Vilko Gecan – The Cynic

12 Sep

“Inside every cynical person is a disappointed idealist.”

(George Carlin)

Vilko Gecan, The Cynic (Cinik), 1921

Painting “The Cynic” is a self-portrait with an interesting and thought-provoking title. Gecan was twenty-seven years old when he painted it and yet the title doesn’t match the ardour of youth, the optimism and a sense of endless possibilities that we might usually tie with that phase of life. The man in the painting looks tired, old and worn-out. His hair, little of what is left, is combed in a strange way, adding to his dishelved appearance. The look on his face is close to a grimace; we can read the turmoil on his face. His lips are sealed tight; he is not the type who would spill his heart out to a stranger in a bar, he is closed-off from the space around him and yet, despite the wall of silence and moodiness he had built, we can sense that this man with an elegant bow-tie is a fragile, sickly and deeply lonely individual. His twisted fingers bring to mind the way Viennese Expressionists such as Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl would paint the hand. The pose in which he is sitting at the table is contorted and strange as well, certainly looks uncomfortable and agitated. Carefully crafted sense of depth in the painting is reminiscent of many Expressionist paintings and films. You can see from the sketch bellow how Gecan built the sense of depth. The figure of the Cynic takes up most of the canvas and the space around him feels crammed and too small. A feeling of uncertainty and dread hang in the air.

The heavy and muted earthy tones are pulling us down into the abyss along with the Cynic who is cynically reading his newspapers and sitting in his armchair. The manner in which the space around him is painted certainly speaks of Gecan’s knowledge of Cezanne’s art and Cubism, but the overall mood and energy speaks of other, more disturbing currents in art at the time; expressionism, which sought to portray the inner world of the sitter. Gecan’s self-portrait and the space in which he is seated speak volumes about the state of his mind. Furthermore, the newspapers he is reading are called “Der Sturm” and were known for promoting Expressionist art. “The Cynic” is Gecan’s best work and one of the best examples of the Expressionism in Croatian art.

Gecan was, unfortunately, drafted in the First World War, captured in July 1915 and spent the rest of the war in captivity in Sicily. After the war, in 1919, he moved to Prague with his fellow-artist and life-long friend Milivoj Uzelac. Two other artists had been living and working there since the war had started; Vladimir Varlaj and Marijan Trepša. The four artists; Gecan, Uzelac, Varlaj and Trepša make the “Group of Four”; a group of artists who worked in Prague at the same time and returned to Croatia soon after the war. Each artist soaked in the artistic influences in his own way and upon returning home they were a wind of change for the Croatian art scene. In 1921 Gecan held his first solo art exhibition in Zagreb, and in 1922 he already, restless and eager for experiences, found himself in Berlin.

Gecan was described by people who knew him as a gentle, slightly aloof, tidy and elegant man so his perception and portrayal of himself as a cynic may imply less a personality trait and more an acquired realisation of the way the world and society is. This was the man who had experienced the horrors of war and the following disillusionment with everything he believed in, it brings to mind the well-known saying of George Carlin: “Inside every cynical person is a disappointed idealist.” And it also makes me think of Georg Grosz’s portrayal of the world and that of other Neue Sachlichkeit painters. Gecan’s slightly deformed figure and face are perhaps a mirror to the degeneracy of the society around him. Nothing is the same for him. Having once tastes the bitter taste of disappointment on his tongue he cannot go back to painting idyllic landscapes and classical beauty.

Vilko Gecan, The Cynic, sketch from the Zenit magazine

A sketch for this painting appeared in the avant-garde Dadaist magazine called “Zenit” which was published in Zagreb (1921-1924) and then in Belgrade (1924-1926). The magazine promoted the newest and most rebellious art from all over Europe as well as a concept of the Balkan’s barbaric-genius painter. They emphasised the power of dreams, spontaneity, and subconciousness, in contrast to the cold and rational academic art.

4 Responses to “Vilko Gecan – The Cynic”

  1. Upside-down Land 12th Sep 2021 at 3:17 pm #

    Thanks for introducing me to Gecan’s work and for your delightful text.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alan 13th Sep 2021 at 5:28 pm #

    Fascinating study of painter and painting I had never heard of. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 13th Sep 2021 at 6:00 pm #

      Thank you! I love to write about less-known artists and I am glad to hear it is appreciated.

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Vladimir Varlaj – Red House | Byron's muse - 10th Oct 2021

    […] after the First World War. I have already written about another artist from this group Vilko Gecan here. In 1911 Varlaj started studying in the private school of the Croatian painter and graphic artist […]

    Like

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