Happy Painters Live Long
Pavle was both the voice of the heroic Balkans and one of the favorite people of the European high society. He was considered an academic realist, yet he passionately searched for the mythical and the romantic. He made a masterly synthesis of all contemporary modernisms, yet remained traditional. He was literally international, famous and popular in all continents, yet he visited the Fruška Gora monasteries on foot with Ilarion Ruvarac and remained deeply devoted to his nation. He was loved by rulers, women, the church and fate. He lived 98 years, never to die

By: Dejan Djorić

Ever since his early youth to the end of his life, Paja Jovanović lived and worked in important European cities: Vienna, London, Munich, Paris and Belgrade. He was an artist of the metropolis, smooth, elegant, modern, educated and famous. He became internationally famous at the time when there were thousands of supreme masters. He became the citizen of the world, yet never betrayed the national and the local, the land he came from. He offered bitter Balkan exotics to the beautiful, rich, blasé world of noble woman and high aristocrats always longing for sensations. Generations of writers, such as Vuk Karadžić, Goethe, Prosper Mérimée, Charles Nodier and others helped him do it. Although he is usually considered an academic realist, he also relies on romanticists who cherished national mythology, history and legends of the non-European nations and nations under Turkish occupation.
With a romantic exaltation about the medieval and supernatural, opposite to the classicist and educational terror of mind and political absolutism, Paja Jovanović was the voice of small Balkan nations who brought their rich and heroic past to the world stage. Other painters also artistically designed that European conscience, the return to the source and origins, painters famous in Paris and European metropolises, such as Mihály Munkácsy (Nietzsche’s and Joyce’s famous painter), Repin, Ian Mateiko, Lord Layton, Ser Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Albert Moore and Vlaho Bukovac, one of the rulers of the Paris Salon, who entered French culture by painting dramatic and romantic sights from the Balkan history. Romanticism began with Goya’s visions and return to the folk as a form of resistance to the court and French occupation. After William Blake, Delacroix, Géricault, the last romanticists attempted to discover the mythical history almost by using scientific methods. They were active in the dawn of modernism, and already after a generation of their contemporaries, impressionists and postimpressionists, the results of the historical style and the XIX century were rejected.


The aristocratic spirit burned out in European culture and workers, Bolsheviks, anarchists, feminists and artistic revolutionaries stepped on the stage. In the eve of the breakdown of bourgeoisie, rich people searched for excitements running away from the boredom of materialism and dull home atmosphere. Escorted ladies visited the poorest slums and opium smoking places as a kind of a human zoo, while the greatest minds and talents such as Thomas de Quincy, Baudelaire, Théophile Gautier, Balzac, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Edgar Allan Poe indulged in hashish, laudanum and absinthe. Doctors think that Van Gogh’s colorist revolution was provoked by absinthe which initiated an experience of colors within him, reflected in his first avant-garde paintings.
Paja Jovanović felt extraordinarily well the spirit of the époque which destroyed many talents. With Serbian rationality, typical for our doctors, officers, philosophers and scientists, he avoided the traps of artificial paradises in the decadent European culture in the artistic sense and brought something new: the ethos and ethnos of Montenegro, the heroic scene, romantic past from the times before Turkish conquests, views of unknown cities, unusual, strong, wise and dignified people of Dinara, even cockfights, which do not belong to our culture. The fed up world was pleased that a European son was affecting the morally degraded characters without betraying the noble spirit. His charm and charisma of a bon vivant and cosmopolitan brought him many orders. He is significant as the first famous Serbian painter whose works are scattered all over the world, from Europe to Japan and America.
Only Dado Djurić and Marina Abramović were able to repeat his success. He determined some of the most important parameters for our environment and attitude towards the world. He was the first to create in the spirit of the postmodern slogan ”think globally, act locally” and was the predecessor of artists who promote the values of small cultures. He made a success in the international scene as a high society, popular, yet serious artist, crucial for our national history. He made a summary and united all the main styles of his time, from romanticism and realism to impressionism, yet remained traditional.
He knew how to approach the ruling class, to enjoy all privileges and to remain faithful to himself. He did not relate to the trendy symbolism (which anyway lasted briefly, suppressed by modernism around 1907 with the first political and artistic revolutions, and disappeared around 1914). His creative work is completely professional – art always above craft. This enabled him to receive orders constantly, so, at the end of his life, at the age of eighty eight, he made the preparatory drawing and painted the parade portrait of Josip Broz Tito, the last in the series of his portraits of rulers, from King Nikola of Montenegro, Princess Milena, Crown Prince Danilo, to Emperor Franz Joseph and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.


