Questions, comments or suggestions? email me at:
Don't miss out a chance to win in our monthly "Croatianicity" t-shirt draw!
As well as our monthly Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic fridge magnet give away!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Slava Raškaj - Croatia's Greatest Enigmatic Water Colour Painter

I've been in the mood lately to do something more on the artist theme again. Been doing my fair share of sports and a few other types of additions here lately, more than I had planned on at first.  I've mentioned some previous Croatian artists in the past (see links at bottom), photographers, dancers, sculptors...and was thinking about doing  something about Marija Jurić Zagorka, a very famous Croatian writer, but this one is a bit different. Kind of a sad ending to Slava Raškaj's obstacle filled, eventful, prematurely short yet creative  life.  Even though her name is well known in Croatia, and other parts of Europe, I noticed there's just not enough written about her in the English language, I think so anyway. So I felt this one would be perfect.

Fortunately though, and finally, her name, life and works have become more familiar over the last couple of decades.  The story of her life and works are being recognized  by the rest of the world, slowly, and being put on a par with many other great painters from that era, especially since the late 90's.  Considering her disabilities and obstacles, she is a great role model for many future aspiring artists. Many streets and schools in Croatia are named after her.  (Her grave is actually located in the small area of north-western Croatia where my mother was born)  She left behind numerous paintings which are a testament to her passion for painting and perseverance, and all this before she reached the age of 25.  Based on the trailer and some written material I've read,  I probably wouldn't mind reading a book about her down the road. It definitely wasn't a boring ho-hum life or time she lived in . (Like the life of many artists and writers, they usually lived the most interesting and eventful lives) She is one of numerous honored people who come from the historic town of Ozalj. (Example)  Anyway, this is just a quick introductory post straight from Wikipedia. I left links to more information about her and other Croatian artists directly below, and my own  related posts on this blog at the very bottom.......



Poster in downtown Zagreb.

Slava Raškaj (2 January 1877 – 29 March 1906) was a painter considered to be the greatest Croatian watercolorist of the late 19th and early 20th century. Deaf since birth, Raškaj was schooled in Vienna and Zagreb, where her mentor was the Croatian painter Bela Čikoš Sesija. In the 1890s her works were exhibited around Europe, including at the 1900 Expo in Paris. In her twenties Raškaj was diagnosed with acute depression and was institutionalised for the last three years of her life before dying in 1906 from tuberculosis in Zagreb. The value of her work was largely overlooked by art historians in the following decades, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s interest in her work was revived.

Photograph of Slava Raškaj from 1898.


Raškaj was born as Friderika Slavomira Olga Raškaj on 2 January 1877 into a middle class family (her mother Olga ran the local post office which was at the time a prestigious administrative position) in the town of Ozalj in present-day Croatia (at the time in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, a subdivision within Austria-Hungary). Olga liked painting in her free time and she passed her love for arts very early on to both her daughters Slava and Paula (Paula later worked as a schoolteacher in Orahovica and also continued to paint casually in adulthood).

 Lopoci (From her Water Lillies series -1899)

"Basket of fruit"

When she was eight, Raškaj was sent to Vienna to enroll at a school for deaf people where she first learned to draw. Her drawings from that period mainly depict casts of classical sculptures drawn in pencil or ink (two of these drawings survived and are kept on display at the Croatian School Museum at Marshal Tito Square in Zagreb). During her time in Vienna she also learned German and French and in later years moved on to watercolor and gouache techniques before returning to Ozalj in 1893.

 Self-portrait (1898)


'Melana' in pastel.

Upon her return, the local schoolteacher Ivan Muha-Otoić noticed her artistic talent and urged her parents to send her to Zagreb for further art instructions at the renowned painter Vlaho Bukovac's atelier in 1895 (as Bukovac was a friend of Muha-Otoić). Once in Zagreb, Bukovac refused to help her but then Bela Čikoš Sesija took her in and began instructing her in his own studio in 1896. She spent the next few years working with Sesija - she lived at what was then the State Institute for Deaf-mute Children (Zemaljski zavod za odgoj gluhonijeme djece) on Ilica Street, and she used a local morgue as her studio (in the meantime her former teacher from Ozalj Ivan Muha-Otoić became director of the Institute in 1895).

