CONTEMPORARY MONTENEGRIN FIGURATIVE ARTS
(fragment from the book "CRNA GORA", 1981.)
note: Book was written in the period of old Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia and some of the terms may not be applicible to present Montenegro (which is independent country now)
An attractive cultural tradition reveals the lasting, steady and ambitious aspiration of the Montenegrin people to create, despite centuries of almost tragic conditions, to keep pace persistently with the leading spiritual currents of the times. Preserved monuments - frescoes, icons, churches printed books - bespeak these ambitions and achievements. This chain of expressed artistic talent was continuously and mercilessly interrupted by the most brutal struggle for freedom and life. But it was repeatedly reconnected by works of indestructible value. This heritage, modest in volume but magnificient by its aspirations and marks it has left forms the basis for a true creative continuity of the figurative arts in Montenegro.
The ability to skip decadence and "sunsets" and to accept only "daybreaks" is preserved by Montenegrin artistis of the 20th century. They are able to preserve their originality and freshness - the essence of their works, - so that the influences of their learning over long years, of their painful education obtained at various art centres outside Montenegro are only just noticeable in their works.
The twentieth century Montenegrin artists created their works during three different, for the Montenegrin people, complex historical periods. The oldest among them started to create during the Principality, i. e. the Kingdom of Montenegro while it still had to protect its independence against the Turks, and they continued creating in the new state formed between the two world wars. Some of them produced outstanding pieces of art at an advanced age in a Montenegro which had finally realised its centuries long dream of a united community of free and equal nations and nationalities of Yugoslavia. During this long and socially complex period of Montenegrin history, Montenegrin artistists shared the destiny of their people: they fought and died, were persecuted, were trained abroad and worked there because their backward and underdeveloped homeland lacked proper conditions for productive creative work. They also contributed significantly to the advancement of the figurative arts in the communities in which they lived, especially to the Belgrade artists circle since there they were most numerous, and also to other Yugoslav republic and province centres in more recent years. Nowadays, the majority of them work in their own republic, Montenegro, on their native grounds where they live in constant contact with their magic inspiration.
As a result of extensive cultural contacts of Montenegro with the more developed European countries and also of the overall activities of "foreigners" or "visitors" ("izvanjci"), the interest in the modern arts was aroused in the Montenegrins by the end of the 19th century. Some of them, talented and courgeous, despite of meager financial means, left to take their artistic apprenticeships abroad. The first to return, from Athens, was Anastas Bocarić (1864-1944) who painted portraits for the Montenegrin court. Soon after that followed: Špiro Đuranović (1864-1910) from Kiev, Marko Gregović (1867-1941) from Vienna, Špiro Bocarić (1878-1941) from Venice, Mihajlo Vrbica (1871-1937) from Russia. The most frequent and best paintings are portraits while their compositions on national themes are more important for their progressive freedom inspired devotion than for their artistic treatment. Тћеу аrе characterised by dark tones and a classical expression - features developed due to the influence of academic realism. Тћеу were somewhat more free when painting landscapes. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first Montenegrin graphic artist Ilija Šobajić (1876- 1953) worked at Cetinje, and also the first Montenegrin sculptor Marko Brežanin (1885- 1956). The first to have a oneman exhibition in Montenegro was Vladimir Novosel (1883- 1961) in 1910.
The most important and the bestknown Montenegrin painter of the first quarter of the 20th century is Реrо Poček (1878- 1963). He underwent his artistic apprenticeship in Italy, sponsored by the Italian Queen, Jelena, who was the daughter of the King of Montenegro, Nikola; and after that he continued living there. His work gained fame between 1907 and 1914; he was awarded prizes as various exhibitions of South Slavic and Balkan artists held in London, Amsterdam, Venice, Naples, Rome, Belgrade and Sophia. He painted portraits, still lives, landscapes, figurative and religious compositions. Of outstanding importance is his series of paintings inspired by Gorski Vijenac (The Mountain Wreath). Although Poček сrеated significant works in the manner of academic realism, his best works, however, are his impressionist, i.' e. "pleine air" landscapes full of light and strong colouring. Several works in the impressionist manner were created by Đoko Popović (1887-1911) who worked in Russia, Belgrade and Naples. He was exceptionally talented but died young. Impressionism was the most dominant artistic manner of the modern figurative arts at the time of their appearance in Montenegro.
