Vlaho Bukovac

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Vlaho Bukovac

Academic Classical artist

Born 1855 - Died 1922

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Vlaho Bukovac was born in Cavtat, near Dubrovnik on July 4, 1855.

He showed inclination to drawing in his early childhood, but because of his family's poverty he could not continue his education. At the age of eleven his uncle took him to the United States, where he spent four hard years. His uncle soon died. In 1871, he returned to Dubrovnik and embarked as an apprentice on a merchant ship that sailed on regular line Istanbul- Odessa-Liverpool.

In 1873 he went to Latin America, where he worked as a letter drawer in a coach factory in Peru. Three years later he returned to Cavtat. He found a sponsor in the person of Medo Pucic, a poet who recommended him to the archbishop Strossmayer, a very famous and influential Croatian at that time. In 1877 he presented Strossmayer the painting Turkinja u haremu (Turkish woman in harem). Thanks to Strossmayer's financial support and his own savings he made it to Paris in 1877, where he entered the École des Beaux Arts. His teacher was Alexandre Cabanel. He finished his education in 1880.

Bukovac appeared in public as a painter on the Salon de Paris in 1878.

Isus prijatelj malenih (Jesus, friend of the little ones) is one of 32 paintings exhibited in the Paris period, where he was exhibiting and working for 16 years. It appeared in the Salon de Paris in 1888, and he was awarded with the Mention Honorable. The rich industrialist Samson Fox bought it for St. Robert's Catholic Church in Harrogate near Leeds, England. Sources say that Fox owned 18 paintings by Bukovac.

In 1888 and 1891 he spent longer periods in England working as a portrait painter. He went through several phases in his artistic work, which differ only in means and techniques, but not in comprehension and mastery of painting.

The Zagreb period (1894-1898) was the most active part of his life. He brought fresh ideas to the artistic colony of the town, but as he was the only Croat artist educated in France he was soon confronted by the advocates of the Vienna and Munich schools. He made the famous curtain for the large paintings made for Croatian National Theatre, Gundulic's Dream and Dubravka. The Cavtat period (1898-1903) is characterized by his searching for a new means of expression and new coloristic solutions.

The Prague period (1903-1922) is characterized by portraits where he concentrated more on coloristic aspects and less on the person painted. He worked there as a professor at the Academy. Bukovac died in Prague on April 23, 1922.

His work comprises about 400 portraits, and more than 150 other paintings and compositions.

  • Reprinted with the permission of Valentino Radman.

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