Serbian artist’s masterpiece doubles estimate at Sotheby’s auction

November 2023 Living

By Maja Dragovic

The masterpiece Resting Bashi-Bazouk by the prominent Serbian artist Paja Jovanović was sold in November at the Sotheby's auction for more than twice the estimated price. This captivating oil painting was acquired by the Museum of the City of Belgrade for GBP 240,000, marking the museum's most significant addition to its art collection.

Jovanović’s Resting Bashi-Bazouk is a representation of his orientalist phase, showcasing exceptional attention to detail. The 19th century painting, created using the oil on board technique, realistically depicts a member of the Ottoman army in a moment of rest, dressed in a local costume – a white kilt and a red vest, with two bandoliers and a knife strapped to his belt.

Setting records

in 2018, another artwork by Jovanović was sold at Sotheby’s also exceeding the estimate by threefold. Bashi-bazouks before a Gateway  was painted in 1887-88 and became the most expensive artwork sold by a Serbian artist.

Bashi-bazouks, irregular soldiers within the Ottoman army, were enlisted from the regions of Serbia and Albania during the time when these territories were under Ottoman rule. Funded and equipped by the government, they operated without regular pay, uniforms, or identifiable badges. Opting for their local attire, these soldiers were not formally trained for significant military campaigns but proved valuable for assignments like reconnaissance and outpost duties.

Jovanović, a prominent figure in Serbia’s art scene, studied at the Vienna Academy under Karl Leopold Müller. His patrons included King Alexander of Serbia, and his work was exgibited in Vienna, Munich, and Berlin.