Tribute to Vladimir Velickovic


Vladimir Velickovic, who died of a heart attack on August 29, had just reached a new price level on the auction market and was preparing a major exhibition in France.

Considered the most important Serbian painter of our time, Vladimir VELICKOVIC was also a significant figure in French painting as both countries contributed much to his culture. Born in Belgrade on 11 August 1935, ‘Vlada’ learned French in high school and in 1965 was awarded the Paris Biennale prize which allowed him to come to live in France for six months. The six months turned into 60 years. According to Nicola Radic at the French Embassy in Serbia, “he was a bridge between our two countries [] impossible not to be deeply touched by his paintings and his drawings, nor to confuse his extraordinary talent with that of his peers”.

Velickovic taught art for 18 years at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris (1983 – 2000) and became the first Serbian member of the Institute of France. He represented Yugoslavia at the Venice Biennale in 1972, was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour, Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and was elected member of the French Academy of Fine Arts (to replace Bernard Buffet in 2005). He was also a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and was widely recognized and celebrated during his lifetime. His work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions around the world and his paintings are in the collections of a hundred or so museums, including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, the Pompidou Center in Paris and New York’s MoMA. However, his work was not subject to any major monographic exhibitions in France until the latter years of his long career

Le grand style et le tragique

Le grand style et le tragique is the title chosen for the Vladimir Velickovic retrospective at the Hélène and Edouard Leclerc Fund (FHEL) in Landerneau in the Finistère region of Brittany. The artist had already spent two preparing this exhibition which will open in December 2019. By force of circumstances the show has been transformed – with “infinite sadness” – into a homage to the “great man”, says the Leclerc Fund. This important exhibition, bringing together a hundred works, has been a long time coming. The artist was 84 years old. The only major exhibition dedicated to him during his lifetime in France dates back to 2011 at Les Abattoirs in Toulouse. He was 76 years old at the time.

Le grand style et le tragique will offer a unique opportunity to discover his disturbing and tragic paintings, with visions of carnage, desolate landscapes, scary crows, gallows, barbed wire and emaciated dogs. Paintings that reflect the horrors of man’s treatment of man. The worst memories have a long life. Vlada was 10 years old at the end of World War II and as a child he saw things that marked him for life. But his work reflects much more than his memories of WWII; it bears the burden of all human conflicts. Velickovic participated in what Freud called “the work of culture”.

History has placed Velickovic in the Narrative Figuration movement after his first exhibition at the Dragon Gallery in Paris in 1967. It is true that the work of Velickovic is marked by the research of Eadweard Muybridge (1830 – 1904) on the photographic decomposition of movement and that the other representatives of this movement were inspired by everyday images from comics, cinema, advertising and photography. But Velickovic was a veritable UFO in the movement, a painter of agony, marked by Christian iconography, whose work is traversed by crucifixions, passions, descents from the cross and lifeless corpses… all themes that violate the body

Rising prices

Vladimir Velickovic was still alive when his auction market began to gather momentum. His personal record was set last March, five months before his death, when Artcurial in Paris offered a painting entitled La Naissance (1968) as part of its sale ‘20th Century Art, 1950 to the present day’. The work has nothing to do with celebrating the miracle of childbirth; it depicts a nightmarish drama of bleeding flesh with a full frontal view of a torn vagina and a disturbing newborn mouth already filled with teeth. Estimated between €6,000 and €8,000, the work elicited strong bidding and reached €46,800 (more than $53,000). It was the artist’s first auction result above $50,000, however, in general, his paintings are not expensive because his work is only attractive to a small circle of collectors, mostly French.

Over the last 20 years, 81% of the artist’s turnover has been hammered in France, where the majority of the works are located. Some works circulate in other parts of Europe – especially in Belgium, Germany and Italy – and a few are sold in America (only six in 20 years).

Despite Velickovic’s global recognition, some of his paintings were still accessible this past year in France, Germany and Serbia for around $5,000, roughly the same price as some of his large and incisive drawings that express another kind of artistic efficiency. Some smaller works on paper are still available for around $1,000, a particularly low price for such a talented draughtsman. Velickovic learnt to draw alone copying photos or images from books from his family library. His passion for drawing informed his painting skills. Drawing is an essential part of his work about which he confided: “Through drawing we can communicate absolutely everything: joy, sadness, drama, past, future, life, death. I like to prove that drawing is above all a portrait of oneself, that it is capable of showing a great deal and hiding very little” (1983).