Đorđe Andrejević Kun, academic, revolutionary with a flair and creator of the coat of arms of Belgrade

Andrejević Kun is the author of the coat of arms of socialist Yugoslavia, designs for banknotes and decorations, political posters, in addition to about 90 paintings and 600 drawings and graphics.

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Photo: Mira Kun's private archive
Photo: Mira Kun's private archive
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

The walls of the white fortress opened by a gate under which two rivers flow, and a Roman trireme sails along them, is the famous motif of the official coat of arms of Belgrade, which is almost a century old.

At an anonymous competition, in the fall of 1931, the first prize among 56 works was won by Đorđe Andrejević Kun, a young painter from Belgrade, with the design "Red Three", unexpectedly securing a place for himself on the pages of the history of Yugoslavia and its capital.

"In addition to the long investigations that I carried out on the ground, near Kalemegdan, examining the geographical position of the city and the entire surroundings, I acquired literature from which I became familiar with our old coats of arms and the coats of arms of cities in general," said the creator of the symbol of the capital of Serbia in those days for Politika newspaper.

It was one of the first awards for Kun, who in the coming decades will leave an eternal mark, primarily in art, but also in domestic politics, society and education.

For the future academic and young communist, the quill and pen will later serve as an ideological tool in the political struggle, to which he will add a gun during the Second World War.

"He was able to combine socio-political work and fine art, to develop it, but not to impose them as a sacrifice to the family, but to have everything take place within certain frameworks," says his daughter Mira Kun for the BBC in Serbian.

Andrejević Kun is the author of the coat of arms of socialist Yugoslavia, designs for banknotes and decorations, political posters, in addition to about 90 paintings and 600 drawings and graphics.

He was a regular member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, rector and professor of the Academy of Arts, holder of several awards and a member of the Assembly of the People's Republic of Serbia.

He died on January 17, 1964.

Nemanja Mitrovic

The rise of a young artist

He was born on March 31, 1904 as the fourth of five children in the then German city of Breslau, now Wroclaw, in Poland.

His father Veljko, a native of Belgrade, set out for Europe, as his granddaughter says, "with his stomach for science" in order to improve his graphic craft, and he also created woodcuts.

The family then moved to Berlin, where Đorđe finished elementary school.

"He was influenced there by a teacher who invited the children to his home on Sunday afternoons where his wife prepared treats, and then he took them to museums," says Mira Kun.

Just before the beginning of the First World War in 1914, the Kuns left Germany and came to Belgrade.

Mira says that her grandfather Veljko Andrejević Kun, a Serbian graphic artist who also influenced Đorđe's work, drew "anti-Prussian cartoons" during the war, for which he was in an Austro-Hungarian camp for several years.

In the period from 1917 to 1921, Đorđe, at the request of his father, learned the printing trade in his graphic workshop and, at the same time, privately completed high school.

Mira Kun's private archive

He continued his education at the Art School in Belgrade, which he attended until June 1926, after which he received a private scholarship and went to Italy and Paris.

"In Venice, Florence, Milan and Rome, he visited the works of Renaissance masters and this will leave a mark on his profiling as an artist in the 1920s, which will mark bourgeois modernism as an expression of his art," says Michela Blanuša, museum advisor at the Museum of Contemporary Art of art in Belgrade, for the BBC in Serbian.

He continued his studies, like most domestic artists of the time, in the capital of France, where he studied contemporary painters such as Paul Cézanne and Amadeo Modigliani.

"There he sold the first paintings that today are kept in private collections in France," Blanuša adds.

After returning to Belgrade in 1929, his name appeared for the first time at the collective exhibition in the "Cvijeta Zuzorić" Art Pavilion on Kalemegdan, when he "experienced the greatest excitement in his life", as he later said.

Two years later, he had his first solo exhibition at the same place, where he showed dozens of paintings.

At that time, he mainly worked on the human figure - portrait, female nude or composition, and there were also still lifes and landscapes.

And it was precisely these motives that marked the first phase of his creativity, until 1934, when he turned to so-called "socialist realism".

Mira Kun's private archive

Art as an ideological tool

Mira Kuhn assumes that her father probably became interested in left-wing ideas during his stay in Paris, where he received books about Lenin and Russia from friends.

He recalls, however, that as early as 1923, as a student of the School of Arts, he made a May Day poster that workers attached to a tram that circulated through the streets of Belgrade, until it was removed by the police.

And his future wife, Nada, whom he met three years later, moved around Marxist circles, studying art history, so "through her he became friends with Marxists," he adds.

Nevertheless, the ideas he was fond of did not affect his artistic expression at first, until he turned towards "socialist realism".

Two events had a decisive influence on this artistic style with the agenda of spreading the ideas of communism and socialism - the International Conference of Revolutionary Writers in 1930 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 in Moscow, where the main guidelines of the Communist Party's cultural doctrine were set.

"All those who propagated leftist ideas, including Kuhn, accepted that socialist realism is the only possible artistic expression and that art cannot be separated from society," Blanuša explains.

