The Life of Pavle Beljanski


War Years

Beljanski returned to Belgrade in 1940, when the war was at Yugoslavia’s door. After retiring on 15 November 1940, he often deprived himself of many practical needs so that he could buy a painting or two. With an apartment full of paintings, he started to think about building a family home in Višegradska Street, with an additional room for a gallery. He spent the war years in Belgrade with his mother, away from the rest of the family, who took shelter in Svilajnac. Milana Beljanski died in 1942, and Pavle moved from Kapetan Mišina Street to nearby Gospodar Jevremova Street in Belgrade center.
His main concern during the war was the preservation of the collection. When German authorities formed a committee for confiscation of art works, Nedeljko Gvozdenović, one of the members of this committee, informed Beljanski just in time. He hid all the crucial works of domestic and foreign authors in a crate and buried them under a heap of coal in the basement, and then he hid the valuable frames in the attic. He hung the mediocre works of European painters on the walls of his apartment and the committee didn’t confiscate anything. He repaid Gvozdenović by letting him live under his roof several years later, because Kolarac National University, where this artist had his studio, was bombed near the end of the war.
«Each and every one of those paintings is a part of my life! Every one of them has a place in my heart...», explained Beljanski many years later in an interview. By a stroke of luck, such attachment to his works of art saved the collector’s life. His closest relatives temporarily moved to Svilajnac, begging him to leave the capital and come live with them. «We are all worried about you. Our concern is that much graver because here we hear news of bombing of Belgrade all the time, and until we find out they’re false, we all die a little… We would have our peace of mind if you came here». But exactly the opposite happened. Svilajnac was bombed on 24 September 1944, and the house in which Beljanskis lived took a direct hit. Pavle Beljanski lost two sisters, his brother and their families, seven relatives in total.
Right after this tragedy, Nedeljko Gvozdenović paid a visit to Beljanski. Remembering that encounter, he said: «He aged so much in those couple of days. While we were talking, he looked so distant… I will never forget that… And then – things were changing quickly. The liberation of Belgrade was close… Beljanski was left alone, all alone. It took days for him to get over it. […] Since I observed him from up close, I was a witness of such rare occurrence – that the attachment to a collection, actually an obsession with it, can have such importance in overcoming a grave personal adversity…»

 Post-war Diplomatic Duty. First Collection Exhibitions in Sombor and Belgrade

For Pavle Beljanski, the end of the World War II meant the return to diplomacy. In February 1945, he became the protocol organizer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the next year he started teaching in Belgrade School of Diplomacy. He was in charge of ceremonies during the visits of foreign officials. The frequency of foreign visits to Yugoslavia was the result of the establishment of diplomatic relations with many states, especially during the sixth decade of the 20th century. Beljanski had an important role in that process, the evidence to which are the distinctions he received from Poland, Ethiopia, Greece and Egypt after the World War II. His diplomatic career officially ended on 1 November 1958, but he still used his professional experience and insight as a government advisor in matters of diplomatic protocol.
Right after the World War II, the museum history of artworks from Pavle Beljanski’s collection started. In October 1945, the exhibition of 67 artworks from the collection marked the opening of the Sombor City Museum and Library. Organized in part due to a long lasting friendship between Beljanski and Milan Konjović, first director of Sombor City Museum, this exhibition represented a significant moment in our art history by being the first viewing of Serbian art between two world wars in post-war Yugoslavia. At the same time, this was the first opportunity for Beljanski to see his collection as a whole in a gallery space. Next year, a group of foreign diplomatic representatives visited this exhibition. That same year, ten paintings were borrowed from Sombor exhibition to be displayed at the great retrospective exhibition, Painting and Sculpting of people of Yugoslavia in 18th and 19th Century.
After Sombor, in the period between 1952 and 1957, 120 artworks from the collection of Pavle Beljanski were exhibited in Belgrade Museum. Because of the size of the collection and the inability to show it as a coherent whole, exhibited pieces were swapped during next five years so that the public can se as much artworks as possible. Testimony to the respect Beljanski gained by successfully presenting his collection is the fact that he was appointed as a member of the Belgrade City Museum Council. During those years, Pavle Beljanski was more intensely considering donating his collection to a museum, but under following conditions: a part of it had to always be on display, and pieces from his collection had to be kept separately from the rest of the museum fund. Apparently, these conditions were much too demanding and did not gain the approval of relevant institutions. In 1957, it seemed that he had lost all hopes of fulfilling his dream: «If I don’t do anything soon, my entire life work could be scattered in the wind».