CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

The Imaginarium of Pavle Simic

Exhibition: 23 November - 20 December 2011

Information below is from the catalogue The Imaginarium of Pavle Simić, by Milena Vrbaški, published on the occasion of an exhibition by the same name, displayed at The Gallery of Matica srpska ( from November 23 to December 20, 2011. (English translation Randall A. Major)

Pages of so-called reproductive graphics (which in the graphic medium “transfer” the masterpieces of world art) and of the artists’ graphics, spread the classical forms and “pictures that paint a thousand words”, circulating them among artists all over Europe from the moment they were published. Often these graphics reached such popularity that the original plates were refurbished, or they were copied and once again engraved (etched) on copper plates in time intervals ranging over decades (and even centuries) from the date of their original publication. In the right hands, when the person was aware of the preciousness of these old pieces of paper, rare old off-prints with tattered edges, folded or greasy, their conservation could be extended by trimming them and carefully pasting them onto a properly sized piece of paper. After such procedures, they were once again circulated, offered for sale in bookshops and antiquarian shops, waiting for an admirer who would appreciate the age, artistic value and expert perfection of these works.

One such enthusiast was undoubtedly the Serbian artist Pavle Simić (1818–1876). The valuable and unprocessed foreign graphics which Simić possessed, unknown to the general public, were treated as something marginal, as materials and as an entirety, since they were acquired by the Gallery of the Matica srpska sixty years ago; after processing, identification and publication they contribute to a better familiarity of the basis on which their collector, as one of the most significant Serbian artists of the nineteenth century, constructed his world view and formed his own artistic work, participating at the same time in the creation of the national artwork of that period.

The complexity of Simić’s “portfolio” in which a hundred or so pages of famous and not so famous authors are preserved, is the entryway into the labyrinth of his creative work. The greatest surprise and the real discovery in this body of work are the Flemish and Dutch masters: Jan and Rafael Sadeler, Cornelis Bloemaert, Hendrick Goltzius, Crispin van de Passe, Rembrandt’s collaborator Joris van Vliet and Rubens’s teacher Otto van Veen.

Noting the analogous solutions among the graphic pages and the works of art of their collector also sheds new light on the known works of Simić, some of which have been destroyed; they were done at, or for, the Kuveždin Monastery in the Fruška Gora, which was renovated in the mid-nineteenth century with the idea of making it a center of the cult of St. Sava among the Serbs in Vojvodina. It was actually there that Simić transposed solutions from certain prints from his collection into representative patriotic works of art. At Kuveždin, Simić’s ambition to create an exemplary national work of art reached its climax, since the iconographic solutions taken from the foreign graphics were transformed into authentic ideological messages. For this reason, the common but inadequate name “portfolio” has been replaced with the term Imaginarium which not only relates to the collection of artistic pieces but also reflects the possibilities of imagination and of artistic ingenuity.

The Imaginarium of Pavle Simić is a marvelous artifact that shows the informedness of a Serbian artist in the nineteenth century, his modernity and his European identity. The recognition, processing and publication of all ninety-four pages of this personal collection will contribute to future research of the correspondence of newer Serbian art with their models in the works of world art. Likewise, it will also bring one of the valuable collections of the Gallery of the Matica srpska into the light of day, one that has been neglected until only recently.