Thus, in 1934, Đorđe and like-minded people, such as the painters Mirko Kujačić and Prvoslav Piva Karamatijević, founded the artistic group "Život", which, unlike the ideologically related Zagreb group "Zemlja", operated in illegals.

"He considered his own artistic work a weapon of propaganda, and graphics as the most suitable artistic language for addressing the masses," wrote Nada Andrejević Kun.

Blanuša says that "socially engaged artists" of that period realized that graphics were "the most adequate means for propagating left-wing ideas" because "it was a cheap medium of expression and there was the possibility of printing a large number of copies".

"When you look at Kuhn's entire oeuvre during the 1930s, he was the main representative of the opposition group, he acted against the regime by criticizing it, while after the Second World War he would be with the government of the newly formed Yugoslavia," the art historian points out.

Nemanja Mitrovic

Blood gold

In the summer of 1934, Đorđe and his wife went to Bor, a town in the east of Serbia, with the "goal of making a collection of maps of mine workers".

"He was probably inspired by the miners, as a difficult profession, and we know that from that time in 1934 he focused on social issues," says Slađana Đurđekanović Mirić, a retired art historian from Bor.

The mine was owned by a foreign company, the French Society of Bor Mines - the "Sveti Đorđe" concession.

He came to Bor via Zaječar, unannounced, carrying notebooks and drawing accessories, as well as a camera.

He stayed in a tavern with rooms for the night.

The mining complex "wasn't fenced at the time, so he could freely visit the mining facilities, open pit and smelter, as well as other workshops," says Đurđekanović Mirić.

He talked with the workers and thus became friends with Krsto Petrović, a locksmith in the crusher plant, who will help him during his stay in Bor.

"Somehow he managed to gain the trust of the workers, and he even had people who informed him where the supervisors with a different view of those who wanted to show the life of the miners were going," adds the former museum associate at the Museum of Mining and Metallurgy in Bor.

Collecting material for artistic work and visiting the plants, he caught the eye of a supervisor who reported him to the police.

During the hearing, "it was pointed out to him that he was visiting the mine without a permit" and he was ordered to leave the city.

He disobeyed these orders the first time, but after the second call he still asked for permission from the mining administration for a tour, writes Đurđekanović Mirić in the book "Đorđe Andrejević Kun in Bor".

After that, he briefly took refuge in Zaječar, and then illegally returned to Bor.

"He managed to do what he planned and then he returned to Belgrade with photographs and drawings," says the art historian.

Đurđekanović Mirić says that there are two editions of the woodcut map from Bor, which Kun will symbolically call "Bloody Gold".

The first was printed in 1936 in 10 copies in his apartment, and the second, with a larger circulation, in Bečej in January 1937.

The map of the graphics on which Kun shows the difficult daily life of miners and the arduous work, as well as the dissolute life of profiteers, was already banned by the City of Belgrade Administration in February.

Almost the entire circulation had already been distributed, so the police confiscated only a part.

"The map also reached Bor, it is mentioned that he sent 25 copies to his associate Krsti Petrović and that was practically the first meeting of the workers with an original work of art," asserts Đurđekanović Mirić.

The original copy of "Bloody Gold", he adds, arrived in Bor by purchase at the end of 1951, through Kun himself.

Spain, Glavnjača and Bileća

Kun gained his first military experience in the Spanish Civil War, where he arrived in the summer of 1937, via Paris.

There he stayed in the studio of the artist and communist Bora Baruh, where Ljubica Cuca Sokić, a future academic, also painted.

"He slept there discreetly, and one day he brought me a package saying: 'Cuco, you will go to Belgrade before me, take this raincoat to Mira,'" Đorđe's 88-year-old daughter recounts the words of the famous Serbian painter.

That's how, she says, a quarter of a century after her father's death, she found out on television where her favorite piece of clothing from childhood came from.

Kuhn returned to Belgrade in May 1938, and at the beginning of the following year he published a woodcut map "For Freedom", inspired by the events in Spain.

A smaller part was divided, the rest was confiscated by the police, the map was banned, and Kun was arrested.

He did not admit that he was in Spain, but that he found inspiration in the French press, so they released him after a month.

Mira Kun's private archive

That 1939 was the "most beautiful year of Mira Kun's childhood".

They lived in Vojvode Stepe Street in Belgrade's Voždovac, in their grandfather's house - mother worked, father painted on the veranda, and she played.

In the evening, she would go with her father to the store across the street, to get ham, butter and bread, and in the summer she would build sand cities and play marbles with Milan Blagojević, the national hero of Yugoslavia, who lived illegally in a house in their yard.

"Dad said that an uncle will be staying with us, but no one must know, neither my friends nor grandfather, when he is coming. The child was silent, that's how I was taught," she recalls.

She also remembered the night of January 1, 1940, when the police came to arrest Đorđe.

"Diagonally from me sat an agent like from a movie, with a hat, in a coat, they were impeccably elegant, I wasn't scared.

"They found nothing, because he hid works in the double bottom of the table, he was very skillful and cunning."

The policemen went to another part of the house, and then Đorđe came back, kissed her and said: "Be good, listen to mom."

"Peaceful, without theatrical scenes," describes the retired philologist.