A short image montage biography. (In Croatian)

Raškaj's repertoire was peculiar at the time - she painted somewhat macabre paintings of still life, watercolors with unusual objects such as a starfish, a silver jewelry chest, and even more interesting, pairs of objects such as a red rose and an owl, or a lobster and a fan.

 Slava Raškaj's bust in Zagreb

In the late 1890s she started painting en plein air, depicting outdoor scenes from the Zagreb Botanical Garden, Maksimir Park and other parks in the city, featuring somewhat lighter tones and colors. In 1899 she returned to her hometown of Ozalj and continued to paint outdoors, which was also unusual at the time. Her most valuable paintings were all created in the 1890s, including works such as Self-portrait, Spring in Ozalj, The Old Mill and others. Her works were first publicly exhibited at the Art Pavilion in Zagreb soon after it opened in 1898, where six of her watercolors were presented along with the works of renowned painters such as Menci Klement Crnčić and Vlaho Bukovac. Her paintings were also exhibited in Saint Petersburg, in Moscow and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, where five of her paintings were shown.

Her painting 'Tree in the snow' (Stablo u snijegu) from 1900, was included in the commemorative 'Famous Croatian women' postal stamp series.

'Djevojka' (Girl)

'Mrtva priroda' (Still life)


In 1900 first symptoms of depression began to appear. She was hospitalised but soon after that she was released for home care. However, her condition deteriorated further and Slava was eventually institutionalised at a psychiatric hospital in Stenjevec in 1903. She completely stopped painting in her last years, and died on 29 March 1906 from tuberculosis.

Slava Raškaj's grave in Ozalj

Otoić helped her to open her own atelier. It was a small, white painted room, once a mortuary. Her first aquarel was completed there, and probably today's most famous self-portrait from the year 1898. In 1899, Raškaj spent at home in Ozalj, wandering outdoors, drawing the landscapes, perfecting her favoured medium technique, enriching them with her unique and distinguished style and sensitivity.

Commemorated on a 1997 edition silver coin. Source:

Her works have been exhibited since 1898 in art pavilions of Zagreb, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. It was the prolific part of her career when most of the valuable works were done, including:

  • “Stablo u snijegu” (Tree in the snow)
  • “Rano proljeće” (Early spring)
  • “Proljeće u Ozlju” (Spring in Ozalj)
  • “Zimski pejsaž” (Winter landscape)
  • “Lopoči” (Water lillies)

Soon, the first symptoms of the disease started to show up—loneliness, alienation, need for privacy and nature. Old abandoned mills, depth of the canyon of Kupa river, ruins started to be the focus of her mind.

In 1902, due to chronic depression, aggression and other psychological symptoms she was institutionalised. She died March 29, 1906.

 Poster for "100 Minutes of Glory", with actress Sanja Vejnovic portraying the role of Slava Raskaj.


A Croatian film about her controversial relationship with Sesija titled 100 Minutes of Glory directed by Dalibor Matanić was released in 2004, and a grand retrospective exhibition featuring 185 of her works opened at the Klovićevi dvori art gallery in Zagreb between May and August 2008.

Trailer for the 2004 film '100 Minutes of Glory.' (Sto Minuta Slave)

In December 2000 the Croatian National Bank issued a silver commemorative coin depicting Slava Raškaj, in their Znamenite Hrvatice ("Famous Croatian Women") series, along with children's writer Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić and the 17th-century noblewoman Katarina Zrinska.

Related posts: toso-dabac-photos-of-1930s-zagreb











Featured post

And The Croatian City To Be A European Capital of Culture In 2020 Will Be...(Drum Roll).....Rijeka

Yep, I know it's still 2 years away and I already covered this topic last year when it was announced, but I added a few extra ima...