Always in the center of actual events, Jovanović is the great painter of the heroic, but never totalitarian. His works Wounded Montenegrin, Return of the Defeated Squad and Return of the Montenegrins from the Battle were highly appreciated, as well as his composition Furor Teutonicus, for which he was awarded a silver medal at the international exhibition in Saint Luis.
The courts and aristocracy loved him; he was the winner of highest awards, associate of great gallery owners, world traveler who, like Eugene Delacroix, Vereshchagin and Nikolai Rerikh, visited Morocco and Caucasus, Greece, Spain, Egypt and numerous cities, from Budapest to Constantinople, but never forgot his hometown of Vršac, and visited the Fruška Gora monasteries with the then best Serbian historian Ilarion Ruvarac. Besides the Balkan subjects with emphasized atmosphere (The Gusle Player, Decorating of the Bride, Traitor, Blood Revenge Reconciliation), he also painted the Vršac Triptych. He systematically visited the whole Balkans and studied history, architecture, costumes, weapons and customs on site and in archives. After several years of preparations, with incomparable meticulousness, he painted our most significant historical works and the reconstruction of the Takovo Uprising (two versions), Proclamation of Dušan’s Code and three versions of Migrations of the Serbs, and other historical compositions for respectable ordering parties from the whole world. He is our most important painters not only because his starting point were the values of his environment. This winner of European medals and awards, including the Medal for Contributions to the Nation of the I degree, is before all the painter of the Kosovo myth (including the painting from 1913 Revenge of Kosovo), as well as Marriage of Herzeg Ferry IV and Elizabeth of Habsburg.
Paja Jovanović is our last great painter of the old school and the first modern one, also postmodern for many reasons. With him ends one era and view of the world, not only Belgrade and Serbian. Aristocratic, rich, handsome and educated, he is the role model of an author who, according to Dragoš Kalajić, represents the ”Belgrade view of the world.”
Numerous contemporary painters respect Paja Jovanović. Among them are some of the best international painters of fantastic art, such as Željko Tonšić, Sergej Aparin and Boris Dragojević.  In Belgrade and Sremska Mitrovica, Jovanović’s successors reveal the painting secrets of this master and become his devotees. He is the role model of a painting school and mentor of the spirituality of modern masters of realism.
Married to a much younger Viennese woman, this member of the Academy set the highest requests for our art both on a personal and professional level. He lived ninety eight years. He not only joined two centuries and two époques, proved that happy painters live long, but also managed to paint at his old age as he painted in his best days, which even more famous painters were not able to do. With his presentation, style and significance, Paja Jovanović became a great role model for all future authors, an eternal painter, an absolute ruler of not only our local artistic sky.


As homage to this great master, an exhibition ”Balkanski istočnici” was held in 1994 at the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art. After many years of studying Paja Jovanović, the author of the exhibition Dragos Kalajić and coauthor Dejan Djorić were the first to present the other side of the Serbian history of modern art. They pointed to the inferiority of some of our critics and artists, dependent on western trends, and revealed the unthinkable possibilities of setting our aesthetic values. They showed that the spirit of Paja Jovanović is alive, the spirit of the great painter of Vienna, Budapest and Munich, and that painting, despite the claims of postmodern theoreticians, is not dead.


Interpreters and Successors
He was best studied by the painter Slobodan Bob Djurdjević who transferred his knowledge to his son Veljko Djurdjević. The Belgrade painters Stojan Milanov, Slavoljub Radivojević and Aleksandar Jovanović are inspired by him. Robert Kalmarević, master of portrait, is also following his traces. Members of the ”Esnaf” group are active in Sremska Mitrovica – Dragan Martinović, Goran Mitrović, Damir Savić and Jovica Tomašević – successors of the work of Paja Jovanović and painters of the Vojvodina secret, such as Srećko Radulović and Mihail Kulačić. Milan Miletić, forefather of our magical realism, is an admirer of Uroš Predić and Paja Jovanović, which can be seen in his manner of painting. Tomislav Suhecki in Vršac actualizes the merge of realism and modernism, the postmodern aura of Paja Jovanović.


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