The name of Bela Čikoš Sesia (Osijek, 1864 – Zagreb, 1931) rings out with good reason in all surveys of Croatian painting, and his creative input is at once recognised in the period in which a more modern artistic sensitivity broke through at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is a painter who opened up in the artistic domain paths of more autonomous and modern tendencies, the emphasis being placed on symbolist spirituality, and is without doubt one of the key founders of the Croatian Moderne. Čikoš was also one of the first art educators and a founder of systematic teaching in the visual arts. From 1903 he and Menci Clement Crnčić ran a private school of painting, from which today’s Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb was to develop. His art and his overall activity constitute a significant contribution to the Europeanisation of Croatian culture.
He received his own artistic education at the fine arts academies in Vienna and Munich. He enrolled in the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts in 1887, studying under Julius Berger and receiving during his course a number of prizes at exhibitions of student work. During his academy period, in 1891, he took part in doing the decorations for the Pompeii Room of the Department of Teaching and Religion in Zagreb, at which he was later to produce key works inspired by literary and religious models (Odysseus Kills the Suitors, Mark Anthony over the Dead Caesar, Dante Before the Gates of Purgatory, 1897). His work and progress were supervised by the head of that department, Izidor Kršnjavi, who in 1892 sent him to gain further experience at the Munich Academy under Lindenschmidt. A key episode was Čikoš’s nine-month stay in Italy, in Campania (1893-1894), in the hamlet of Bosco Tre Case, the outcome of which was an outstanding painting and drawing cycle. In 1894 he came to Zagreb for good, having successfully assimilated the legacy of the academic tradition from various sources. That was a year that was important in Croatian art history, for it was then that Vlaho Bukovac came to Zagreb from Paris, immediately becoming a rallying point for young artists, including Čikoš.
At the Croatian Salon, 1898, which inaugurated the Art Pavilion, Bela Čikoš Sesia (next to Bukovac) showed the greatest number of pictures, including his anthological work Psyche (1898), which brings together all the intellectual and practical lines of force in the painter’s endeavours. Hence the creative aspirations of Čikoš have been summed up by the author of the catalogue preface Tonko Maroević in a rephrasing of the verse of Čikoš’s contemporary A. G. Matoš with the exclamation “After (the) Psyche, Painting!”
From the preface to the catalogue by Tonko Maroević