Nasta Rojc
(1883 - 1964)

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Nasta Rojc

Writer Mladen Medar

Nasta (Jerka Hermina Ljubica) Rojc, one of the first academically educated Croatian women painters, was born in Bjelovar on November 6, 1883 as the first of four children in the family of the eminent solicitor, doctor of law Milan Rojc.

The Croatian painter Josip Hohnjec, teacher of drawing at the small royal general programme gymnasium, “the royal professor, guardian of the drawing collection and sworn-in court expert”, had exerted the most significant influence upon the choice of vocation of his most talented pupil. After she had completed her gymnasium education her father enrolled her in the eighth form of the Sacre Coeur private gymnasium in Graz. Since the year 1890 the family Rojc was the owner of the manor with the estate in the village of Gudovac, eight kilometres far from Bjelovar, so the estate “Rojčevo” (meaning belonging to the Rojc family), situated by the small river Česma, as well as Gudovac itself would be frequent motifs in her earliest painting period. As her father Milan Rojc was appointed Secretary for Education and Religious Affairs of the current state administration, the Rojc family moved to Zagreb in 1906, but Nasta and her sister Vjera remained on the Rojčevo estate in Gudovac. Besides painting she would, to quote her “... till corn, saw and chop wood, reap under the scorching sun until dead tired, plough in the rain with oxen and horses”. At the same time she also visited the Italian cities of Venice, Padua, Siena, Ferrara, Ravenna and Ancona. According to Nasta’s testimony her father opposed her wish to become a painter (“My father would warn me that art would not sustain me and used to frighten me with the example of the poverty-stricken life and death of our blood relative, the painter Ferdo Quiquerez.”). Eventually Milan Rojc, faced with her strong decision, had desisted from his opposition, so Nasta started her education in painting in 1901, in the private painting school of Oton Iveković in Zagreb, and afterwards, with breaks, from 1902 to 1911 she received further education at the Kunstschule für Frauen und Mädchen in Vienna, where she also attended photo classes and was engaged in modelling. She went on to the Frauen Akademie in Munich where she was introduced to the participants of the so called Munich Circle, the young Croatian painters J. Račić, V. Becić, O. Herman and M. Kraljević.

She had her first public exhibition in 1909 when she exhibited at the collective exhibition of the Croatian Art Society in the Art Pavilion in Zagreb (four oils and four pastels, made in Vienna in 1904). Since that time, almost every year, she participated in exhibitions not only in Croatia but also all across Europe: in France, England, Scotland, Bohemia, Poland and Romania. She achieved the peak of her exhibition activities in the course of the year 1908 with eight exhibitions. In the next two years her works were publicly presented in three more exhibitions. Afterwards she started painting more rarely. Having appeared in the first decades of the 20th century, in the key period of the development of Croatian modern art, her opus based on landscape motifs, countryside scenes and city panoramas, portraits and self-portraits, nudes and genre scenes and on the motifs of animals and flowers, all this passed through all the phases of academic realism and naturalism, symbolism, naturalist en plein air painting, impressionism and post-impressionism and, finally, she painted in the spirit of social realism.

Some of her individual works represent permanent values in the history of Croatian painting. She belonged to the “Zagreb multicoloured school” established by Vlaho Bukovac. She was the staunchest champion of the equality of the “male” and “female” painting art and one of the founders of the Women’s Artists Club in 1928 which was the result of Nasta’s previous collaboration with the Women’s International Art Club from London. Her biography preserved in the manuscript and the records My Letters from England published in the course of the years 1928 and 1929 in the Zagreb journal Hrvatska revija are proof of her talent as a writer. A special part of Nasta Rojc’s opus belongs to her self-portraits. With that emphasized introspective approach, “a frequent case of the disguised artist playing with her figure, enabled her to show her alter-ego” (Đurđa Petravić-Klaić). So, in her anthological painting Self-portrait – hunter this woman painter emphasized the strong androgenic features of her own figure, in order to point out the traditionally “male” character features that are hidden in every woman. The subtle tones of light, yellowish and bluish tonalities of the landscape behind the figure are a perfect frame for the personal and proud posture of the painter. With her look defiantly directed at the observer and her left hand in the pocket, all this results in a nonchalant gesture that slightly softens the general strong impression of the figure in the picture.

After the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia in 1941 Nasta Rojc was suspected of supporting the partisans and she was considered disreputable, so her house and atelier on 6 Rokov Perivoj in Zagreb which she herself had designed were confiscated. In July 1943 Nasta Rojc, together with the rich representative of the English nobility with whom she shared a common household, Marie Onslow (who established and managed the English Speaking Society in Zagreb), though both of them ill, were arrested, Nasta then being aged 60 and M. Onslow aged 75, but they were released on account of insufficient proof. Nasta made this harrowing, dramatic and humiliating experience immortal in prison by drawing eleven small sketches in pencil, on toilet paper smuggled in. She died, forgotten, on November 6, 1964 in Zagreb, on the date of her birth and was buried together with A. M. Onslow on the evangelical part of the Mirogoj cemetery. In 1969 the then young custodian of the Bjelovar Municipal Museum, Željko Sabol, brought Nasta Rojc’s work to life for the first time after her death by putting up a great exhibition of her paintings in the Bjelovar Municipal Museum (to whom Nasta Rojc presented two of her paintings in 1959). After this exhibition interest for one of the most productive among the women painters started growing. Since the year 2003 the great gallery of the Bjelovar Municipal Museum has been given her name.

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