Regarding the extremely fruitful, successful, and enduring artistic career of the painter and printmaker Petar Jakelić, organizing a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Split has become a mutual obligation.
While he has previously exhibited in both the Museum’s old and new gallery buildings and has a substantial history of exhibitions, this is the most comprehensive presentation of artworks by this distinguished artist and Professor Emeritus of the University of Split. This distinction is evident across various parameters, including the diverse range of art techniques, thematic choices, motifs, the number of displayed works, and the extended time span over which they were created. Visitors will have the opportunity to view a fine selection of Jakelić’s works – about two hundred and twenty pieces from different periods of his life and career, spanning from 1953 to the present day.
Jakelić regards this long-awaited retrospective as the pinnacle of his many years of public engagement. His journey began in 1954, when, as a primary-school student, he published his inaugural illustrations in Polet, a high-school magazine for literature, science, and art published by Školska knjiga in Zagreb. In 1957, he participated in a group exhibition in Split, and in 1964, during his military service, he held his first official solo exhibition in Priština, accompanied by a small catalogue. Preceding the Priština exhibition, approximately ten years earlier, Jakelić exhibited in his elementary school in Trogir. In 1953, at the students’ dormitory in Trogir, Jakelić spontaneously painted a female nude based on a magazine photograph, marking the commencement of one of his primary artistic interests.
Since his student days at the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade, girls and women have been his predominant motif – representations of perfect beings, unparalleled in their beauty, embodying motherly love and care, sacrifice, and hard work. In an interplay of epic-patriarchal and lyrical-erotic experiences, they are the backbone of the family, symbolically anchoring all four corners of the house, while also being visually captivating, challenging, enigmatic, seductive, and sensual. It would be difficult to enumerate all the youthful and well-proportioned female figures that the artist has depicted over his lifetime, showing them in various positions from very reserved, even bashful, to playful and provocative.
A series of his compositions portray island women and women from the coast, Nike, Flora, and other imaginary characters and scenes, with numerous evocations of his native village of Prugovo. Recollecting his upbringing in a large family as well as the scenes he witnessed at the time, Jakelić has created a visually compelling and unusual vision of village life with his peculiar imagination. Jakelić’s compositions often echo his childhood memories of rural life and include depictions of domestic animals, which were once vital for survival. The artist’s attitude towards animal beings is rooted in empathy and respect, shaped by his experience of living in a rural environment where the value system was clearly expressed by the word blago (meaning both “livestock” and “treasure” in Croatian).
It is noteworthy that beyond the artworks created during his childhood and youth, inspired by his life in Prugovo, the artist increasingly drew inspiration from his native region from the mid-1960s. In the meantime, while studying at the Academy and engaging in the Belgrade art scene, he refined his talent, shaping it into an authentic and distinguishable poetics with surrealist undertones. Through unwavering dedication and disciplined effort, he gradually modernized and evolved his artistic expression in a synergy of mastery, distinctive imagination, individual iconography, and the almost simultaneous use of rural and urban motifs. Over time, the differences in content became less pronounced (with a few exceptions, of course), and different incentives can be found within the same compositions. Additionally, his artworks created in this millennium exhibit a heightened sense of spirituality and contemplation. But despite these developments, Prugovo remains a crucial starting point in the formation and endurance of Jakelić’s poetic identity, marked by his unique, original interpretations of scenes from village life.
Even the roots of Jakelić’s affinity for surrealism can be traced back to his childhood in Prugovo, later to be enhanced by various painterly influences, such as Stančić, Mediala, De Chirico, and Chagall. Although the artist values Picasso the most, he does not hide that during his extensive immersion in art, he assimilated aspects from various other painters such as Bukovac, Renoir, Titian, Vermeer, his teachers Ante Kaštelančić and Antun Zupa at the School of Applied Arts in Split, and his professor Mihailo S. Petrov at the Belgrade Academy. His inquisitiveness and acute observation, combined with exceptional talent and diligence, enriched his artistic prowess, shaping a distinctly personalized, Jakelićian style.
Last year on September 25, during the official launch of Jakelić’s prestigious, richly illustrated monograph featuring an extensive essay by the esteemed literary author and academician Luko Paljetak, the artist pledged to continue painting as long as he could wield a brush. True to his word, he continues to paint with mastery, which is evident in his recent completion of four large-format oils on canvas created exclusively for the retrospective: Through the Parhelion, Rest, Autumnal Interlacing, and Birth House. Hence, it is fitting to extend our wishes for many more inspirations and fruitful years ahead.
Petar Jakelić was born on April 15, 1938, in Prugovo near Split. As one of several children in the family, he spent the first years after World War II in Čitluk near Sinj and in Kaštel Lukšić. He primary education began in his native village, where he completed the first four grades, and continued in Trogir. He graduated from the School of Applied Arts in Split in 1959. During his education, he contributed drawings and vignettes to various publications, including the high-school newspaper Polet, the daily newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija, and the magazine Vidik.
Jakelić enrolled at the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade in 1959, graduating in 1963 under the mentorship of Prof. Mihailo S. Petrov. During his studies, he sustained himself by creating illustrations for numerous newspapers and magazines.
Jakelić’s first solo exhibition took place in 1964 in Priština. He participated in numerous exhibitions in the country and abroad, where his work received several awards. His teaching career commenced in 1964 at the School of Applied Arts in Split, where he taught drawing and painting, letterpress and intaglio printing techniques, lithography, external and internal equipment of books, poster-making and graphic design in general. In 1977, he transferred to the Pedagogical Academy in Split, where he taught drawing, painting, printing, and applied graphic arts. From 1997, he taught graphic arts at the newly established Art Academy in Split and retired in 2008 as a tenured ordinary professor. In 2009, in recognition of his remarkable contributions to the University of Split, as well as his educational and scholarly excellence, he was honoured with the prestigious title of Professor Emeritus. He lives in Split.