Considered to be the greatest watercolorist to come out of Croatia in the early 19th century, Friderika Slavomira Olga Raškaj, better known as Slava Raškaj, led a short but prolific career and is widely studied by modern artists. Born deaf, her painting allowed certain levels of communication with her family through her younger years. Later in life, she did learn to speak but only at a basic level with difficulty. While many were unwilling to train her, Raškaj eventually studied under the famous artist Bela Čikoš Sesija, a founder of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. She also studied in Vienna where, in addition to art lessons, she learned to read French and German. After her schooling, she traveled throughout Europe exhibiting her paintings at a variety of exhibitions. At the time, her paintings were unique in their subjects, often featuring popular still lifestyles but with odd combinations of objects. These included things like two chickens tied down in a basket next to their eggs. They also exhibited darker shades than were popular among artists of the time. Later in life, she began painting outdoor scenery that would become her most famous works. Though she lived for only 29 years, her paintings are highly regarded today and garnish record prices at auctions.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on January 2, 1877 at Ozalj, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, Austria–Hungary. Her mother Olga, who was also a painter, held the position of an administrator at the local post office. Her father Vjekoslav was also a local administrator which gave the family a high middle class status in Croatia.
Her sister Paula also learned painting from her mother but later became a school teacher in Orahovica.
In 1885, at the age of eight, she was enrolled by her family in a Vienna-based school for the deaf.
Being deaf from birth, Raškaj kept to herself as the beliefs of the time suggested that all deaf individuals were also mentally unsound. Her talent for painting separated her from her peers and attracted the attention of all her teachers.
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In 1892, she received her first drawing lesson in Vienna, completing a small set of ink drawings entitled ‘Armor and Weapons I and II’. During this time, she learned watercolor painting and also the Gouache technique, an Italian opaque oil painting method.
In 1895, at the age of 15, she returned from Vienna, and her local school teacher Ivan Muha-Otoić insisted the family send her to Zagreb to train with Vlaho Bukovac. After arriving in Zagreb, Bukovac refused to train a woman, let alone a deaf woman.
While in Zagreb, she was invited by Isidor Kršnjavi to study at the Zagreb Institute for the Deaf where she set up her first studio.
The famous symbolism Croatian painter Bela Čikoš Sesija noticed her talent in 1896 and began training her at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb.
From 1896 to 1897, she studied craft drawing and technique with John Bauer and Stephen Hribar.
Her first works in 1885 were of still life but often odd or mismatched, such as an owl next to a red rose or a lobster with a fan. She also painted a starfish and a silver jewelry chest.
In 1897, she painted ‘Impatient in my Studio’, a watercolor painting of a young boy who also lived at the Zagreb Institute for the Deaf.
In 1898, she produced one of her most famous paintings, a self-portrait, while living at the Zagreb Institute for the Deaf.
In 1899, she produced ‘Water Lilies in the Botanical Garden’, painting outdoors at the Zagreb Botanical Garden. Other paintings showcased Maksimir Park and other areas from around the city.
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From 1898 through 1900, she produced what would become her most famous and valuable works, ‘Spring in Ozalj’, ‘Winter Landscape’, ‘Early Spring’ and ‘Lotus for my Parents’.
In 1900, she began painting darker, more isolated environments, as showcased in her famous painting ‘The Old Mill’ and ‘Dead Nature’.
In 1898, her watercolor paintings were first publicly showcased at the newly opened Art Pavillion in Zagreb alongside other notable painters of the time like Menci Klement Crnčić and Vlaho Bukovac.
In 1900, her paintings were exhibited in Saint Petersburg and in Moscow.
In 1900, five of her paintings were part of the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Awards & Achievements
After her death, the Zagreb Education Centre for the Deaf and Dumb was renamed The Slava Raškaj Education Center.
In 2000, The Croatian National Bank issued a commemorative silver coin with her face embossed on it as part of their Famous Croatian Women series.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1900, she first began showing signs of clinical depression and was hospitalized briefly before she returned to her family home. She did not recover and, in 1903, was admitted to the Psychiatric Hospital of Stenjevec with aggression and psychological issues.
In 1905, she contracted tuberculosis and stopped painting entirely. She died on March 29, 1906 at the age of 29.
She was buried in the Parish church lot outside of the Stenjevec Psychiatric Hospital. In 1990, her remains were transferred to the St. Vid Church in Ozalj.
In 2004, director Dalibor Matanic released ‘100 Minutes of Glory’, a Croatian drama about the life of Slava Raškaj.
Two of her drawings from when she was eight still survive and are currently on display in the Croatian School Museum at Marshal Tito Square in Zagreb.
When she was studying at the Zagreb Institute for the Deaf, Isidor Kršnjavi hid the cost of her art materials in the government budget.
While studying with Sesija in 1896, she set up an art studio in an unused room at the Zagreb morgue.
In 1996, a large number of counterfeit Raškaj paintings were released in Ozalj. In 2000, 20 of these paintings were discovered using tests of the pigment and paper. As of 2014, over 400 counterfeit paintings have been taken off the market.