Iconic / people

Krsto Hegedušić

The father of the Croatian naive art

The Croatian naive art wouldn’t exist without Krsto Hegedušić. He was the initiator and the first teacher of a couple of unschooled artists in Hlebine. He showed them the reversed oil on glass painting technique and shared with them his love for Podravina. Today, Krsto Hegedušić is mostly known for this part of his work, but he was much more – a painter, graphic artist, illustrator and theatre designer, art critic and a professor of painting. And more…


Krsto Hegedušić was born 26 November 1901 in Petrinja. He went to school in Zagreb, where he finished the Academy of Fine Arts under the mentorship of Ljubo Babić and Vladimir Becić, among others. 

After the Academy, he spent a few years in Paris, mastering his craft and getting to know the current art movements. But, he went back because his interests were always connected with the people and land where he grew up. 

He stayed in Zagreb where he founded Zemlja (Eng. Earth) art movement and occasionally travelled to Hlebine, the birthplace of his father, to teach the gifted local villagers the art of oil painting on glass. He was extremely active in his work. He didn’t have the specific medium in which he worked – the small pencil drawing, a charcoal sketch, oil painting or large fresco – all those mediums were his tools to depict a motif that was his constant interest. 

His works show rural scenes, people in action, peasants in daily work and people fighting for their rights. 

Although he was primarily the artist he was also included in establishing a Master art studio in Zagreb, as well as art collective Mart and initiated the establishment of the Archive of Fine Arts and Cabinet of Graphics (Croatian: Kabinet Grafike). 

As a professor in the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts, he mentored some of the most prominent Croatian artists – Ferdinand Kulmer, Vasko Lipovac, Miroslav Šutej and Nives Kavurić-Kurtović, among others.

He was accepted as a member of the JAZU (Yugoslavian Academy of Sciences and Arts), today HAZU (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts), in 1948 and encouraged the construction of the Gallery of Naive Art in Hlebine. In 1962, a short documentary about Krsto Hegedušić was made, directed by M. Ferman and based on a compilation of texts written by Miroslav Krleža. 

The writer and the painter were good friends, often complementing each other’s work, by drawings or by words. Perhaps one of the most prominent is the book of 34 drawings Podravski motivi (Eng. Motifs or Landscapes of Podravina), with the preface written by Krleža. 

Krsto Hegedušić exhibited across the world, and his work can even be seen at the British Tate museum. While alive, he had solo exhibitions across Europe, and with group exhibitions, his works travelled the world bringing him prestigious awards. For instance, his works were shown at Salon d’Automne in Paris (1927), International Exhibition in Barcelona (1929), Sao Paolo Biennale (1955, awarded), Guggenheim award (Paris 1956, New York 1957), Venice Biennale (1958), Tokyo Biennale (1965, awarded), to name just a few. In 1971, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by Vladimir Nazor.

Krsto Hegedušić - Poklade (Carnival) 1935 property of MMSU Rijeka
Krsto Hegedušić – Poklade (Carnival) 1935 property of MMSU Rijeka

Zemlja (eng. Earth) 

After returning from Paris, Hegedušić founded the Zemlja (Eng. Earth) art movement. The group was active only from 1929 to 1935, because the authorities banned it (at the time a monarchy, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia 1929-1941) for its ‘leftist’ political views, and members were persecuted and even arrested. 

But, in that short time, they made the foundation of the national art expression as well as an interdisciplinary approach to the matter. The group gathered painters, sculptors and architects with the idea of tackling the problem of social injustice, and the oppression of rural people. Some of the other members were Marijan Detoni, Edo Kovačević, Ivan Generalić, Branka Frangeš-Hegedušić (his wife) and architect Drago Ibler who was also the author of their manifesto. 

In five years they managed to make several exhibitions in Zagreb, as well as in Beograd, Paris and Sofija. Many of their meetings were held in the Esplanade Hotel restaurant and atelier of Drago Ibler.

Hlebine and the naive art 

Since he hadn’t been on good terms with the authorities, to put it mildly, since 1930, Hegedušić frequently started to travel back to the birthplace of his father, the village Hlebine in Podravina. There, he was at the heart of his interest and started to include villagers in his art. 

In the beginning, he started mentoring two (later three) gifted men – Franjo Mraz, Ivan Generalić and later, Mirko Virius. He taught them the technique of reverse oil on glass painting which later became a signature medium of Croatian naive artists. The three aforementioned students became masters and role models for generations to come.

Hegedušić recognized their talent and combined it with his passion for capturing the details from country life, landscapes and people in different activities. He was interested in painting nature and village scenes, but with a message, he wanted to share. 

Most of his compositions are dynamic and expressive, showing a group of brightly coloured, yet simplified people, with a touch of dark humour and irony. Some of his most important paintings, like A Fair in Koprivnica (1930) owned by the Tate, or The Requisition (1929), and the Carnival (1935), both owned by Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka, show a heavy influence of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, with rich scenes at first positive and funny, and later starting to show the darker side of life.

Through all his projects and work, Hegedušić tried to involve people from rural parts of the country into the art scene as that was, until then, mainly reserved for the urban class. To a great extent, he succeeded in his intention with the appearance of the Croatian naive art. 

Many of his works went missing, like the ones stolen from the Krsto Hegedušić and Associates Gallery in Petrinja during the war years, but his legacy is not only in his paintings and works but in the people who continued to do and appreciate what he had started.

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