Milena Pavlović Barili was one of the European artists who moved to the USA during the Second World War. She was talented, imaginative and committed to her painting, sometimes to the point of obsession. Despite constant travelling, she produced 400 known works in a career of only eighteen years, while also working as a designer for Vogue, Harpers and other up market magazines. Although her exhibited work was often well received, she never became popular in her lifetime and her associations within the art community are not well documented. However she can’t be accurately described as a forgotten artist; she is remembered and well loved in her home country, Serbia, where a museum is dedicated to her art.
Milena was an only child born in Pozarevac, Yugoslavia. She was an aristocrat of sorts, a distant cousin of King Peter II of Yugoslavia though her parents were not hugely wealthy. She actually spent part of her childhood in the royal palace in Belgrade, where her mother Danica worked. Danica was a pianist and music teacher, her Italian husband, Milena's father was composer Bruno Barili, from Parma in Italy. Milena's parents seldom lived together. Bruno was an influential businessman and intellectual, a music critic, poet and founder of the literary journal, La Ronda. Music played a major part in Milena’s life, her friends were musicians and Milena herself received some training as a singer, though she never sang professionally.
Milena’s first known solo exhibition was in Belgrade in 1928.
She participated in many group shows, exhibiting with artists including
Giorgio De Chirico and his brother Alberto Savinio, André Lhote and sculptor Zadkine
and in galleries in all over Europe. Sadly at the time her work was not popular in her
home country, one reviewer dismissed her as a ‘good decorative painter’, an
attitude also often directed at talented women artists elsewhere. By
contrast, her exhibitions in London, Rome and New York received favourable
reviews; her meticulous technique and unusual interpretation of classical
themes was admired.
In August 1939 she sailed to New York, after selling a painting to fund her crossing. She was never able to return to Europe. In the U.S. her exhibiting intensified with four successful solo exhibitions in the years 1940-43 and also the Exhibition of 31 Women, one of several group shows. Here, she exhibited under her first name only, this was a habit amongst surrealists, many of whom only used one name as exhibitors.
Milena Pavlović Barili's work was celebrated in a major centennial exhibition by the Serbian Academy of Art in 2009. Sadly she remains forgotten outside her
own country. There are examples of her work in important international collections but it is seldom exhibited. Perhaps Milena is now regarded as too tame for today’s surrealist exhibitions, which seem to prefer the most weird and macabre aspects of the genre, but even if this is so, Milena’s portraits are just too good to be justifiably ignored.
In 1943 Milena Barili married Robert Astor Gosselin, but any happiness this marriage gave her was short lived. Milena suffered from depression, hinted at with comments that she was sensitive, delicate and melancholic, which may have played a part in her death. She died in 1945 in mysterious circumstances, possibly following a fall from a horse. Gosselin remarried and had a daughter, who he named Milena.
Milena Barili’s paintings have appeared on Yugoslav and Serbian postage stamps and she may be the only one of the 31 Women to have had a street named after her, in Belgrade. She remains popular in Serbia, a nation keenly rediscovering its cultural identity after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Much of the available information about her comes from sources in Serbia, where they celebrate her as their own surrealist daughter. In 1962 the house in Pozarevac where Milena was born was turned into a museum in her honour.
Comments, corrections and further information about Milena Pavlović Barili and her artworks are very welcome.
You can read about each of the 31 women as their birthdays arrive, earlier ones will remain on this blog.
Mirodrag B Protic http://www.arte.rs/en/umetnici/milena_pavlovic_barili-81/
http://www.nacionalnarevija.com/en/marketing.html Visionaries – from Serbia National Review 2009
Milojković, Jelica 2009 On
the Starry Vestige, Milena Pavlović Barilli, a Hundred Years from her Birth