European Art

The Idyllic Winters in Croatian Naïve Art

Marija Canjuga 18 October 2022 min Read

Croatian naïve art is a specific style which originated in a small rural municipality called Hlebine. It began simply as an appreciation for work of uneducated artists. But later, it became a recognizable style with a growing body of work.

The term naïve art refers to visual art created by a person who lacks the formal education and training of a professional artist. Instead, naïve artists developed their own style according to their opportunities and abilities. As a result, naïve art has become an art style in its own right with its own characteristics.

Franjo Mraz, Winter - driving wood, 1973
Franjo Mraz, Winter – driving wood, 1973, private collection. Proleksis Encyclopedia.

Croatian Naïve Art

Krsto Hegedušić was an established artist. He became aware of some talented youths in Hlebine. Hlebine is a small municipality near the Hungarian border. As a result, in 1930 he founded the Hlebine School to teach them how to paint. Subsequently, he included some of their work in the Earth Group‘s exhibition in the Zagreb Art Pavilion in 1931.

Martin Mehkek, Winter, 1988
Martin Mehkek, Winter, 1988, Art gallery A.L.M., Zagreb, Croatia. A.L.M.

Earth Group artists wanted to show that talent does not only exist in certain social classes. That is why they began their association with naïve art and artists from the countryside. At the exhibition, the drawings and watercolors by Ivan Generalić and Franjo Mraz really stood out. Later the quality of their work only served to confirm their talent.

Mijo Kovačić, Winter Landscape with Woman, 1965
Mijo Kovačić, Winter Landscape with Woman, 1965, private collection. Amy’s Fernweh.

Characteristics

Naïve art has many interesting characteristics. In particular, it uses intense and bold colors, exaggerates details, and distorts perspective and proportion. Also, there is a particularly interesting painting technique in Croatian naïve art. This is painting in reverse on a glass plate.

Mijo Kovačić, Winter on ice, 1987
Mijo Kovačić, Winter on ice, 1987, Foundation Mijo Kovačić, Zagreb, Croatia. Artist’s website.

The dominant subject is everyday farm life in villages. As a result, the images are full of animals and labor. Other themes include religion, protest subjects, and some personal subjects. However, one of the most specific themes is that of winter landscapes.

Ivan Generalić, Winter in Hlebine, 1962
Ivan Generalić, Winter in Hlebine, 1962, private collection. ArtNet.

Winter As a Theme

In reality, not much work was done outside in winter. Instead, the village people would engage in all kinds of handcrafts including wood cuttings, making baskets, and painting. Thus, the most common winter scenes are of village landscapes. In addition we see depictions of tending pigs, cows, chickens, driving wood, playing in the snow, etc.

Ivan Večenaj, The carpenter's father comes from the vineyard,
Ivan Večenaj, The carpenter’s father comes from the vineyard, 1971, Gallery Ivan Večenaj, Gola, Croatia. Artist’s website.

Winter was the time when artists had more leisure. In particular it was a time when they would use their imagination and experiment. As a result some winter scenes became truly magical. One example is shown below. Here, we see brightly colored skies as well as charming little houses covered with a thick layer of soft snow.

Ivan Lacković Croata, Winter glimpse of the Village, 1967,
Ivan Lacković Croata, Winter glimpse of the Village, 1967, private collection. 1st Dibs.

Recommended

European Art

The Mirage of Color: Meet the Scottish Colourists

The Scottish Colourists were a group of Post-Impressionist Scottish painters active in the first half of the 20th century. Their way of painting...

Andra Patricia Ritisan 30 November 2022

European Art

Eerie Paintings of Franz Sedlacek

Franz Sedlacek is one of the most important Austrian painters of the interwar period. His paintings portray the darkness, oppressiveness, and...

Errika Gerakiti 6 October 2022

View of the Menagerie at Kew, Thomas Sandby European Art

William Chambers’ Designs for the Royal Gardens at Kew

During the middle of the 18th century, landscape gardening became valued higher than a work of art in England. Landscape gardener William Chambers...

Anna Ingram 18 August 2022

Sonia Delaunay, Triptych, 1963, Tate Gallery, London European Art

5 Artists You Didn’t Know Were Born in Ukraine

From dancing colors to a kinetic steel monument, discover the lives and works of five influential and international modern artists – each of whom...

Emily Snow 14 November 2022