Kun was first detained in the notorious Glavnjača prison, like many communists such as Moš Pijada, Ivo Lola Ribar and Ivan Milutinović, and then he was transferred to a political camp in Bileća, Bosnia.

It was Moša Pijade, a painter and revolutionary, who was his first roommate.

In captivity, he drew a lot, and in the evenings he played chess with pieces made of bread.

"In one letter from Bileća, it says: 'Do you remember when you visited me in Glavnjača that you talked about getting chess for the New Year? Take care of him, when I come back, we'll play every night,'" says his daughter.

World War II: From Belgrade to Drvar

After returning from Bileća, in April 1940, Đorđe came to the house of his father-in-law, Mihajlo Ratković, the first post-war president of the Belgrade City Assembly, on South Boulevard, where he would live with his family for a year.

His guests, in the studio in the basement, were his old friend Moše Pijade, but also the prominent communist and poet Koča Popović, whom Mira Kun says was the only one who cried when he came to express his condolences on the death of her father.

During those visits, she fell in love with him and gave him a nickname that would always make him smile.

"Kocha sits down at the desk, holding me on his lap, and plays with my things, but participates in the conversation.

"And he's gone for a while, so I ask: 'Where's that uncle? Which uncle? The one who always breaks my eraser, the pest uncle!", recalls Mira Kun.

During the first years of World War II, at the behest of the Party, Kuhn spent his time underground, occasionally visiting his family.

He was entrusted with the task of falsifying documents for the communists, and for a while he lived in an illegal printing house in Banjički venec, where he designed a hidden entrance from a closet.

As an illegal, he changed his appearance, grew a moustache, cut his hair short and impersonated himself.

His painting talent once saved him from arrest in the middle of the war.

The police blocked off his neighborhood where, according to Mira Kun, he lived in an apartment rented by their relative.

Fearing for his own life, he took an easel and continued to paint a self-portrait.

"The police came, and the landlady said that the young man was guarding the apartment of her tenants, his relatives who had left, and that he was a painter.

"They only said: 'We see that he is a painter.' That got him out," says Mira Kun.

In June 1943, he left Belgrade, through the village of Mihaljevac in Srem, with his wife and 10 other partisans to Jajce.

There he worked on propaganda material, sketches for decorations, but also decorated the interior of the House where the Second Session of AVNOJ will be held, which laid the foundations of the future socialist Yugoslavia, in which Đorđe will participate as a delegate.

with the BBC

In Jajce, according to the idea of ​​Moša Pijada and other party officials, he also made a design for the Yugoslav coat of arms with five flames.

"It can be said that he strongly participated in the creation of the construction of that new society and state", believes Mišela Blanuša.

During the landing on Drvar, the German actions of May and June 1944, Kun was in a cave above this Bosnian town where the Supreme Headquarters of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and partisan detachments and their commander Josip Broz Tito were hiding, his daughter says.

"At one point, Mom writes, Tito took a revolver, loaded it, and everyone did it.

"That meant that he would not surrender, but that he would commit suicide if something happened," he recounts.

Life in peace and the role of the father

After the end of the Second World War, Kuhn led an "extremely hard-working and typically bourgeois" life - from morning coffee, telephone calls and conversations with journalists, to going to the studio, to meals and resting in the parade.

From 1945 until his death, Kuhn worked as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, and from 1959 to 1963 he was rector of the Academy of Arts, today the University of Arts.

Mira Kun says that she received her first assignments from her father at the age of 10.

"Miro, now I've decided, you'll be my secretary and operator, when someone asks me to write down who's calling and say I'll come then and there," recounts the daughter.

When she played the piano in music school, she was told that "you don't buy this instrument until you see what it does," so she practiced at her aunt's house before lessons.

"I finished the second year with A's and my dad said to me: 'Now that you have advanced and mastered the finger technique in music, here is Grandpa Ratković's machine, you will be my typist, but be careful, you will only work when you finish all your duties,'" recalls Mira.

Her father also took her to exhibitions, studios, concerts and theater performances.

"It was disciplined and I learned a lot with my dad," concludes Mira.

How we remember him today

Đorđe Andrejević Kun became a master painter during his lifetime and received numerous awards, such as the first prize for graphics in Yugoslavia for the drawing map "Partisans" (1946) and the first prize for painting for the work "Witnesses of Horror".

He is the bearer of the Partisan Monument and several other orders, and he became a member of the Central Committee of the Union of Communists of Serbia in June 1959.

He was a member of the Assembly of the National Republic of Serbia from 1950 to 1953, he became a regular member of SANU in January 1958, and from 1957 to 1960 he was the president of the Union of Visual Artists of Yugoslavia.

"He left an indelible mark in socio-political and artistic life," says Mira Kun.

Mišela Blanuša says that "the importance and activity of Đorđe Andrejević Kun is indisputable".

"His artistic work can be viewed in exceptional quality, and on the other hand, it is very interesting and significant in terms of contextualizing certain artistic phenomena in the society of that time," adds the art historian.

What "Kun left behind can be read in a new way and be relevant again".

"I like to use that word - reactualized," says Blanuša.

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