Ivan Generalic is a prominent representative of naive art of the 20th century, recognized by his contemporaries as a classic of primitivism during his lifetime.
Ivan Generalić (December 21, 1914 – November 27, 1992) was a famous Croatian painter of the twentieth century, an outstanding representative of primitivism. He was the founder of the world famous Khlebinsky school of naive art. Most of the master’s paintings belong to the everyday genre, although among the masterpieces of his work there are many allegories, landscapes and portraits, as well as works on historical themes. The painter’s biography is closely connected with his native Croatia.
Ivan Generalic, along with Henri Rousseau and Niko Pirosmani, is one of the greatest primitivist artists of all time. During the master’s lifetime, more than 70 of his personal exhibitions were held around the world, and today the largest museums in Europe, Asia and America regularly organize retrospectives of the works of the brilliant painter.
Ivan Generalic was born on December 21, 1914 in the small Croatian village of Hlebine into a simple peasant family. Since childhood, he loved to draw and devoted all his free time to this activity. But after graduating from primary school, Ivan remained to live in his native village, helping his parents with housework.
At the age of fifteen, his drawings were accidentally seen by a graduate of the Academy of Arts in Zagreb, Krsto Hegedušić. This event played a vital role in the life of Generalich. Hegedusic really liked the work of the talented teenager, and he began teaching Ivan the basics of fine art for free.
In the autumn of 1931, the paintings of the young village genius were first seen by a wide audience at an exhibition in Zagreb. The local audience liked the boy’s original style. Very quickly, Generalic gained fame in his native Croatia. But despite his success in painting, Ivan had to combine hard peasant labor with a career as an artist for many years.
In 1934, Ivan Generalic married Anka Kolarek, and a year later his only son, Josip Generalić, was born, who later continued his father’s work and also became a famous Croatian artist. Until the outbreak of World War II, Ivan’s paintings were constantly exhibited at exhibitions in various gardens in Croatia, but with the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, art became unnecessary to anyone.
It was only in 1945, after the communists led by Joseph Broz Tito came to power in Yugoslavia, that Ivan Generalić was finally able to devote his life entirely to painting. In his native Khlebin, he organized a school for young artists and began teaching teenagers how to draw. Fortunately, the new authorities did not interfere with the development of this idea, but, on the contrary, provided tangible support to the brilliant fellow countryman.
In 1952, the Peasant Art Gallery opened in Zagreb, in which dozens of paintings by Ivan Generalić formed the basis of a large-scale exhibition. And a year later, the Yugoslav authorities organized a personal exhibition of the artist’s works in Paris, which was a resounding success. French newspapers and television enthusiastically described the emergence of a new genius of naive art. The Croatian’s works were compared to the masterpieces of Rousseau and Pirosmani, created half a century ago.
Even before the end of the 1950s, Ivan Generalich became one of the most sought-after artists of our time and a living classic of primitivism. He was constantly invited to major international exhibitions, and the authorities contributed in every possible way to the development of the master’s career. But despite his enormous popularity, Ivan remained faithful to his calling as a folk artist and lived modestly in an old village house in his small homeland in Khlebin, doing what he loved.
In 1975, the painter’s first wife died, after which he finally moved from the village to the small town of Primosten, located on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Five years later, the master married for the second time to Rosa Loncaric, who became his faithful companion until the end of his life. Ivan Generalich passed away on November 27, 1992 at the age of 77 and was buried in a modest village cemetery near his native village.