Exhibition title:  ZLATKO ŠULENTIĆ (1893 – 1971) – A Critical Retrospective
Duration: 7 Apr 2011 – 5 Jun 2011

Zlatko Šulentić is yet another of the not-to-be-missed personalities of painting without whom there can be no proper account of Croatian painting particularly in the key periods of the 20th century, right down to the 1960s and 1970s, although his destiny to be but discreetly present in the public that dogged him throughout his long artistic career went on even after his death. Since the last, posthumous, retrospective exhibition held long ago in 1972 we have encountered just fragments of Šulentić’s painting, within the context of the ever more frequent dossier and thematic exhibitions

And so in spite of the occasionally seen fragmentary segments, this invaluable oeuvre in its wholeness, with its specific features of style, identifiable handling of colour, unrepeatable authenticity and exceptional power to prompt and suggest was increasingly lost from our field of vision. This entails upon us the need to look at and evaluate Šulentić’s work from the current angle of vision.

On the way towards his formation in art, Šulentić passed through what was at that time the standard training path trodden by most Croatian painters. First of all in Zagreb, in 1910, he went to the Interim College for Art and Fine Crafts, and then in 1911 enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied painting with Knirr and Herterich, and art history with Wölfflin and Mayer. He took his certificate in 1914, yet while still a student, in 1913, had visited Paris. He exhibited for the first time in 1916 at the 1st Spring Salon, of which he was one of the initiators. He travelled throughout most countries of Europe, and visited the US, Argentina, Brazil, Burma, Indonesia, Malaya and Egypt. He was a secondary school teacher, and then faculty member at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, from 1938 to 1947, when he was retired, devoting himself thus in his very prime to painting full time. From his journeys to exotic places he returned the richer in his inspiration and more pronouncedly his own man with respect to fully-formed painterly expression, this authentic individuality being built into the foundations of Croatian painting of the 20th century. 

 Long since named “a constant of painting”, in the true sense Šulentić was a painter of continuity, who with his well-formed viewpoint, reliable sensibility and manner was able to bridge stylistic strata that came with the new time and at the same time preserve his own distinctive expression. Although he belonged to the generation formed in the early Spring Salon time, and even earlier, he was able in his later years to respond to the challenges of artistic modernity, subjecting settled standards to his own temperament. He was able “to make art mild and poetic”. Although traversing more the byways than the highways of artistic trends, he was in his own way an authentic travelling companion in style and time. Šulentić is one of the most marked representatives of Croatian Expressionism of the second decade, and even earlier, in the picture Man with Red Beard, he had achieved a major work of Cezanne inspiration in Croatia, while in the third decade, with his mild nature, he was able to intervene into the strong, plastic style of the new realisms with a very individual and fluid softening. 

Thus in the balance of a wonderfully expressive impression he managed to reduce motif to a coherent synthesis of powerful spirituality, creating in his later maturity a personal stylistic paradigm. Until the very end he kept up a high scale of quality, unlike most of the fellow painters of his generation, who tended to lose out in freshness and vitality under the weight of years. With a technique of broad surfaces and light-sifting blotches he broke down forms in the landscape, spread over them limpid membranes of a refined chromatics, raising them to the level of vision, which became a distinctive stylistic metaphor halted but a step from abstraction, right at the end of his vital and creative path. Nor in religious topics too did he submit to the traditional tastes, rather rendered his conception of Biblical motifs with the same stylistic vocabulary, leaving us a religious oeuvre that is also one of the most important contributions to the body of Croatian sacred painting of the second half of the twentieth century. Ivanka Reberski  



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