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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Bela Cikoš Sesija - Croatian Modernist, Art Nouveau, Symbolist Artist & Painter

 "Psiha" 1898. (Psyche) by Bela Cikoš Sesija.

I like these doing these kinds of posts, spreading awareness about Croatian artists. They lived such interesting lives, traveling around Europe and studying, exploring, learning new methods and styles, being part of artistic movements and ideas, exploring their craft in numerous ways during interesting times. Open minded towards their work and artistic vision. There's plenty of Croatian artists to choose from as well. (I've only done a few in the past in this blog though, which you can check out at the links below). This again, is just a brief intro, I really don't have the time to translate text I came across which explains more and gives better insight. (For example: Probably not many people know he actually had a thing for Ljerka Šram, who was a painting student of his for a time). In Vienna he was the mentor for none other than Croatia's greatest water color painter Slava Raškaj herself, even performing a sketch for her before she proceeded to finish painting it. (That painting now hangs at the Art Pavilion in Zagreb)

Sesija is a favorite painter to many because of his uncanny insight and ability to portray on canvass various themes using his choice of colours and modernist styles, various moods and feelings. (Click the link Here to view reactions and opinions about his art from another blogger) It's very interesting that Sesija actually had a very promising military career. He already spent 8 years in military academies and after graduating as an officer, was expected to start a long career in the military field, he but then took a different direction. He took up painting quite late for his times and showed absolutely no inclination towards or interest in becoming an artist in his youth. He was actually found to be quite lacking in talent for art according to his teachers.

Some of his works involve different aspects of spirituality, however his most admired works are the ones that explore the themes of old classic literature, poems and stories. Darker symbolist paintings that are reminiscent of William Blake and even comparable to Gustav Klimt (I have some Gustav Klimt prints, but I'd like to add some Sesija works into my collection now too). It was Sesija's modernist approach to these classics that embody the European oriented movements that Croatian artists were a part of from the very beginning. (See Miroslav Kraljevic post link below)

Art reviews that I've read of Sesija's "Salome", seen below, take note and compliment the artists use of facial, body and eye expression especially in conveying his intended overall effect. Franz Stuck's version from just a few years previous to Sesija used very different body/head/arm positions, styling, colour saturation, strokes and expressions on the subjects, although Stuck was also using symbolist/art nouveau methods. Caravaggio's version from the 17th century was using realism style, (meaning trying to make it seem as real as possible)... also shows the very evident contrast between the different painting styles. That's art, different perspectives and effects from different painters. (For some reason, this subject/theme has been painted by numerous master painters through the centuries)

Bela Cikoš Sesija self-portrait, late 19th century.

Sesija's works pertaining to the older classics from Greek and Roman history and mythology (and biblical stories) embody this underlying tone of exploring these less well known and unexplored themes belonging to classic European  literature. These types of  themes were used by many painter in the centuries before him, and Sesija continued this trend, albeit using his own new symbolism/secessionism and Art Nouveau interpretation and approach to painting. In 1907 he painted "Pokrštenje Hrvata" (Conversion of the Croats) which today hangs at Croatian Institute of History in Zagreb. A permanent exhibition can be viewed at the Modern Gallery in Zagreb, as well as other galleries. More info at the links......

(Years ago I once had this televangelist watcher type Portuguese landlord (and sometimes Brazilian, so one or the other anyway) who stole a bunch of books and art of mine actually, (and furniture, clothes, even sports medals & trophies and military stuff too) that revolved around modernist styles and artists just like these. (I heard through the grapevine though that he got caught molesting one of his kids after his wife left him after screwing his best friend. I don't know if he went to prison or if they're still protecting him, putting on the act etc, long story)......Anyway, I recall one book actually did have a small section about Sesija, but unfortunately I didn't get a chance to read it yet, I put it on the book shelf for down the road. But anyway, the art gods nymphs and succubi were relentless in their calling, so over the years I had no choice but to start up another personal eclectic personal library with books about art, artists and various written works, as well as a collection of favourite art prints etc. Art and artistic expression is very important to me. A world without artistic freedom is like a dictatorship, or like living with hillbillies and philistinism)

Related previous posts: croatian-modernist-painters-miroslav-kraljevic








Čikoš Sesia -After (the) Psyche, Painting!

"Judita i Holoferno" -1892  (See Judith Beheading Holofernes)


Bela Čikoš Sesija (1864 – 1931) was Croatian painter of historical and allegorical scenes at the turn of the 20th century. He studied art at Academy in Vienna (where he won gold and silver medal for his compositions based on Old Testament), and later at Munich Academy. Čikoš Sesija was one of the first representatives of symbolism/secessionism and Art Nouveau in Croatia and one of the founders of the Academy of Fine Arts Zagreb. He painted in both oils and pastels and tackled various subjects, from portraits done in academic manner to vivid, almost impressionistic landscape  sketches. However, the most significant part of his oeuvre are mythological and religious subjects, drawing inspiration from Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe.

