The Gallery of Matica Srpska in Novi Sad is a national gallery with a long and complex history, that inherits one of the richest collections of Serbian art of the modern period. Founded in Budapest in 1847, transferred to Novi Sad in 1864 and opened to the public in 1933, the Gallery actually set on its professional mission in 1958 after moving into a building of its own in which it has remained ever since. Besides collecting, research, safekeeping and exhibiting one of its primary assignments remains advance of international cooperation − presentation of collections from abroad as well as promotion of Serbian art in other European institutions.
Every art collection is a looking glass that reflects values of communities and individuals, of the World and the homestead; therefore the works of art selected from the rich collection of the Gallery of Matica Srpska represent the mirror of the Serbian Modernism. Within the ramification of European culture Serbian Modernism occupies a deserved place, since it had followed immediately the most recent phenomena within European Modernism and thus reflects Serbian culture in the light of European culture.
Serbian national emancipation endeavours spanned the entire 19th century parallel on both banks of the Danube within two empires − the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian. If the South took the lead politically with two uprisings and the formation of a national state, the North with the Vuk Karadžić circle hastened to create cultural institutions of which Matica Srpska was the most important. The visual arts existed in its museum as a field with a special collection. Modernity occurred in the very instant, when the promulgators of the emancipatory endeavour became enlightened by the power of the image. Taking the lesson of paintings by Paja Jovanović and his colleagues Đorđe Krstić and Uroš Predić, they integrated the visual arts into the state-building effort and the unification of the partitioned nation. The younger generation, educated predominantly in Munich and a little later in Paris (Josif Falta, Anastas Bocarić, Vasa Eškićević, Đorđe Jovanović, Nadežda Petrović, Bora Stevanović, Milan Milovanović and others), came to understand the broader South Slavic identity. Through their artistic connections and with the support of the Serbian government they created a prefiguration of the 1918 unification in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes even before the Great War.
After the Great War, Serbian artists looked up above all to Paris. Petar Dobrović, Sava Šumanović, Mladen Josić, Milan Konjović, Marko Čelebonović and others followed the lead of the École de Paris, while Mihailo S. Petrov belonged to the circle of the international avant-garde and the Zenyth (Zenit)magazine. The art of the Rapelle à l’ordre and art deco of the 1920s was in their work transformed into the realisms of the 1930s with an outstanding social criticism in the woodcuts by Đorđe Andrejević Kun. The bond of the poets Dušan Matić and Marko Ristić with André Breton’s Surrealist circle echoed indirectly in the work of Petar Lubarda, while more substantially and significantly permeated the creativity of Serbian painters and sculptors of the sixth decade. Extraordinary paintings by Milenko Šerban, Bogdan Šuput and Marko Čelebonović wrap up this selection and represent a unique upgrading of the Fauvist and the Intimist paradigms.