Croatian Naive Art

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The entire movement of what is now called Croatian naïve art began some time between 1929 and 1930 when a political dissident artist named Krsto Hegedusic, while traveling through the Yugoslavian countryside, came upon two young farmers (late teens to early 20’s) painting on paper, cardboard, board and canvas and doing quite a respectable job as he saw it. These two artist/farmers were Ivan Generalic and Franjo Mraz and Hegedusic immediately began to try to show them a new method of painting on the reverse side of glass. He explained that when done properly and viewed from the other side through the glass, that the colors were spectacular and the painting and technique unique. Since canvas was in relatively short supply at the time the budding artists decided to give "reverse glass" painting a try.

I don't want to imply here that this reverse glass painting technique began in Yugoslavia, for it had also been done centuries ago in India and China, but the artists in those countries usually were painting on the inside of vases, cups and other decorative glassware and not on flat pieces of glass designed to be hung on a wall as traditional paintings are. What I do want to say is that even though this technique in Yugoslavia did spill over the boarders of that country to others nearby, the area that was once a part of Yugoslavia and is called Croatia today, is universally recognized as having taken this technique to the highest levels in the art world.

Being the political dissident that he was, Hegedusic persuaded the young artists to paint scenes of political protest telling them that it was their responsibility to say something important against their repressive government. Initially, the farmer artists did follow Hegedusic’s suggestion, but it was not long before they began to break away from Hegedusic and paint subject matter they felt more interesting; scenes from the countryside and the farm life these artists knew only too well. It was also not long before Hegedusic’s “social protest” art was no longer a strong movement in what was then still Yugoslavia.

Naturally, being farmers, these new artists painted in the evenings and on weekends when they were not out in the field tending to their chores. Also, because they finished their work in the Fall, and didn’t have to plant until Spring, they had all of this time through the winter to develop their painting skills. Once other farmers heard that some of their neighbors were doing this new form of art, painting on the back side of glass, they often traveled miles to visit an artist to see what was so interesting about this type of painting and to see how it was done. For some reason the area in what is now Croatia and is a part of the country called Podravina became fertile ground for this new art form to flourish. This is actually an amazing phenomena to have, even yet today, 150-200 of these extremely talented artists emanating from what is less than 1/10 of the geographical area of a country of about 4.5 million. Not only the numbers of superior artists are to be mentioned, but the fact that this entire movement of Croatian Naive Art has lasted 78 years is probably longer than any other artistic movement in recent memory.

Let me give you an idea of why this special art has never before been in America.

Communist Suppression- originating in what was once Communist Yugoslavia, this form of Naïve Art began primarily as “social statement” art. The artists were saying things through their art that they could not and would not say in speech with regard to their government’s harsh dictatorial practices such as a confiscatory tax program.

WWII- during WWII many of these “social statement” artists were forced underground in order to continue painting things as they saw them.

War with Serbia 1991-1995- another terrible time in the lives of these wonderful people when no one had access to the country for almost any reason much less the purchasing of art.

Monetary Problems- this form of art began in the late 1920’s in Yugoslavia and it would be extremely difficult to get enough American dollars over there to purchase art in the quantity necessary to maintain a gallery in the United States. You could not trust the Communist banking system for fear of having your funds confiscated. One would have a difficult time entering or leaving the country and would have had to travel with thousands of dollars in cash. That certainly would have proven extremely dangerous at the least.