'Suffer the Little Children'
The Croatian artist Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) is well-known in Central Europe and the Balkans. He was one of the founders of a modern, Western tradition of painting in that region in the late 19th century. Trained in Paris at a time when Impressionism was catching the public imagination, he painted grand literary and religious scenes, nudes (a benchmark of the classical taste against which Impressionism rebelled) and portraits. Overcoming his initial poverty, he was soon successful, and gained a high reputation in Paris.
Bukovac learnt English when living in America in his early teens, and he first visited England aged sixteen, when he docked in Liverpool on board a merchant ship. From the mid-1880s to the First World War, he regularly came to England, where many of his most popular pictures were imported by the London dealers, Vicars Bros. They included his grand religious masterpiece, 'Suffer the Little Children to Come to Me', and three nude subjects: 'The White Slave', 'Potiphar’s Wife' and 'Adam and Eve'. In Britain, Bukovac painted portraits of Vicars’s clients. Among them were two of the best patrons he would ever have: Samson Fox of Harrogate and Richard LeDoux of Liverpool.
Fox and LeDoux helped change Bukovac’s image. Vicars had marketed Bukovac crudely, as a painter with ‘Parisian’ morals. They treated him as a gentleman, lavished hospitality on him and introduced him to their families and circles of friends. Bukovac’s portraits of them reveal him at his best, as a sensitive and technically accomplished artist.