My first proper encounter with Paja Jovanovic was in the National Museum in Belgrade. There, you can see some of his most famous and most magnificent paintings.
So, inspired and willing to see more of his work, I finally visited the Paja Jovanovic museum.
PAJA JOVANOVIC MUSEUM
This is, in fact, a house-museum. It is located in a palatial building in King Milan street, that you can see in the photo below.
The museum is in the 4th floor flat. It’s open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. When I went there, approximately a month ago, there was no one there apart from a security guard and a museum curator. I had a private viewing. The lady curator took me around the museum and also explained everything in detail. It was one of the most enjoyable museum visits in my life.
The actual flat where the museum is doesn’t have anything to do with Paja Jovanovic and his life. Rather, it was chosen because of its superb location and more importantly because it was perfectly suitable for Paja Jovanovic’s furniture that was transferred from his Vienna flat to this house-museum in Belgrade. You can see that in the photos in this post.
The museum consists of five rooms, with Paja Jovanovic’s paintings and his private furniture.
A door to success and fame opened for Pavle Paja Jovanović during his studies. It continued to grow in the following years, turning him into a leader of the national art. He is remembered in history for his popular and sought-after genre paintings, depicting life of Balkan and Oriental people.
His large format historical compositions of the medieval and the modern Serbian state were praised and awarded. Additionally, his enormous output of portraits brought him success and acknowledgement at international exhibitions. He also became one of the youngest members of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art.
On the occasion of his election to the Serbian Royal Academy, Paja Jovanović organised his first solo exhibition in Belgrade, in 1893. Thus, he showed to the public why of all Serbian painters his work was most in demand among the gallery-owners, collectors and art connoisseurs.
He painted themes from the life of ordinary people in the Balkans, such as “Decorating of the Bride”, “The Cock Fight” and “The Traitor”, in accordance to wishes and tastes of his numerous clients. At the same time, they were an opportunity for him to demonstrate his intensity, as well as his flawless drawing and painting skills.
Certainly, a crucial point in Paja Jovanovic’s creative career was his visit to America in 1902-1903. The purpose of his voyage there was to paint several portraits and to eventually organise an exhibition of the works that came into being during his visit.
While there, he was a guest of his countryman, the renowned, eminent scientist and Columbia University professor Mihajlo Pupin. On that occasion, Pupin ordered his own portrait and of his daughter Varvara-Vava.
The portrait of Mihajlo Pupin, that you can see in the National Museum in Belgrade, is distinguished for its highly pictorial qualities, the ease of the artistic procedure and brilliantly depicted face and hands. Paja did the portrait in his New York studio according to a sketch or a photograph.
However, Pupin did pose for the painter so that he could paint the face and hands as closely to the original as possible. He accomplished it with superb mastery.
From the initial decade of the 20th century, busily painting portraits of well-known ladies from the Viennese high society, Paja Jovanovic made sure to execute these portraits according to the rules of academic artistry.
He would start by positioning the figure in space, with precise, gracefully drawn contours of the face and the body.
Then, he would sensually and with great tactility convey the softness of the flesh, the gentle shades on the face and hands. He would finish with a convincing materialisation of elegant and luxurious dresses.
Paja Jovanovic’s confirmed drawing and colouristic skills emerged to the full in these elements of painting.
Also, with a leisurely manner and unconcealed flattery, he fully complied with the spirit of the idyllic world of embellished bourgeois Realism of the Viennese cultural milieu at the beginning of the 20th century.
It was there where he went to create his art and where he made the acquaintance of the younger Hermina Mouny Dauber.
She first became his model, an inexhaustible inspiration. Then, in 1917, she became his wife and a devoted fellow traveller and partner.
In the photo below, you can see a frame from Paja’s flat in Vienna, that perfectly matches a door that leads to the Room 4. That’s why this particular flat was chosen for the museum. It perfectly matched his furniture.
Probably, the most important painting that you can see in the museum is a historical painting in the photo below: “Proclamation of the Code of Emperor Dušan”.
Paja Jovanovic painted it on commission from the Kingdom of Serbia, for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, in 1900.
The painting depicts the coronation of Dušan in Skopje, in 1346. He was the Emperor of Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians. It also expresses an important historical moment which confirmed the glory of the Serbian medieval empire.
In the painting, Despot Oliver is reading a charter, surrounded by the Emperor, his family and other nobility in the medieval attire.
Otherwise, there are several more interesting paintings and pieces of furniture in this room.
Finally, the room 5 also contains pieces of furniture that Paja Jovanovic had in his flat in Vienna. If you pay attention, you will see a desk and a chair in the photo below in the subsequent painting of his wife Mouny.
She sits in this same chair and the desk is behind her. Mouny was indeed his favourite model.
As the painting in the photo below was unmarked, I asked the curator who the person in the painting was. She told me that, unfortunately, they didn’t know. They could never identify a person that Paja had painted.
The last painting in this post, although not the last painting that you can see in the museum, reminded me of Dutch masters.
If you get a chance while in Belgrade, visit this small, but precious museum. Without any doubt, Paja Jovanovic is one of the Serbian greatest painters of all time. You can get a better insight into his magnificent legacy, in addition to paintings that you can see in the National Museum and other museum across Serbia.
Interestingly, of people that I know, whomever I asked whether they’ve ever visited this museum, the answer was no.
So, I hope that this post will inspire my friends and also everyone else to include this museum in a list of things to do in Belgrade.