An underdeveloped and backward state, Montenegro could not offer decent working conditions to its artists - both pioneers and later ones - so many of them went to live and work in the more developed cultural centres of Yugoslavia and neighbouring countries.
Even this artistic development was interrupted by World War I and the fall of the Montenegrin state (Kingdom). Painters and sculptors, both those who had already acquired a reputation and those who just started their education, joined various army units emigrated abroad or became Austro-Hungarian prisoners. Af ter the War, in considerably changed political and material conditions, they continued with their work and education respectively. Most of the artists already mentioned continued anachronistic forms of expression in their painting and sculpture. Others continued their education in Belgrade or went abroad, mostly to Paris, whenever they could, and there they supplemented their knowledge at prominent schools or by individual study at museums and galleries. It is there that they achieved their first major success. The painter Milo Milunović (1897-1967) and the sculptor Risto Stijović (1894-1974) distinguished themselves early, and somewhat later, the painters Petar Lubarda (1905-1974), Mihajlo Vukotić (1904-1944), Jovan Zonjić (1907-1961) and others. They returned to Yugoslavia as recognized artists, and in Belgrade and other centres, they won prizes, including those for decorating public buildings. The critics, particularly Rastko Petrović and Isidora Sekulić, wrote very favourably of them, pointing out their originality and their inspiration by the Montegrin national spirit and the landscapes of their native land. Nationally oppressed within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Montenegro was not able to offer them even the humblest working conditions. Newspapers and magazines published at Cetinje, Podgorica and Nikšić recorded their archievements in Yugoslavia and abroad, and their visits to their native region. Like Antheus these artists drew strength from the native soil, their childhood memories; they were inspired by the chromatic harmonies and sharp contrasts of rock, water and sky. Wherever they lived and worked, Montenegrin painters distinguished themselves by the presence of a national spirit and soil, which they of transposed creatively into their works. Petar Lubarda expressed this most sincerely: "When апуопе asked me who my art master was, I would answer that it could only be Montenegro".
The most distinguished painters and sculptors of the 40's took a free and individual stand toward contemporary events in the arts thus establishing their full originality. Milo Milunović searched for a classical balance of figurative elements. The colours and shapes of his paintings аге in perfect harmony. Risto Stijović created public monuments (such as "The Lovćen Oread" at Cetinje), sculpted female nudes in wood and animal figures in valuable stone, which are exceptional for their creative skill and for their charm and grace; he also sculpted figures of heroes from Gorski Vijenac (The Mountain Wreath) which are almost as valuable as portraits. Petar Lubarda painted landscapes which are characterised by restrained colouring and dramaticism. Mihajlo Vukotić painted detailed landscapes and sophisticated and striking, meditative portraits and selfportraits. Jovan Zonjić created still lives and landscapes characterised by an expert shading of grey and by sharp contours (one such painting was taken by the Nazis from the Modern Arts Museum in Paris). Miloš Vušković (1900-1975) painted exceptional portraits and compositions.
In the period between the two world wars, there were a number of figurative artists who had created or were beginning to create works of art, while some of them were engaged in teaching activities in Montenegro: Mirko Kujačić (b. 1901), Milan Božović (b. 1909), Ivo Novaković (1913- 1941), Josip-Bepo Benković (1906-1943), Ivan Lučev (1904-1958), Niko Đurović (b. 1905), Filip Vučković (1908- 1960), Vuko Radović (b. 1910) and others.
During the decade preceeding World War II, Montenegrin figurative artists, by the persistence of fighters who never retreat, by the power of their talent and by the originality of their work bridged the gaps in creative continuity which history had made in Montenegrin art. They were among the most distinguished artists of the Belgrade figurative arts circle as well as of broader Yugoslav circles. Тћеу were close to the progressive political trends of the time. World War II broke the natural development of modern Montenegrin art. The majority of Montenegrin artists joined the revolutionary struggle with rifles instead of paintbrushes in their hands, while some of them were taken to German concentration camps. Bocarić, Benković, Novaković and Vukotić did not live to see the Liberation. In ruined studios in the towns and in the country which were burnt down by Nazi reprisals, many works of art were lost forever. During the wartime years, only a small number of drawings and watercolours were produced.
