With his diverse, specific, and in some segments unique opus, the painter, graphic artist, and cartoonist Antun Zupa (Zuppa) occupies a prominent place in the art history of Split, where he was born in 1897 and died in 1969, after half a century of public activity. If we try to succinctly assess his painting achievements, valuing above all his dedication to work, we could say that in the period between the two world wars, Zupa was the most significant painter in the Split area after Emanuel Vidović. What distinguishes Zupa as an artist in the local environment, and which at the same time positions him in a broader artistic context, is his social awareness and engagement.
He first exhibited in 1919, when, at Vidović’s invitation, he participated in a group exhibition of Dalmatian artists in Split, organized by the Medulić Society. On that occasion, he presented his caricatures, while later on he would build his artistic career mainly with paintings and graphic arts. One of Zupa’s crucial stops on his path of artistic education from Munich to Zagreb, where he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1930, was Berlin, which is considered a key influence in his artistic phase characterized by a social component and a more expressive style. In Germany, he came into contact with the socially engaged art of Georg Grosz and Käthe Kollwitz, whose impact is evident in Zupa’s choice and interpretation of themes from everyday life in Split. In his artistic reactions to the moral and material misery of his fellow citizens, Zupa reached his creative zenith with a portfolio of woodcuts called Dark Variations, with which he became widely known after its publication in 1939.
Throughout his creative life, Zupa remained a figurative painter. He went through a period of Art Nouveau stylization and realism to expressive and poeticized forms, questioning his artistic expression until the end of his life. In addition to socially engaged themes, present in his work until the end of World War II, Zupa created over time a rich and thematically diverse opus that also included idyllic scenes located in interiors or in public spaces, interpretations of biblical themes, still lifes, female nudes (especially of bathers), maritime motifs, vedutas and landscapes, scenes of fascist occupation, self-portraits and portraits, dolls.
Antun Zupa has been associated with the Museum of Fine Arts through his artworks ever since the time of preparations for its grand opening on December 1, 1931. At that time, the Museum owned only three of his works, but today its holdings include one hundred and thirty-eight of his graphic sheets, drawings and paintings, among which there are about thirty woodcuts in several copies. Some of Zupa’s works have been part of the Museum’s permanent exhibitions. In the current, third permanent exhibition from 2009, woodcuts from the Dark Variations portfolio are on display. In addition, Zupa’s works have been repeatedly included in temporary exhibitions, and in December 1997, the Museum organized an exhibition with forty-two Zupa’s works from its holdings.
After almost two and a half decades, the Museum of Fine Arts has now organized the second, more extensive exhibition of Zupa’s works from its holdings. Eighty-nine graphic sheets, drawings and paintings from 1926-1969 are presented at this retrospective exhibition. There was a time when Zupa had his own artistic audience in Split, but he did not come to occupy a permanent place in the collective memory of the city. Interest in his work gradually waned, so that today it is closer to oblivion than to general knowledge. We hope that the exhibition Antun Zupa (Zuppa) – Works from the Holdings of the Museum of Fine Arts will change this situation at least to some extent.
The exhibition has been sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia and the City of Split.