Iconic / heritage

The Croatian Association of Visual Artists

Meštrović Pavilion Outside, Source FB HDLU

HDLU (Croatian: Hrvatsko društvo likovnih umjetnika)

The Croatian Association of Visual Artists (HDLU) is a non-governmental and non-profit union of professional visual artists. Artists of all generations work in all forms of expression and disciplines; such as painting, sculpture, performance and others. The association’s main goal is to support, encourage, improve, and protect freedom of expression by organising exhibitions and participating in making laws and rules that regulate visual arts production and artists’ social rights.

HDLU 6th Biennale of Painting Guest Exhibition of Irish Artists Dubliners

Before WW1

The association has been active since 1868 despite its name changing over time. It was established as the Society of Arts (Croatian: Umjetničko društvo), then changed its name in 1883 to the Society for Arts and Crafts (Croatian: Društvo za umjetnost i obrt), only to be renamed again as the Society of Arts in 1895. 

Since 1905, the association has worked under the name the Croatian Society of Arts (Croatian: Hrvatsko umjetničko drustvo), and again 1929 the Croatian Society art Strossmayer (Croatian: Hrvatsko društvo umjetnosti Strossmayer). The history of this association is also a bit turbulent, although it was led by founder Isidor Kršnjavi, for a couple of decades. In the beginning, HDLU was mainly focused on traditional crafts and gathered ‘the friends of art’ – people of different occupations. The association established the Museum of Arts and Crafts (Croatian: Muzej za umjetnost i obrt) and the Crafts School (Croatian: Obrtna škola), in 1880 and 1882, respectively.

HDLU from above 6th Biennale of Painting Guest Exhibition Dubliners Source FB HDLU

Since the primary focus was on traditional crafts, other artists and their interests were not represented. Dissatisfied with their status, a group of artists led by Vlaho Bukovac left the society in 1897 and started their own. Bukovac gathered some of the most prominent visual artists of that time, including Menci Clement Crnčić, Bela Čikoš-Sesija, Robert Frangeš-Mihanović, and Celestin Mato Medović. They founded a new society, the Society of Croatian Artists (Croatian: Društvo hrvatskih umjetnika), and made the first Croatian Salon a year later, which marked the beginning of Croatian modern art.

The alternative society dissolved in 1903, and renegade artists returned to the first society, but their interests became the main goal in a new, prominent role. The association encouraged the founding of the Modern Gallery in 1905, the Temporary College of Arts and Crafts in 1907 (now the Academy of Fine Arts), and the construction of the House of Fine Arts (Croatian: Dom likovnih umjetnika) in 1933, designed by Ivan Meštrović.

HDLU Mestrović Pavilion Inside Exhibition Slavko Kopac Source FB HDLU

After WW2

In 1940, the association organised the first annual exhibition of Croatian artists. After WW2, the association once again changed the name to the Association of Fine Artists of Croatia (Croatian: Udruženje likovnih umjetnika Hrvatske, ULUH), and finally, in 1972, it settled with the name it holds today.

The HDLU settled with the name, but then history was somewhat repeated. In 1950, the artists in the field of applied arts separated and founded the Association of Fine Artists of Applied Arts of Croatia (ULUPUH, today the Croatian Association of Fine Artists of Applied Arts).

The most well-known exhibition of the HDLU is Zagreb Salon (Croatian: Zagrebački salon), established in 1965. It is organised together with the Association of Croatian Architects (Croatian: Udruženje hrvatskih arhitekata, UHA) and the Croatian Association of Fine Artists (Croatian: Hrvatsko udruženje likovnih i primjenjenih umjetnika, ULUPUH). 

The art disciplines are alternating in a triennial rhythm – visual arts, applied arts and design, and architecture. In addition, HDLU organises Salon of Youth (Croatian: Salon mladih), an exhibition of young artists and, since 2011, the Biennial of Painting. Since 2000, HDLU has awarded prizes for lifetime achievement, the best exhibition, and the best young artist which we covered recently.

Meštrović Pavilion Photo: Barbara Zec

Meštrović Pavilion

Since 1993, the society has been placed in the Meštrović’s pavilion, one of Zagreb’s most impressive exhibition spaces. It is situated ten minutes from Ban Jelačić Square, the city centre square. It’s a white, monumental building of circular shape encircled by colonnade pillars surrounded mainly by representative houses built in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the 1930s, the association was on the lookout for a new place. At the same time, the committee in charge received a significant amount of money. Together, they came to the agreement that the best solution would be to build a building instead of a sculpture. Since Meštrović was commissioned to build the sculpture, he suggested the circular building with the sculpture placed inside. Harold Bilinić and Lavoslav Horvat made the architectural design.

Meštrović Pavilion Photo: Barbara Zec

The building was imagined as a modern tholos, with an open centre, but, as a compromise, the centre roof was covered with concrete inserted glass prisms. The first exhibition in the new HDLU home was opened in December 1938, ‘The half-century of Croatian art’. The pavilion has three designated exhibition spaces – the PM Gallery, Prsten Gallery and Bačva Gallery. Since then, numerous exhibitions have been displayed by both Croatian and international artists.

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