The Art Heritage of the Pejačević Family

The countly family of the Pejačevićes is one of those noble lines that were particularly distinguished for their Europeanism and it can be said very justly of them that they were Europeans well before the creation of the European Union. Their possessions were to be found all over Europe, from Bulgaria to Europe, and for 250 years they had a large number of properties in the Habsburg empire – castles and city mansions and granges and all the rich inventories and artworks within them. At the beginning of the 18th century, during the Great Turkish War they had to leave Bulgaria and subsequently lived in various parts of the Habsburg possessions. In their new homeland the Pejačević family – led by the three brothers Đuro, Ivan and Marko – obtained baronial titles in 1712. Đuro Pejačević and his family lived in the area of Bačka and Srijem, while the families of Ivan and Marko Pejačević settled first in Pecs and then in Osijek. In the management of his estates, Đuro Pejačević was joined by his kinsman Marko Aleksandar Pejačević, who in 1749 obtained from Empress Maria Theresa the estates of Virovitica in Slavonia and Retfala by Osijek. He can be said to have been the architect of the fortunes of the Pejačević family.

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But since Marko Alexander died without issue, after his death the possessions were inherited by relatives Leopold and Josip Pejačević, under whose stewardship the wealth of the estates dwindled. After their deaths, the properties were managed by Josip Pejačević of Našice, who redeemed them and, the last in the family, kept the line together. For when he died, there was a division of the lands and the foundation of different branches – the Ruma-Retfala, the Našice and the Virovitica lines, each of which was to make an impact on art. In 1772 the Pejačevićes obtained their countly titles.

The Pejačevićes played an important role in the political, social, economic and cultural life of Croatia during the 18th and 19th and the early 20th century. They are much to be credited with the development of Slavonia and had a prominent place in its history. They had residences in Našice, Retfala, Virovitica, Podgorač, Osijek, Ruma, Sopron, Budapest and other places. The history of the family is interwoven with the history of the places in which they lived and worked, as well as with the histories of other important families in Central Europe, above all of Croatia and Hungary, with whom they were bound by ties of marriage and descent. A number of celebrated persons sprang from the family, among them politicians, military officers, senior state officials, priests, writers and artists. This was a noble family that furnished two bans (viceroys) for Croatia, Ladislav (1880-1883) and Teodor (1903-1907), as well as Croatia’s best-known (woman) composer, Dora Pejačević. During all the 250 years, the family was a great devotee of art, and collected a large number of works of art and, what is more, in an unbroken continuity. Their rich collecting past started with artworks on religious topics, that is, devotional painting, and the oldest pieces are from the mid-18th century. The reason for this was that one of the members of the line was Franjo Ksaver, Count Pejačević, who was an important member of the Society of Jesus. The collection was continued, taking in Baroque portrait painting of the 18th century, Neoclassicism and Biedermeier, after which came artworks of Romanticism, academic realism, and then the grand portraits, that is, the Gallery of Ancestors, of the second half of the 19th century, finishing with artworks created up to the middle of the 20th century. This is an imposing number of artworks, scattered over many Croatian museums, as well as in foreign collections, today owned by descendants of the Counts Pejačević, for example, by Count Felix Clary, resident in Salzburg. Some of the key creations in the oeuvres of distinguished Central European painters are to be found: of Carl Rahl, Mór Than, Josef Hoffmann, Károly Lotz, Alajos György, Johann Michael Millitz, Johann Georg Weikert and Friedrich Johann Gottlieb Lieder as well as home-grown artists like Josip Franjo Mücke, Franjo Pfalz, Menci Clement Crnčić, Vlaho Bukovac and Nasta Rojc.   Many years of assiduous work on the study of the artistic bequest of this family by art historians Jasminka Najcer Sabljak and Silvija Lučevnjak went into the creation and production of the exhibition. Their work on the study of this fascinating collection has engendered numerous discoveries.  

The exhibition The Art Heritage of the Pejačević Family is the first in a series of dossier and thematic exhibitions from the cycle Hidden Treasure of the European Nobility. This is a series aimed at presenting the distinctive art heritage of Slavonia, the eastern part of Croatia, as part of the art collections of European noble families. As well as the Pejačevićes, the families of Hilleprand von Prandau, Eltz and Odescalchi will be presented, all with their own artistic bequests. The exhibition was created by the Fine Arts Gallery in Osijek, and originally encompassed about 150 artworks, paintings, prints and sculptures. It was transferred from Osijek to the Art Pavilion in a somewhat narrower compass, now covering sixty seven works of art, borrowed from the Fine Arts Gallery in Osijek, the Museum of Slavonia, the Franciscan Monastery in Virovitica, Našice Local History Museum, the Croatian History Museum, the Modern Gallery of Zagreb, Zagreb City Museum, and Klovićevi dvori Gallery. The antique furniture that is an integral part of the exhibition set-up was borrowed from the Museum of Arts and Craft s.   This is an important and interesting project that, it should be pointed out, through the works brought together shows not only the opulence and luxury of the Counts Pejačević, but, most of all, the members of the family themselves as patrons of fine art and collectors of taste and refinement.