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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Oton Iveković

            Death of Eugen Kvaternika,1895-1900, Oton Ivekovic                                   
 
Our Lady of Flowers, Oton Ivekovic
A  couple years ago my wife and I visited Croatia. Whatever country I visit, being the culture vulture I am, I try to soak up as much of the art and art history of the region as I can. Usually I have in mind a particular museum and several artists that fascinate me. Most of our time in Croatia we spent in the ancient port city of Debrovnik, and the more modern city of Split, best known as the retirement home of the 4th-century Roman Emperor, Diocletian. Debrovnik is one of the best preserved Medieval cities in the world. I was rather dismayed and ashamed that not one of the several Croatian painters, architects, and sculptors mentioned by tour guides had I ever heard of before. Yet the Croats have a long and rather luminous history of contributing to the arts. I was totally unfamiliar with the works of painters such as Vlaho Bukovac and the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. Another Croatian painter also failed to "ring a bell"--Oton Iveković.
Arrival of Croats to the Adriatic Sea, 1905, Oton Ivekovic.


Oton Ivekovic, possibly
 a self-portrait.
Ivekovic was a Croatian history painter, meaning not only was he Croatian, but painted almost exclusively Croatian history. He was born in 1869 in a small town of Klanjek along the northern border with what is now Slovenia. Most of his art training occurred in the art academies of Vienna and Zagreb between the years, 1886 and 1890. Coming from a poor, peasant family, money was always a problem and young Oton was never a very good student in anything except art and history. Nevertheless, he was able to earn a scholarship to study at the Art Academy of Munich. However, in returning home, Ivekovic found the demand for history painters fading with the fine art of photography rapidly "developing" as a viable alternative to ;the massive (and expensive) canvases favored by painters of history. He took a job teaching high school art. Most of Ivekovic's best works date from the period before the turn of the century as he concentrated on Croatian history previous to the invention and encroachment of cameras and film. His Death of Eugen Kvaternika (top), is from this period. The painting depicts the gruesome death of the last King of the Croats in 1096.

Massacre of Rakovica (Death of Eugen Kvaternik), Oton Ivekovic. He seems
 to have preferred scenes related to the death of historic Coatian figures.
For a history painter Ivekovic appeared to have little regard for it as to his own work.  Few of his paintings can be dated with any degree of certainty. Much of Ivekovic's larger canvases came as a sideline, almost a "hobby," as he concentrated on illustrating books of poetry such as Judita by Marko Marulić, and  August Šenoa's novel Zlatarevo Zlato (Goldsmiths's Gold) while also designing sets and costumes for the Zagreb Theater. In 1910 Ivekovic even managed to land a commission for murals in an American church. Upon completion, he took time off to tour the American West and paint the cowboys and Indians. However, I could find no evidence of any Ivekovic works done during this trip. 

Execution of Matija Gubec, Oton Ivekovic. Was Croatian history really
so bloody or did Ivekovic simply make it appear that way?
King Tomaslav, Oton Ivekovic
When war broke out in Europe in 1915, Ivekovic turned his history painting talents to the dangerous profession of war correspondent in the hot spots of Sochi, Galicia and Serbia though, as with his "American" art, I could find nothing of his in the way of battlefield renderings either. After the war, Ivekovic retired and bought the huge medieval castle of Veliki Tabor (below) in the area north of Zagreb. There he spent a small fortune restoring it, then living in it until his death in 1939. It would seem he was more interested in history itself than in painting it.

A retirement home for aging history painters: Oton Ivekovic's Veliki Tabor
--the man's home was his castle.









 

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