Paja Jovanovic Museum
A Man Whose Reproductions Were Inevitable in Serbian Households at the End of the 19th Century.
Pavle Paja Jovanovic (1859-1957) was a Serbian painter, a member of several prestigious institutions, including the Serbian Royal Academy, and one of the most prominent domestic artists in history. The opus of the great representative of Serbian academic realism includes over 1,100 pieces, with an accent on the topics related to folklife and history, which influenced the culture and historical consciousness of his compatriots. The famous Serbian painter found his place in the book “The 100 Most Prominent Serbs”.
Jovanović’s talent was early noticed, so at the age of 14, he received his first official order: to paint the bells of the Cathedral in his hometown of Vrsac. Thanks to the positive reviews, he left his hometown and enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. As a student, he traveled around the Balkans, and thanks to the positive criticism and selling of the paintings, he visited North Africa, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and the Caucasus. Apart from Vienna, he also lived in London, Munich, and Paris.
According to the artist’s request, in 1952, the legacy, which consisted of his artistic achievements and personal items, was handed over to the Belgrade City Museum. The Museum of Paja Jovanovic was opened to the public on the 11th of June 1970 in Vracar, and today it contains more than 800 items, including documents, diplomas, medals, and painting equipment. Two years later, the collection was enlarged by 11 paintings, a gift from the artist’s wife, Hermina Dauber (Mouny).
The museum at Kralja Milana Street no. 21 is not the place where the artist used to live and work, but it is arranged according to his Viennese studio, from which parts of the interior were transferred. The museum exhibition leads through the artist’s initial phase when he mainly experimented with small-format landscapes, and through a much more important phase of historical compositions dedicated to some of the crucial moments in the history of Serbia. The two most significant pieces of this period are the Migration of the Serbs and The Proclamation of the Code of Emperor Dusan, which provided him a gold medal at an exhibition in Paris.
The oil painting Migration of the Serbs was commissioned in 1895 by Georgije Brankovic, Metropolitan and the Patriarch of Karlovci. According to critics and experts, it is the most successful artwork of Jovanovic. The painting represents Patriarch Arsenije III Crnojevic leading the Serbian people into exile, riding under a flag. According to the local clergy, the topic was supposed to allude to Serbian demands for autonomy of religion and partial self-government within Austria-Hungary. The patriarch was dissatisfied with the representation of the Great Migrations of the Serbs (1690/91), requesting the church’s attitude regarding the event to be more obvious, and because he considered that represented sheep and wagons with women and children look like escaping mob. The painting was adjusted, and Jovanovic made three more versions of the same topic. Individuals find this representation similar to the composition of Moses leading the chosen people out of Egypt.
The Proclamation of the Code of Emperor Dusan is also known as The Coronation of Emperor Dusan. The historical composition dating from 1900 was commissioned by the Kingdom of Serbia for the World Fair in Paris. According to Jovanovic, this was the most beautiful painting his hand has ever made, and he won a gold medal at the exhibition thanks to it. The subject of this historical composition is the proclamation of Dusan’s Code in Skopje in 1349, and the historical figures that were attending the proclamation are mostly portrayed based on Serbian frescoes. There are several versions of the same painting, and the largest one is displayed in the National Museum in Belgrade.
A significant part of the legacy consists of portraits, usually in a life-size. Paja Jovanovic portrayed all the prominent individuals of his time, and a large portion of his opus is composed of female portraits. A monumental triptych, made of 3 compositions, is displayed at the very entrance to the museum, representing his leading inspiration and a spouse, Mouny: Lady in a Recliner, Nude on a Red Robe, and Nude by the Recliner. The triptych celebrates just some of the numerous depictions of his muse (Mouny is represented on 13 out of 36 nudes), and it was created in honor of female sensuality and beauty.
Portrait of a Lady by a Fireplace is very popular among visitors, and it represents Muni in a ball gown by the fireplace, which was part of the artist’s Viennese interior. Today, the fireplace is part of the legacy, and the portrait, for comparison, is placed directly above it.
Depiction of Queen Marija Karadjordjevic, one of the most remarkable of Jovanovic’s pieces, is also kept in the legacy. The portrait of academic realism reveals sophistication typical for the portraits of the sovereigns. The elegance is additionally accentuated by satin, fur, pearls, and precious stones.
Bouquet of Red Roses, the last artwork of Jovanovic, is also displayed in the museum, and with this piece, the artist said his last farewell to painting.