National liberation and the reinstituted Montenegrin state within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia stimulated the great advance of the arts in the post-War period. Among the artists who returned to Montenegro were Milunović, Lubarda, Vučković, Oraovac and Kujačić. It was a time when all the creative forces were banded together: the first art school was organised i Herceg Novi, the first gallery wa opened, the Association of Figurative Artists was founded. The new social situation, the freedom of expression as well as general enthusisasm were a great influence on the rapid advancament of artistic creativity. Lubarda painted pictures of burnt down villages, of battles, scenes of reconstruction and rebuilding of the country. During this period Lubarda created the works which were exhibited in Belgrade in 1951 and which set a new trend for Yugoslav art by their dramatic expressionism and originality. Milunović turned to painting marinas and by the extreme reduction of the number of objects in his paintings and by his delicate shading of colours, he achieved an exceptional balance. Vučković, Zonjić and the sculptor Stijović produced numerous works at the height of their creative maturity.
New generations of artists grew, at the beginning, under the influence of Lubarda and Milunović but, in time, they found their own mode of expression. Aleksandar Prijić (b. 1920) and Gojko Berkuljan (b. 1923) often paint Skadar Lake motifs, and are distinguished by their rich colouring. The grandeous architecture of nature, the contrast of rock and water inspire Vuko Radović and Nikola Vujošević (b. 1929). The sea and life on the shore are painted by Vojo Stanić (b. 1924) in a humorous and narrative manner and in bright colours, and by Đorđe Pravilović (b. 1925) in imaginative and dark tones. Veliša Leković (1910- 1971) has produced exceptional pastels, while Branko Filipović - Filo (b. 1924) expresses his vision of nature in the "informel" manner. An excellent observer, Cvjetko Lainović (b. 1931) paints compositions and portraits and so does Filip Janković (b. 1935), while Nikola Gvozdenović (b. 1934) paints Montenegrin country-folk in a characteristic manner. An artist of sharpened imagination, an apocalyptic visionary of human madness, who seeks hope for the future in light colours, Miodrag Đurić-Dado (b. 1934) has lived and worked in Paris since 1956. The excellent graphic artist Uroš Tošković (b. 1930) also lived and worked in Paris, while in recent years Miloš Šobajić (b. 1946) achieved recognition there by his compositions depicting urban chaos and so did Dimitrije Popović (b. 1951), the "virtuoso" and master of drawing.
Montenegrin sculptors create public monuments but also knowledgable and impressive is their work in wood and bronze. Luka Tomanović (b. 1909) sculpts characteristic groups and figures captured in movement in wood; Drago Đurović (b. 1923) creates impressive small figures in bronze and wood; Stevan Luketić (b. 1925) creates sculptures of a multiplicity of meanings in iron; Ante Gržetić (b. 1920) attempts to capture rhythmic expression in his reliefs.
The present moment of the figurative arts in Montenegro is characterised by an abundance of creative enthusiasm whose search and achievements аге equal to those of the most advanced art centres in Yugoslavia and abroad. The prominent individuality of Montenegrin figurative artsts is stimulated by the fact that they are not concentrated in one centre in Montenegro, so they are close to their tme and immediate sources of inspiration, they live and work in various milieus and thereby they reinforce their knowledge and creative experience with an expressive freshness which they draw from their surroundings. They live in Herceg-Novi, Cetinje, Podgorica, Nikšić, Pljevlja, Berane, etc. Their works recreate new visions of the sharp contrasts of the Montenegrin relief, of the life of its towns and villages, of the relationship between its soil and its sky.
The contrasts between the azure of the Adriatic and the grey whiteness of the karst, between the oases of greenery and the red roofs under the transparent sky of the coast, between the architectural simplicity of canyons, the mysterious height of mountain tops and the abundant greenery and quiet of vast pastures, the specific features of the coastal milieu, of the picturesque Вау of Kotor and Skadar Lake. There is almost no Montenegrin painter who has not painted landscapes, landscapes are often kinds of iconographic treasuries, "inner necessities" of the artistic personality by which a new map of Montenegro is made. As it advances, figurative art also concentrates its attention upon man, his relation to nature, his facial features, his historic action and the specific aspects of his life in urban and rural areas. All this offers an abundance of original inspirations to Montenegrin аrtists, to create in a modern and attractive manner, which ranges from the abstract to the figurative. But the most essential characteristic of Montenegrin figurative artists and "the common denominator" of their works still remains their prominent individuality.
The creative continuity of the Montenegrin figurative arts is continually enforced by each new generation of artists.