The Life of Pavle Beljanski

1924–1941.

Pavle Beljanski – Friend of Artists

Beljanski remained in Vienna until 1925. During his stay in Belgrade until December 1928, he began to expand the circle of young Serbian artists who he was acquainted with, which was very fruitful for the direction his collection was taking. Most of these artists were students of art academies in major European cities: Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, Rome, Florence, Prague, Krakow, and most of all, Paris. When Pavle Beljanski was transferred to Paris in 1929, Sava Šumanović, Petar Dobrović, Petar Lubarda, Milo Milunović, and many other painters who, at least for a short while, were a part of an international «Paris school» already lived in that painters' metropolis. It was formed by French and foreign artist who lived in studios in Montparnasse, and exhibited their artworks in the Bing Gallery, at Zborowski’s and Bernheim Brothers. They often spent their last dime on models like famous Kiki, Thérèse Treize, and Aïcha, or for a drink at Le Dome, or La Rotonde. In a famous magazine, L’Art Vivant, well known Paris critic Florent Fels wrote: «Modigliani appeared in the evening cloaked in fog… like a prince he presided over our meeting, in which were invited only people like Kisling and his wife, René, Šumanović, Deren...» Besides Šumanović, other Yugoslav artists were also noticed at that time: three of Milutinović’s paintings were exhibited in Burdell’s Museum; Milan Konjović’s first independent exhibition (1931) received exceptional praises for the originality of expression; Petar Lubarda was awarded a Grand Prix in 1937; Kosta Hakman won a gold medal on World Exhibition in Paris, and Ivan Tabaković won a Grand Prix for painting and ceramics at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts, also in Paris. During the 1930s, our artists were also present on important exhibitions in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Prague, and Rome.
Beljanski has acquainted himself with many painters: Kosta Hakman, Milo Milunović, Petar Lubarda, Jefta Perić, Nedeljko Gvozdenović, and especially Milan Konjović. He soon gained a reputation as a collector of refined taste and a patron of artists, who was always there to lend a helping hand – whether it was by being a best man on their weddings (Hakman, Lubarda, Milunović), by recommending their paintings to potential buyers, lending them money, or similar favours. When he moved from Paris to Belgrade, his luggage contained paintings by Milunović, Čelebonović, Konjović, and Hakman, as well as several crates of books. Because of a great economic crisis many artists were forced to return to the homeland at that time. From his occasional trips to Paris Beljanski informed them of exhibitions and events in the artistic world.

Infallible Eye for True Artistic Value

Pavle Beljanski strived to create a collection of artworks of contemporary artists of lasting value, which coincided with goals of Belgrade Museum of Modern Art, as well as similar European institutions. Choosing the works of artists whose quality was approved abroad, he was creating his nation’s art anthology. He explained that once, many years later: «If the piece I acquired is really Titian, and even if I am in position to procure other paintings as valuable as that one, it would still be a collection that is fragmentary and foreign. […] I had to collect the manifestations of art of our own people, help our own artists, and preserve their achievements – only that way a collection could be really complete and my own».
In the short period between the end of 1928 and 1930, Beljanski firmly decided to collect only artworks of domestic artists. During the 1930s, he dedicated himself to expansion of his collection with great intensity. At that time, painter Jefto Perić also lived in Paris, and with time Beljanski had put so much trust in him that in 1935 (when he was posted on diplomatic duty in Rome) he authorized him to choose and buy artworks on his behalf. The time he spent in Rome Beljanski thought of as the happiest period of his life. He had many duties as an envoy, but still he found time to visit antique shops, ancient ruins and museums. Many respectable guests from Yugoslavia like Stevan Hristić, Vladimir Ribnikar, and Isidora Sekulić relied on Beljanski’s hospitality. He also greeted painters and helped them organize exhibitions, especially the Exhibition of Modern Yugoslav Art in Rome (1937). Recognizing a true connoisseur in Beljanski, Milan Kašanin, director of Belgrade Museum of Modern Art and one of most esteemed art historians and critics of that time, offered him to be an associate of Artistic View magazine. In October 1937 he had sent the first issue of this respectable magazine to Beljanski in Rome, asking him to write down his comments on it, and also to write about art and whatever artists he deems appropriate. With an infallible eye for true artistic value, and in a noble effort to preserve the examples of artistic achievements of our nation, at the dawn of World War II Beljanski already owned a coherent, rounded collection.