On this day, February 11th, 1953, in Belgrade, Uroš Predić, the most significant representative of academic realism among Serbs, died. Appreciated in society, beloved by his relatives, viewed as “pleasant and gentle in his dealings, interesting and meaningful in his presentations and observations, always witty and ready for a joke.” Like Predić’s contemporaries, art lovers still respect him today even 70 years after his death.

Born in Orlovat in 1857, the youngest son of a priest, he graduated from the Art Academy in Vienna in 1880 in the class of the prominent Viennese painter, Professor Christian Grippenkerl, as the first scholarship holder of Matica Srpska. Already an assistant at the Academy, he created paintings for the hall of the Upper House of the Parliament, which at the same time represent Predić’s farewell to Vienna, since after completing his work he returns to Serbia, where, in Orlovat and then in Belgrade, he will fruitfully continue his artistic work for the next 70 years. Modest and peaceful, he will organize only one solo exhibition in his lifetime. However, reproductions of works, such as “Pouting Girl”, “Kosovo Maiden”, “Merry Brothers”, “Refugees from the Herzegovina Uprising”, as framed prints, oleographs, and even tapestries will decorate homes in Serbia to this day.

Portrait of a Lady by Uroš Predić, 1917, oil on canvas, 67.5 x 55 cm, Art Collection of the National Museum Kraljevo (U-173).

Although he considered himself a “craftsman who does what he is given”, Uroš Predić realized himself through more than 1700 works in different art genres. As a portraitist, he found ways to reliably portray the secret world of the soul behind the figure. As a painter of historical and religious themes, he tried to remain faithful and close to the truth, studying the Serbian historical, ethnographic and artistic heritage, especially noticeable in the painting “Saint Sava Blesses the Serb Youth” due to the reconstruction of the environment of the medieval temple or on the iconostasis in Bečej where he depicts Saint Simeon Nemanja Studenica in his hand, while next to Saint Stefan Dečanski and Saint Prince Lazar, he paints their endowments. As a chronicler of everyday life, he gives vent to his moralizing wisdom in the work “Banacians Infront of the Lawyer’s Door “, but also offers unfettered compassion in the picture “Orphan on the Mother’s Grave”. In the domain of landscapes, Predić varies from the intimate preoccupation of “Vision in the Clouds”, in which he anticipates a historical storm using symbols, to “Panorama of Belgrade”, which represents a faithful representation, almost a document, of the urban landscape. He remains indifferent to the art of the nude, judging by the fact that he painted it only once, “Female Nude in the Interior”.

Living in a period of great changes on the world art scene interwoven with offshoots of modern art, he seemed to have a hard time accepting them, considering that the time of “great, serious sublime painting” had passed. Uroš Predić’s observations about the art of the 20th century sound equally fresh and contemporary: “Today, pictures move and even speak and sing! Bliss, if it ever existed on a wider scale, has failed once and for all” and has given its place to “restlessness, aimless chasing, eternal dissatisfaction with what is there in search of something new. Everyone is looking for something, because they have lost themselves, and painters today generally look more than they paint, to such an extent that looking has become the main criterion for giftedness, while it was once considered a sure sign of weak abilities.”

At the request of the inhabitants of Orlovat, and according to his own wish, he was buried in his birthplace in the tomb of his parents “quietly and modestly, as befits a modest labourer of culture.” His wish was granted, on that day, in addition to his family and the townspeople of Orlovat, Uroš Predić was honoured by many names the artistic elite of that era.

Jelena Marković
art historian, volunteer
National Museum Kraljevo

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