapes and seascapes inspired by the Dalmatian coast.
Parallel to the time in which Celestin Medović was being creative, Bulgaria was trying to overcome a centuries-long absence of historical and civilisational social processes. And it so happened that his dream of establishing a Slavic salon of the arts similar to those of Munich and Paris united the efforts of Balkan artists in this common goal and, in particular, also brought the oeuvre of Medović to Bulgaria. In the autumn of 1906, the second exhibition of the Lada Union of South Slavic Artists opened in Sofia. The enormous exposition at the Royal Manège presented dozens of artists from Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Bulgaria. The printed materials and the atmosphere surrounding the exhibition shaped the views on the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ in the convictions about creative freedom. In the exhibition, Medović was represented by twelve artworks—the greatest number of any artist there. A respectable collection was acquired for Bulgaria from the exhibition, thereby laying the beginnings of the foreign collection of the former National Museum. Medović was represented with the composition Roman Woman, the religious scene Madonna, and the landscape The Dead Lake in Lokrum.
The critics discovered a ‘remarkable temperament’ in Medović, and also said that ‘his Roman Woman... resembled to a certain extent Madame Récamier by David’. Other critics saw in the same painting ‘his snow-white Grecian woman’—a fact that shows Bulgarian critics were well acquainted with his oeuvre, since the painting displayed in Sofia had an earlier version dating from 1901, entitled Grecian Woman. The painter created another version in 1912–1913, entitled Roman Woman in the Bathroom. From the initial conception to its final treatment, the female image illustrates the artist’s desire for contiguity with ancient ideals of beauty and a philosophical simplicity expressed in the spirit of Neoclassicism, but combined with a delicate leading line and gentle harmony of tones in their lightest nuances.
Interest in the cultural processes of the times was to continue and, in the press, accounts of contacts with the ‘worthy priests’ of Croatian art could be read—the name of Celestin Medović was regularly mentioned among them. In 1928, Nikolay Raynov included Medović in his ‘Small Dictionary of the Arts’.