Earthquakes and Art. The Story of the Zagreb Art Pavilion

Marija Canjuga 2 April 2020 min Read

On Sunday, March 22nd, early in the morning a 5.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Croatian capital. People lost their homes and their workplaces. Furthermore, many museums and art galleries suffered great damage. To depict the cultural damage I am going to tell you the story of one of my favorite galleries, the Zagreb Art Pavilion.

The Idea of the Zagreb Art Pavilion

The idea of building an art gallery came from the Croatian painter Vlaho Bukovec in 1895. At the time, Hungary was preparing for a Millennium Exhibition in Budapest in 1896. They also invited artists from the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. Croatian artists decided to present their works in a purpose-built Pavilion. The idea was to construct the Pavilion around a prefabricated iron skeleton. This was so it could easily be shipped to Zagreb after the exhibition ended. The Danubius company built the Budapest Art Pavilion according to the designs of Hungarian architects Korb and Giergl.

Art Pavilion, the appearance in 1896.
Author unknown, Art Pavilion, the appearance in 1896, 1896, City Museum Zagreb,

The Construction

After the exhibition, the Art Pavilion’s skeleton was transported to Zagreb. Austrian architects Fellner & Helmer (who were active in Zagreb at the time) designed a new version of the building according to the iron skeleton. The Hönigsberg & Deutsch building company performed the construction. They also decorated the building’s facades with sculptures in the academic art style.

Busts on the eastern facade of the Art Pavillion
Author unknown, Busts on the eastern facade, ca. 1898, Zagreb,

The eastern facade displays busts of three Renaissance painters of Croatian ancestry – Giulio Clovio (Julije Klović), Andrea Schiavone (Andrija Medulić) and Vittore Carpaccio.

Busts on the western facade
Author unknown, Busts on the western facade, ca. 1898, Zagreb,

The western facade has busts of MichelangeloRaphael, and Titian.

The entrance in the Art Pavilion
Author unknown, The Entrance in the Art Pavilion, 2018, Zagreb,

The two caryatids at the entrance and all other sculptural decorations also have characteristics of the academic style. However, afterwards allegories of Painting and Sculpture were added on the parapet of the staircase are made in the secession style.

Ground plan
Author unknown, Ground plan,2016, Zagreb,

The construction lasted for two years. The Pavilion’s official opening took place on December 15th, 1898 with a large exhibition showcasing works of local artists called the Croatian Salon.

The Purpose of the Art Pavilion

The Art Pavilion is the oldest gallery in Southeast Europe and the only purpose-built gallery in Zagreb. It is designed to accommodate large-scale exhibitions. Besides that, it was the only building of its type until the end of the 1930s in the city. The Zagreb Art Pavilion is located on the Lenuci Horseshoe, south of Nikola Šubić Zrinski Square and north of the King Tomislav Square.

The Dome of the Art Pavilion
Author unknown, The Dome of the Art Pavilion, 2014, Zagreb,

The Zagreb Art Pavilion is the place for hosting one-off solo and group exhibitions representing important oeuvres and art movements from all periods and styles. Throughout its history, the gallery has organized around 700 exhibitions with artists including Auguste Rodin, Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, and many others. Thus the pavilion became a monument, a representative urban and cultural object.

The Interior
Author unknown, The Interior during an exhibition about the Art Pavilion, 2013, Zagreb,

The Damage

The earthquake on Sunday damaged many buildings in Zagreb including the Art Pavilion. In the photos below you can see its current appearance.

External Damage
Author unknown, External Damage, 2020, Zagreb,

Internal Damage
Author unknown, Internal Damage, 2020, Zagreb,

Other museums suffered even greater losses, read about them here.

This situation makes me wonder about a few things such as: Can people fix all the damage? How long will it take? Will it affect the meaning? How not to interfere with the essence of someone else’s work? Can people and the city ever return to their lives before the earthquake?

The look at the Art Pavilion from the Central Train Station
Author unknown, The look at the Art Pavilion from the Central Train Station, 2019, Zagreb,

If you want to help the affected people, there is fundraising going on here.


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