The international collection of paintings in the National Museum in Belgrade completes the story of this museum. In my previous two posts, I wrote about the Serbian medieval art and the Serbian 18th and 19th century painting. Surely those are truly magnificent works of art and, as I previously mentioned, probably the most interesting to see in this museum. This is especially true for people that want to get acquainted with the Serbian art and culture. However the international collection, although not at the same level as famous collections in museums in Paris, Vienna or Rome, is also very precious and captivating. It contains veritable masterpieces which are definitely worth seeing. They are unique and can only be seen in the museum in Belgrade.
The international collection contains approximately 1100 paintings and sculptures, mainly by the European artists. It covers the time between the 14th and the 20th century. Since initial acquisitions, the international collection aimed to encourage the understanding of other cultures. It also positioned Serbia in the cultural, social and political space of Europe and the world.
The core of the collection is a gift from a Slovak painter Berthold Lippay in 1891, when the National Museum received 70 artworks by Italian-Venetian artists.
The most represented and the most important part of the international collection are the Italian, French, Flemish, Dutch, Russian and Austrian art.
The painting below was part of the altar polyptych, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Queen Isabella of Castille commissioned it for the Miraflores Charterhouse. The artist, Juan de Flanders, was identified in the 20th century. He was educated and trained in Flanders, although his artistic activity was documented in Castille, where he spent some time working as the court painter. The oil technique made it possible to apply several transparent layers of colour, to achieve precision and depth of space and also to meticulously depict the greenery and realistically convey details.
The theme that Hieronymus Bosch executed in 1503-1504 became very popular among the Netherlandish urban elite throughout the 16th century. Its attraction is in both, its secular content and comical details and in its intellectual tone and messages of morality. The theme was in particular demand among the merchant class in Antwerp. The local painters made numerous such works in their workshops throughout the 16th century. The production of depictions of the most important Christian hermit, tormented by horrible apparitions, reached its peak between 1550 and 1570. After that, the fascination with demonic content began to disappear.
The mythological content combined with the theme of the hunt, in compositions celebrating abundance and constant regeneration of nature as well as sensuality of the female body, were attractive to the Antwerp’s wealthy middle class with education in humanities. The painting of fruit, game and dogs, for which Rubens hired Frans Snyder, the artist that specialised in these fields, gave the painting an exceptional quality. Confrontation of two opposite principles, the virtuous world of the prudent goddess of the hunt who resists all temptations and the sinful, drunken, swaying satyrs was characteristics of the Baroque visual culture.
THE 18th CENTURY PAINTINGS
A peaceful and idyllic image of people performing everyday activities, placed in a monumental and representative architectural framework, imbued with nature and with hints of decay, was a suitable interior decoration meant for the upper class of the French society. The environment incited the imagination and daydreaming, but also the idea of lasting through time, as well as an intellectual pleasure in the aesthetic of decay. Additionally, echoes of cultures of Antiquity and the Renaissance on the one hand and the painting’s intense sentimentality on the other, reflected the spirit of the educated elite of the time.
The painters who predominantly lived in Montmartre and in 1874 became know as Impressionists, carried out the first big revolution in the art of the modern age. The traditional painting depicted a moment that compressed within itself the meaning of complete duration. However, the Impressionists depicted single moments which were the fruit of the artist’s personal perception.
They chose motifs from nature for such visual interpretation, in line with naturalistic ideas. They examined the effects of sunlight during various parts of the day. Thus, the artist solely focused his interest on matter and colour. That’s why the Impressionism ties itself to the colouristic concept of painting.
The Impressionists found content for their paintings in everyday life, in events, places and people of the modern age: the city, the suburbs, parks, cafes and picnic spots.
The paintings in the International Collection of the National Museum mostly belong to the later stage of Impressionism. Nevertheless, they maintain the Impressionist pattern reflected in personal observation of nature. Thus, Claude Monet celebrated in his own way the landscapes of modern life. Additionally, Camille Pissarro’s brilliant brushstrokes reshaped Hausmann’s dehumanised Parisian boulevards. Finally, Pierre-Auguste Renoir transformed poor backyards of Montmartre into gardens of love.
Pissarro began working on urban themes in 1887, when he booked a room at the Grand Hotel du Louvre, with a view of the Avenue de l’Opera and the corner of the Place du Palais Royal. He created 15 paintings there, divided into two groups. The painting below belongs to the first group. It depicts a section of the Rue Saint-Honoré and the Avenue de l’Opera in its entirety. The painting conveys the daytime atmosphere, hence its subtitle “The Effect of the Sun”.
In 1895, Gauguin finally returned to Tahiti. After several big personal tragedies and the loss of his beloved daughter Aline, in poor health and ultimately disillusioned with the western civilisation, in 1897 he started working on a famous painting called “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” The Tahitian Woman, the painting below, was one of the preparatory paintings for that work. Iconographically, it belongs to themes from the Maori mythology, that speaks of mysterious meanings of nature.
PICASSO’S ANALYTICAL CUBISM
Picasso did this painting in summer of 1909, during his stay in Horta de Ebro. It is one of the representative examples of Analytical Cubism. The model for the series of portraits executed in various techniques in drawings, paintings and sculptures, created between spring and winter of 1909, depicting a female bust or head, was Fernande Olivier. In these works Picasso endeavoured to consistently apply and fully develop the Cubist principle of poly perspective.
SERBIAN AND YUGOSLAV PAINTINGS
The collection of the 20th century Serbian and Yugoslav paintings contains some 3000 paintings and aquarelles, created between 1889 and 1999.
From 1936 until 1940, the works of authors from all areas of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia were systematically obtained by the state, during the Belgrade exhibitions. Additionally, after the Second World War, the ministries and state institutions donated valuable paintings to the museum. Apart from regular acquisitions, the collection has also gradually enlarged through gifts by authors themselves, as well as through legacies.
The National Museum has also been acquiring the artworks of authors that started their careers after the Second World War, thus trying to represent their opuses and artistic endeavours of their epoch.
The collection contains masterpieces of the most prominent artists of Yugoslavia, from Yugoslav Impressionist through artists influenced by diverse European art movements, to the contemporary artists.
In this and the previous two posts, I have tried to present an insight into the National Museum in Belgrade. It is a precious museum, full of surprisingly beautiful artworks. I am glad that I took these photos, because I can look at these beautiful paintings again. When I go back to Belgrade, I will also visit the museum. Certainly, one visit is not enough to see everything properly and to remember. And, I strongly recommend to anyone visiting Belgrade to make sure to visit this museum too.