In addition to visiting a place that I’ve never seen before, the National Museum Zrenjanin was one more reason why I went there. I read that there was a big and important museum in the city and I wanted to see it. And I can tell you, considering that Zrenjanin is only a small city, it has an absolutely magnificent museum. It’s in a spectacular building, with a rich permanent collection. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s the third most important museum in Serbia, after museums in Belgrade and Novi Sad.
But, let’s start with a word about the museum and then about its permanent collection.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM ZRENJANIN
The museum is in one of the most beautiful buildings in Zrenjanin. Perhaps, you can imagine my surprise when I realised that the National Museum is in the former Finance Palace building, in the main Liberty Square.
Although its main facade overlooks the square, the building stretches all the way to the Lake III, where there are other monumental buildings.
Anyhow, it’s a big museum, much bigger than I expected it to be. It has a bit of everything and its main sections are: Natural History, Archaeology, Ethnology, History, Applied and Fine Arts.
It’s fascinating to see all these different section and the best thing is to visit the museum and see them for yourself. In this and the next post, I’ll present parts of the museum that I found most interesting.
The monumental Neo-Renaissance building of the former Finance Palace, constructed in 1894, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It houses the National Museum since 1966. There couldn’t have been a better choice for the museum.
If you want to read more about the building and the museum’s history, you can visit the museum’s web site.
SERBIAN 18th CENTURY RELIGIOUS PAINTING
I’ve already written extensively about different eras in the development of the Serbian art. You can see my previous posts on Serbian Icons and Serbian Baroque Painting in Matica Srpska in Novi Sad. You can also check my posts on various collections in the National Museum in Belgrade, such as on the Serbian Medieval Art.
The painting collection in the National Museum Zrenjanin starts with the Serbian 18th century religious painting.
The 18th century art in Banat closely related to changes taking place in politics, religion and economy. After the end of the Ottoman rule in 1716, Veliki Bečkerek (Zrenjanin) became an important artistic centre.
The work of self-taught painters – “zografs” – marked the first half of the century. But, they rarely left any written evidence of their authorship.
In their work, they consistently resorted to traditional iconographic solutions, with elements of Baroque ornamentation. Most often, using bright and clean colours, they emphasised the decorativeness within their linear-surfaced painting manner.
The Russian-Ukrainian church Baroque, that had adopted a lot of western art elements, started to arrive to this area of Banat, although in a slightly different version.
Especially significant was Dimitrije Popović who spent most of his life in Zrenjanin, where he had a painting studio. He was a representative of an early-Baroque Ukrainian tradition. But, the influence of central European elements was also present in his work.
An icon painter and another representative of the so-called “transitional style”, Teodor Popović, probably attended Dimitrije Popović’s school.
Nikola Nešković, who influenced many icon painters in Banat, was also under the influence of Russian-Ukrainian Baroque ideas.
SERBIAN 18th CENTURY PORTRAITS
In addition to religious painting, the portrait also had a certain cultural-historical significance in the 18th century art. Following the western European model, painters dealt with the person’s individualisation and status.
Nedeljko Popović distinguished himself in both religious and portrait painting.
SERBIAN 19th CENTURY RELIGIOUS PAINTING
Although no longer dominant, religious painting is still present in the 19th century. To a certain extent, it maintains the Baroque model, but it’s more and more determined by idealistic and symbolic content that the painter learnt during the time spent at the Academies and by getting in contact with western European art.
Still, there are much more icon painters who learn in the workshops of domestic masters or are self-taught.
SERBIAN 19th CENTURY PORTRAITS
Serbian 19th century painting follows the stylistic trends of the European art with certain modifications and delay. In addition to the church and nobility being the main bene-factors, the same role is taken on by the civil society, which becomes an important factor of the economic and cultural development.
Having stayed and finished their education in big European cities, Serbian painters return to the country. They become a part of the contemporary intellectual elite, ready to meet demands of rich customers who want to immortalise their image and emphasise their social status.
The portrait is therefore the main theme of the 19th century painting. The most common clients were church dignitaries, army officers, doctors, teachers, wealthy merchants, craftsmen and also their family members.
