Muzeji Ivana Meštrovića
Author of the exhibition
Martina Bagatin i Maro Grbić
Meštrović & Prodanović: Artist and his Photographer
October 3 – November 11, 2018
The Gallery of the Split City Museum
Three Views on Discovering Svetozar Prodanović
Although virtually unmentioned as a reference so far and hardly known for his photographic work, Svetozar Prodanović is definitely a photographer who left his mark on the Croatian documentary photography unlike almost any other photographer of his profile at the time. This exhibition presents his life and work as an attempt to evaluate his opus with respect to the postulates of professional fine art photography. This is the reason why we approached his work from three perspectives: that of an art historian, a conservator restorer and a photographer.
Svetozar Prodanović was born into a family of photographers; father Milan M. and mother Marija Prodanović had opened their first studio in their home town of Pakrac in 1890, moving from town to town and staying there to work for a year or two. In the year of Svetozar’s birth, 1895, they were living and working in Slunj. The family settled permanently in Zagreb in 1899, where Svetozar graduated from the State public school of mixed gender (Državna mješovita pučka škola) at Bogovićeva street in 1907.
Six years later (in 1913) he continued his education by enrolling at the I. tečaj slikarskog odjela škole Otona Ivekovića at the Temporary School for Art and Art Design in Zagreb (Privremena viša škola za umjetnost i umjetni obrt), present day Academy of Fine Arts. At the end of the school term, Prodanović showed his work at the school exhibition which was noted favourably in Hrvatska prosvjeta. The course lasted for two years but Prodanović interrupted his schooling for his military service, graduating from the school as late as February 1919. Already in the following year he started his apprenticeship with Mihajlo Merčep, his father’s former associate and then with Arnold Braunner. At the end of 1922 he continued work at his father’s studio on 168 Ilica street, staying there until May 1930 when the studio was closed. In June Svetozar opened his own studio on 152 Ilica where he worked until its closing in November 1934. Most of his photographs are related to the work of artists, chiefly sculptors. Four approaches should be distinguished with his sculpture photography that his father had used first: Photographs made in the studio of the artist, at the metal art foundry of the Academy of Fine Arts, photography of public monuments and photographic shots for various publications. One of the sculptors he collaborated with was Rudolf Valdec whose three variants of the Monument to the King, First Liberator (Spomenik Kralju I. Oslobodiocu) were photographed by Prodanović which resulted in the photography album Photographs of the Plinth and Model for the Monument in Veliki Bečkerek (1924 – 1926). This album is one of the first signed works by Svetozar Prodanović as apart from his signet at the back of the photographs he was very rarely referred to as the author of photographs in catalogues. An important exception is the catalogue of the IV. Single Exhibition of Ivan Meštrović (IV. kolektivna izložba Ivana Meštrovića), held in 1932 at the Art Pavilion in Zagreb where Prodanović’s name was written on the cover. There is another comparable aspect to his collaboration with Valdec and Meštrović, namely the fact that Prodanović photographed the chosen variant of Valdec’s Monument to the King in all phases, from the model and study in plaster to the model in clay. He used the same procedure with Meštrović’s Monument to Gregory of Nin (Spomenik Grguru Ninskom), capturing all its phases, too. Valdec’s model to the Monument to the King he photographed alongside with the study on the one side and that of a man standing on the other to clarify the proportions of the sculpture. He repeated the same steps with Meštrović’s Indians as both sculptors were sending photographs of the monuments for the orderer’s approval. At the same period of time (from 1924 to 1929) he was also collaborating with Ivo Kerdić on about ten of his works, photographing the bell for the church of St. Blaise (Sv. Blaž) in Zagreb in the belfry itself. The only known photograph documenting his collaboration with Slavko Brill is that of the tomb monument of the family Weiss. A few photographs remained of his collaboration with Vojta Braniš, the best being Saint Cecilia.
The magazine Svijet was very important for Prodanović’s career. As an author he was being published there from 1928 to 1932, presenting his photographic work of single exhibitions at the Salon Urllich, those of Fran Kršinić (1929) and Maksimilijan Vanka (1930), then an overview of Rudolf Valdec’s work, the International exhibition in Barcelona (1929), Exhibiton of Yugoslav sculpture and painting (Izložba jugoslavenske skulpture i slikarstva) in London (1930) and the already mentioned IV. Single Exhibition of Ivan Meštrović in Zagreb (1932). The photograph collection of the Meštrović Atelier stores 170 photographs of artworks by Meštrović with whom Prodanović collaborated from 1924 until 1934 when the following public monuments were created: Josip Juraj Strossmayer (1924) for the city of Zagreb, the Indians for Chicago (1928), Gregory of Nin for Split (1929), King Peter I. (Kralj Petar I.) for Kastav (1931), Andrija Medulić (1930 – 1932) for Zagreb, Gratitude to France (Zahvalnost Francuskoj) for Belgrade (1930) and the unrealized Monument to Bolivar (Spomenik Bolivaru) (1929 – 1930). Prodanović followed their forming in various phases of creation, sometimes from clay until their placement in a public environment. Extraordinary valuable are his photographs of Meštrović’s female nudes of the interwar period with subtle photographic views of nudes with a sensual touch that he achieved by choosing a special angle and proper lighting, playing at chiaroscuro effects. By lighting he would bring the portrait of Johann Wolfgang Goethe in clay to life but also accentuate the suffering of Christ on the Great Crucifix (Raspeće Veliko) for the Church of the Holy Cross (Crkva Svetog Križa) at Meštrović’s Crikvine − Kaštilac in Split or the peace of Jesus on the Eternal Crucifix (Vječno razapeti) for the family mausoleum – the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer (Crkva Presvetog Otkupitelja) in Otavice.
After their collaboration Meštrović did not work that intesively with another photographer, and the proof of just how strong that professional bond was, is Prodanović’s edited photograph depicting Gregory of Nin on the Peristil, made four months prior to the monument being actually erected there. The edited photograph was sent to Father Frano Bulić, the main opponent to the placing of Gregory at that particular site.
There are no data on Prodanović’s work after the closing of the studio until the year of 1946 when he was making cartons at the Studio Marinković for the stained glass window of Saint Mark the Evangelist for the Parish Church of Saints Eusebius and Polonius (Župna crkva svetog Euzebija i Polonija) in Vinkovci. In 1951 he also made cartons for the stained glass window of Saint John the Baptist for the church of the same name at Ponikve near Dubrovnik. Although Prodanović performed a service for artists and their works, the quality of his work certainly requires a revalorization of his own opus, known up to now.