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MARKO ČELEBONOVIĆ (Belgrade, 1902 - Saint Tropez, 1986)

      Čelebonović began his elementary and secondary education in Belgrade, and finished it in Switzerland. He studied law and economy in England and Paris 1919-1921. The following year he attended sculpture classes at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiére in the studio of Antoine Bourdelle, where he met Sreten Stojanović and they remained friends for life. Čelebonović also met young Swiss paintress Verena – Vreni Weilenmann, married her, began to paint and remained a painter to the end of his life.

     In 1925 the young couple went on holiday to the south of France, rented a small house in Saint Tropez and settled there. At that time Saint Tropez was a small fishermen's village where some painters used to come owing to Paul Signac. Invited by Čelebonović, Milo Milunović and Marino Tartaglia came in the summer of 1926 and they all painted together.

      Čelebonović stayed in Saint Tropez until the end of his life and was buried there.

     He lived occasionally for shorter or longer periods in Paris, where he had an apartment and a studio, and he also returned to his homeland. He was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade 1947-1949 and 1952-1960, a councillor at the Embassy of the FPRY in Paris 1949-1952 and the secretary of the Union of Yugoslav Artists in 1953.

     He was a member of the following groups: Oblik (Form), Dvanaestorica (Twelve Artists), Samostalni (The Independent).

     He was elected a corresponding member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1958, and in 1968 he became a regular member.

     He had solo exhibitions from 1926 onwards, and participated in a great number of group exhibitions from 1925 both in the country and abroad.

     Čelebonović received a significant number of awards.

Twenty-eight Pastels of Marko Čelebonović[1] 

          If I were to use musical terms, I would say that different painterly techniques can be compared to different instruments and the contents of a picture, its effective potential, to the melodic line.



          When he talked about  his art, as he often did, with his brother Aleksa, his close friends, painters or art historians, Marko Čelebonović stressed that he had always wanted to discover the simplest things from everyday life and transfer their elementary natural qualities, to discover the secret of excitement in the simplicity of the original, a certain disposition towards the very soul of things. He lived with the objects in his paintings, sometimes with a romantic passion, sometimes with a lyric refinement but these feelings were always deeply personal and frank, gentlemanly moderate and discreet in demonstration. The most fruitful decades of his creative activity, and all the changes that accompanied Čelebonović’s painting were perhaps most precisely defined by Miodrag B. Protić who recognised in it the line of  d u r a t i o n  (in the poetic realism), the state of real existence (in the real or imaginary), more clearly than the impulse of a given moment (the aesthetics of intimism) – naming it „the substitution of previous moments“. Even when he felt the need to materialise the conceived picture in a faster technique of pastel, regardless of the supposed directness of the gesture, Marko Čelebonović was able to relate the past and the present, to transfer the traces of restless lines and sporadic forms into duration and synthesise the spaces, disintegrated almost to abstraction, into a narratively simple and precise, spatially compact structure. Different changes in his hand generally, from the treatment of the surface and the structuring of real forms to the gradation of tonal values and light effects, can be followed in the pastels to which Čelebonović was more energetically devoted after the 1950s.[3] In accordance with the changes he made within the same, Čelebonović’s pastels can also chronologically be designated as those before 1965, belonging to the dark, green-blue phase (almost overfull in the painterly sense) and those from later periods, after 1966 onwards, the so called white pastels.

Spatial Iconography

          The paradigm of home ambience or the scenography of an isolated corner with select details and pleasant atmosphere that create the poetics of small things, evoking a certain mood or, perhaps, a lasting memory, but not those remembrances burdened by wistful sentiments or traces of restlessness from the times past, has remained one of the manifest constructs of Čelebonović’s painting. This would most closely correspond to what Bachelard wrote: “Only by means of space and within space one finds the pretty fossils of duration, made concrete by long sojourns. The subconsciousness endures. Memories are immobile and made more solid when fixed in space.”[4] The pre-war “painter of human destinies and middle-class life”[5], figures in the interiors with melancholy warmth of family inheritance and inherited mores, became a witness of the present, distanced from (the burdening) symbols of the time he had left behind, a rational viewer remote from immediate sentimental observation but closer to the problems regarding the realisation of a picture; perhaps his own words describe this in the best way: “There are no human figures, or similarities, there is no ambience... I am now preoccupied with the creation of a complex of elements full of meaning... Intensive meaning can be in the sense of colour, harmony, in the sense of the revelation of a subject. It is no longer important to me whether it is a still-life or a landscape”.[6]

        Čelebonović interpreted still-lifes as miniature theatre scenes, in all the unpretentious beauty in repeating the dissimilarities of their simplicity, in an intentional undenial of their essentially ephemeral existence, whether firmly defined, condensed with colour or enclosed with the line objects, grown with their weight into the darkened interiors or those restless and feverishly comminuted, tremblingly turning into dispersed arabesques or abstract blots on white table-cloths placed in the so-called lower rhythm, most frequently free even from traces of the pastel chalk – everything is in a dynamic symbiosis breathing for itself, spontaneously  and skilfully synchronised like in a well-directed theatre scene.

       Landscapes in Marko Čelebonović’s pastels are unique picturesque studies of scenes and transformed dispositions. Both the real and the imaginary are integrated in them, everything in a strange harmony, both the lyric and the expressive, the rhythming of prolonged moments of the birth and disappearance of light, the explosion of colours and lines and their serenity. The colours on his late phase pastels are typical of his personal nature – green-blue and the destructive white of the stone on seaside houses, from Montenegrin shores to Côte d’Azur... even without the minimum of expected narrative, only stills from the artist’s microcosm, beyond the urban grandeur and luxury of the Mediterranean.

      And finally, a separate and less known, but unavoidable curiosity in Čelebonović’s pastels is the cycle of the Nuns, humanitarian nursemaids whom he observed in 1966/1967 from his apartment in Paris on Avenue Danfert-Rochereau. Grotesque figures with associative cornet-caps on their heads, more like frames from a film noir or the artist’s fiction than from reality, obsessively following one another like solitary amorphous forms with human physiognomies, fearful but also likeable in their ugliness and the humorous symbolism added to them by Čelebonović. The formerly abandoned human figure appears in the series of these pastels with a diametrically different meaning – perhaps as a paraphrase of human stories, perhaps as a reflection of some personal, secret forebodings, ironies or games, a thin line between life and the absurd.

                                                                             Gordana Stanišić


[1] It is supposed that Marko Čelebonović made over 500 pastels, drawings and graphic prints. Thanks to the family of his brother Aleksa, Vladan, his son, and Jelena, his daughter-in-law, an album was found containing 15 pastels previously exhibited only in Varaždin.

[2] С. Ћелић, Разговори у атељеима, Марко Челебоновић (Conversations in Studios. M.Č.), Ревија, 16 March 1953.

[3] Since the majority of pastels are not dated, it is difficult to know when the artist began to make them. It is certain that he began to use this technique more intensely after 1956 when he was temporarily using the studio of Paul Signac in Saint Tropez. He found there some boxes with pastels, among the other painterly material. After1966 he exhibited pastels at about ten solo shows, either in combination with oil paintings or as a separate whole.

[4] G.Bašlar, Poetika prostora (Gaston Bachelard, The poetics of space), Alef Gradac, Čačak 2005, 32.

[5] L. Trifunović, Studije, ogledi, kritike (Studies, essays, reviews), 3, MSU, Belgrade 1990, 81.

[6] A. Čelebonović, Razgovori s Markom (Conversations with Marko), Art Pavilion "Cvijeta Zuzorić", Beograd 1982.