The painting in the first decades of the 19th century is marked by a classicistic model, represented by a strong line drawing and soft colours. It is best illustrated by the early portraits of Nikola Aleksić.
SERBIAN 20th CENTURY PAINTING
Stevan Aleksić came from a family where both his father and grandfather were painters. Nevertheless, his stay in Munich, where he laid the basis for his artistic expression, had the greatest influence on him.
He is renowned for a large number of self-portraits which express his inner states, especially his contemplations on the transience of life.
He best expressed his attachment to his homeland and people who surrounded him in an anecdotal, monumental genre painting “Merry Men of Banat”.
Paja Jovanović, a typical representative of Academic Realism, earned his reputation of an international painter due to numerous commissions that he received from European aristocracy. During his life he became famous for his portraits which affirmed him as an extraordinary master of line and stroke, with a particular sensibility for grandness and decorativeness.
Although he immortalised some of the most eminent people of his time from the political, social and cultural sphere, he remained committed to his country and people, as well as to painting portraits of people close to him.
He painted his niece Sofija Sojka Jovanović, his only work in the National Museum Zrenjanin.
Uroš Predić was one of the greatest Serbian Realist painters. He painted portraits, genre scenes, historical compositions and also icons. Owing to a large number of portraits that he painted, he became a true chronicler of the Serbian middle-class society in the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century.
His portraits are characterised with classicist strictness, clarity of composition, as well as the tendency to objectify the personality, in which he remained consistent to the rules of the old masters.
His state portraits of King Peter and King Aleksandar show the full extent of his mastery.
Aleksandar Sekulić belonged to the middle generation of Serbian painters educated at the Academy of Munich. Most of his work in the National Museum Zrenjanin date from that period and they show undoubted artistic potential.
Nevertheless, owing to his slightly eccentric and introvert nature, his talent was not widely known outside the local area.
The basic motif in his art was the human body, depicted in his nude studies and portraits. In them, he merged the Munich academic art form and Secession decorativeness, with a hint of Symbolism.
Vasa Pomorišac had his first painting lessons in the studio of Stevan Aleksić. Then, he continued his education in Munich, Zagreb, Paris and London. Although he is mostly recognisable for themes from Christian iconography and classical mythology, he also painted numerous portraits.
After the Second World War, he worked as a director of the National Museum in Zrenjanin.
PÁL VÁGÓ IN NATIONAL MUSEUM
At the turn of the 20th century, Zrenjanin became a vibrant artistic centre, bustling with cultural activities. Artists travelled around Europe, organised numerous exhibitions in the town and initiated the founding of a painters’ colony modelled on the one in Nagybánya.
With the arrival of Pál Vágó, the first studio was opened, where he painted his famous “The Parade of Banat Spahias before Emperor Franz Joseph I”, which took part as one of the Torontál county representatives in the 1896 Millenium Celebrations in Budapest.
SERBIAN MODERN ART
Over time, the exhibition activity in Zrenjanin was also intensified by visiting painters, especially those who would mark the Serbian modern art.
Thus, the National Museum Zrenjanin acquired the works of the Serbian greatest modernists: Sava Šumanović, Jovan Bijelić, Zora Petrović and Ivan Radović.
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT THIS MUSEUM?
Interestingly, no one that I know has visited this museum. In fact, no one I know in Serbia has ever been to Zrenjanin.
Also, when I went there, I was the only visitor in the museum. I understand that Zrenjanin is not a big city and that perhaps all its residents have already seen it.
But, to be repeatedly the only visitor in this and other museums that I visited in Serbia is very indicative of the sad state of culture in the country. I just can’t understand that people don’t have the need to see something beautiful, especially when the entrance is free.
The photo above is the rear facade of the museum, overlooking the Lake III. Unfortunately, the trees obscure a proper view of the truly magnificent museum building. People should never put trees right in front of facades.
Anyway, the city is beautiful and the National Museum is a gem that you shouldn’t miss.
In fact, if I were you, I would make a special effort to visit this city and the museum. It’s only an hour drive from Belgrade and even less from Novi Sad.