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Abstract

This dissertation explores how the notion of anticipation, broadly considered, informed a host of discourses, practices and institutions related to visual production in the nineteenth–century Croatian lands. Focusing on the South Slavic–themed Salon paintings of two painters who worked in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century—Vlaho Bukovac (1855–1922, born in then–Austrian Dalmatia) and Jaroslav Čermák (1831–1878, born in then–Austrian Bohemia)—the project explores how an art on the verge of becoming seemed to hold the power to breathe life and credibility into a people on the verge of becoming. In other parts of Europe, a preoccupation with unattainable ideals was linked to the belief that the ancients had succeeded in getting closer to ideal art than could ever be managed in the present–day world. Quite differently, the standard in Croatia for idealist aesthetics was not the ancient past, but a truly fictive future that had no existence outside the minds of those who dreamt about it. Calling for art, rather than dealing with actual art, kept a vision of seductive clarity intact. A sustained anticipation of native art and belief that an indigenous and important South Slavic visual art would emerge, notwithstanding its presence, lasted nearly the entire duration of the long nineteenth century in Croatia. The imaginary future art was a powerful utopian vision that satisfied a feeling of lack and offered a positive alternative to a geopolitical reality of fragmentation. The idea of art came to be invested with incredible hopes—the most extreme of which was autonomy or independence from the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires. Art could both show the South Slavs what they would look like in the future and retroactively manufacture a common history and tradition. To protect this schema, every native work of art was cast as a first step. No work, no artist, could possibly satisfy the great expectations of a public that preferred dreaming. If they tried, the punishment was unusually severe. Over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century, the South Slavs attained a visually recognizable form as a people at the Paris Salon through the conventions of conservative French painting belonging broadly to academic and Orientalist traditions. They entered into history through history painting. This people, “new” to the French, were “new” to themselves in a sense. The South Slavs were in the process of becoming in their nineteenth–century permutation. As identities shifted, morphed, melded, broke apart and were contested, various parties projected their desires into painting in order to imagine the kind of national body and national art (Dalmatian, Croatian or Yugoslavian) they hoped would emerge at some future time when the South Slavs freed themselves from the imperial powers that ruled the Western Balkans. Centering on Jaroslav Čermák’s Raid by Bashi–Bazouks on a Christian Village in Herzegovina (Turkey) (1861), Chapter I foregrounds cultural exchange between the Slavic minorities of the Habsburg Empire and France. It focuses, in particular, on how the Czech artist’s painting mapped onto French matrices of history painting, new knowledge about the Balkans, and fashionable Orientalism, as well as the South Slavic imagination of the Paris Salon as a kind of world stage. Chapter II, “Great Expectations,” explores the notion of potentiality both as a way of interpreting the formal qualities of Vlaho Bukovac’s Episode from the War of Montenegro (1878), and to introduce what I argue is a fundamental characteristic of Croatian art discourse in the nineteenth century. Chapter III highlights the transnational character of the narrative in which Bukovac was cast by commentators in Croatia as an heir in gestation to Čermák, who had died just prior to the opening of the 1878 Paris Salon. By picturing the romantically heroicized Montenegro—the “Sparta” of the Slavic South—cultural actors like Bukovac were seen as helping a perpetually budding Croatia blossom into a modern–day “Athens.” Chapter IV considers poetic interpretations of both Bukovac and Čermák’s oeuvres. In their verses, poets consistently expressed a belief that painting was uniquely positioned to fuse together a nation in potentia. Poetry, however, not only interpreted painting, it sought to control and guide what was considered an infant art. Chapter V charts how nascency permeated the institutions of art, craft and art history that began to spring up in the 1870s and 1880s in Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb. Modeled closely on Vienna, Zagreb’s new institutions ushered in a new age of “scientific” art history and criticism following the lead of Rudolf von Eitelberger (1814–1885), Austria’s first professor of art history. Musing on the disappearance of Vlaho Bukovac’s Episode from the War of Montenegro (1878), Chapter VI reflects on the impossibility that any artist could satisfy the deeply entrenched discourse of desire in nineteenth–century Croatia. The nineteenth–century commentators who wrote at length about the role of art for an emerging people and paintings by Vlaho Bukovac and Jaroslav Čermák placed great stakes in their written accounts of images. I saw it as my job to take their earnest accounts seriously while at the same time attempting to loosen the grip of both their words and mine over the pictures. In the coda to this dissertation, a painting is allowed, finally, to make an appearance on something like its own terms.

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