"Penelope" 1903. (See Penelope or previous post Here)

Born in the city of Osijek, he eventually went on to receive his artistic education in Vienna and Munich, Bela Cikoš Sesia also spent 9 months in the area of Naples in Italy, where he honed his artistic personality and skills. Although he modified his artistic expression quite often, experts consider him the pioneer of modernism and symbolism in Croatian painting. Landscapes, portraits, mythological and literature motifs represent just a small part of his large opus.

Bela Čikoš Sesija during his years in military academies before taking up art and painting.

Čikoš Sesia, Tri Djevojke na Hridi (Three Girls on a Rock), 1900. India ink on paper. HAZU, Zagreb. (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

"Djevojka sa Velom" (Girl with veil)

He passed his artistic inspiration onto younger generations at what is today’s Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, an institution he helped to establish. At the Croatian Salon, 1898, which inaugurated the Art Paviilon, Bela Cikoš Sesia (along with another great Croatian painter, Vlaho Bukovac) showed the greatest number of pictures.

Above are some flags for the "Hrvatsko Radničko-Obrtničko Pjevačko Društvo Sloboda" (Croatian Society for Music, Progress and Freedom). They are examples of some of the earliest designs of the new and still unknown Bela Cikoš Sesija from May 21st, 1899. This music and cultural society still exists today and recently celebrated their 140th anniversary. Images and more information:

Čikoš Sesija - Valpurgina noć (Walpurgis Night)

Bela Čikoš Sesija, 1898 - "Odisej ubija prosce" ("Odysseus Kills the Suitors" - Why did Odysseus Kill all the Suitors?)

The name of Bela Čikoš Sesia (Osijek, 1864 – Zagreb, 1931) rings out with good reason in all surveys of Croatian painting, and his creative input is at once recognized in the period in which a more modern artistic sensitivity broke through at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is a painter who opened up in the artistic domain paths of more autonomous and modern tendencies, the emphasis being placed on symbolist spirituality, and is without doubt one of the key founders of the Croatian Modern.


Čikoš Sesija -  "Saloma" 1919. (See Salome)

By comparison, Franz Stuck's version from just a few years previous to the same themed painting by Sesija used a different body positions, posture, stylization, colour saturation, strokes and expressions on the subjects, although Stuck was also using symbolist/art nouveau methods. Many more examples painted around this popular theme Here.

Commemorative Croatian stamp.

Čikoš was also one of the first art educators and a founder of systematic teaching in the visual arts.  From 1903 he and Menci Clement Crnčić ran a private school of painting, from which today’s  Academy of Fine Arts Zagreb was to develop. His art and his overall activity constitute a significant contribution to the long continuum of Croatian art in Europe and Europeanization of Croatian culture.

"Mrtva straža" 1896. (Deathwatch)

"Homer uči Dantea, Shakespearea i Goethea pjevati". (Homer teaches Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe to sing)

"Nad lješinom Cezara" (Above the corpse of Caesar)

He received his own artistic education at the fine arts academies in Vienna and Munich.  He enrolled in the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts in 1887, studying under Julius Berger and receiving during his course a number of prizes at exhibitions of student work. During his academy period, in 1891, he took part in doing the decorations for the Pompeii Room of the Department of Teaching and Religion in Zagreb, at which he was later to produce key works inspired by literary and religious models (Odysseus Kills the Suitors, Mark Anthony over the Dead Caesar, Dante Before the Gates of Purgatory, 1897).

Semi nude


His work and progress were supervised by the head of that department, Izidor Kršnjavi, who in 1892 sent him to gain further experience at the Munich Academy under Lindenschmidt. A key episode was Čikoš’s nine-month stay in Italy, in Campania (1893-1894), in the hamlet of Bosco Tre Case, the outcome of which was an outstanding painting and drawing cycle.  In 1894 he came back to Zagreb for good, having successfully assimilated the legacy of the academic tradition from various sources.  That was a year that was important in Croatian art history, for it was then that Vlaho Bukovac came to Zagreb from Paris, immediately becoming a rallying point for young artists, including Čikoš.

Čikoš Sesija -  "Pokrštenje Hrvata" (Conversion of the Croats), 1907. Oil on canvas. Croatian Institute for History, Zagreb.

At the Croatian Salon, 1898, which inaugurated the Art Pavilion, Bela Čikoš Sesia (next to Bukovac) showed the greatest number of pictures, including his anthological work Psyche (1898), which brings together all the intellectual and practical lines of force in the painter’s endeavors. Hence the creative aspirations of Čikoš have been summed up by the author of the catalogue preface Tonko Maroević in a rephrasing of the verse of Čikoš’s contemporary Antun Gustav Matoš with the exclamation “After (the) Psyche, Painting!”

A Sesija poster from 1898 done in Art Nouveau style for an upcoming art exhibition in Vienna. Image:

Čikoš Sesia painting "Bukovac Slika Dubravku" (Bukovac Paints Dubravka). Oil on canvas 1894. Modern Gallery, Zagreb.

And interestingly on the flip side, a Vlaho Bukovac painting "Portret Bele Čikoša u atelijeru" (Portrait of Bela Čikoš painting in the atelier). Oil on canvas 1896.

A few modern day painting tips I came across.

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