Lina and Gjorgji Bijelić – `An Admirable Female and Male Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat’

Lina and Gjorgji Bijelić – `An Admirable Female and Male Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat'
Vlaho Bukovac: Portrait of Gjogje Bijelić, oil on canvas, Cavtat, 1914
Private collection

In 1823, Đuro Bijelić, a sailor and merchant, relocated to Cavtat from Uskoplje. He was the grandfather of two well-known figures from Cavtat who have left a strong mark on the town through their activities – Paulina Bogdan Bijelić (1855-1944) and her slightly younger brother Đuro Bijelić (1858-1919). Paulina (Lina) and Đuro (Gjorgji) are children from the marriage of Antun Bijelić, a Cavtat private notary, and Marija Medanić. At the turn of the 20th century, the siblings from Cavtat dedicated their lives to the regional cultural heritage; it can be safely said that they were among the first in this area to embrace the museum profession in such a fraught time.

While their mother’s family originated from Bakar and their father was originally from Uskoplje, the siblings were born and raised in Cavtat and graduated from the best schools available to them at the time. Paulina became a teacher, while Đuro became a lawyer. From that point onward, their lives separated and were brought together through the preserved correspondence with Vlaho Bukovac, a mutual friend with whom they shared most of their respective life events. Thanks to Bukovac’s absence from Cavtat, their correspondence reveals their personal stories, as well as the social and historical context of the events taking place in the region at the time.

Having completed his education in 1879, Đuro Bijelić became a clerk in the Austrian administration in Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moreover, he also served as the Head of the District in Trebinje until 1905. Meanwhile, Paulina worked as a teacher in Cavtat from 1878 to 1894, when she began working as a teacher at a girls’ public school in Dubrovnik. During that time, Paulina and Đuro had both started building collections most likely borne of the collaboration with Baltazar Bogišić; each collected items of their respective personal interests. Paulina collected ethnographic heritage and wrote down the Konavle folk spirit and customs. Her collections of the intangible cultural heritage of Konavle, as well as those of the intangible cultural heritage of the surrounding area, are the first large and comprehensive records of the life in this region. She collected and recorded valuable ethnographic heritage, while also collecting tangible artifacts such as Madonnas, coats of arms, seals, and artistic paintings. When she was younger, she also tried her hand at painting. Đuro, on the other hand, collected weapons and other valuable historical and artistic objects, which he later gave to the Baltazar Bogišić Collection. Đuro’s correspondence with Vlaho Bukovac reveals that, in addition to following his friend’s work, he also collected postcards based on Bukovac’s paintings; the postcards in question were being produced globally.

Lina and Gjorgji Bijelić – `An Admirable Female and Male Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat'
Paulina Bogdan Bijelić

In 1904, Paulina left Cavtat and Dubrovnik by marrying Vlaho Bogdan, a nobleman serving as the secretary of Duke Ferdinand IV of Tuscany, with whom she relocated to Salzburg. In 1910, Vlaho Bogdan passed away after the couple had returned to Dubrovnik following his retirement, leaving Lina a widow. The letter of condolence from Jelica Bukovac, the wife of the famous painter, illustrates not only the extent of Paulina’s grief, but also the closeness between the two friends.

In 1905, Đuro returned to Cavtat, where he soon became the personal secretary of Marija Bogišić Pohl, the sister of Baltazar Bogišić, and was later put in charge of the late Baltazar’s estate. Following her brother’s death in 1908, Marija Pohl entrusted the care of his collection and estate to two faithful advisers tasked with managing the work related to preserving the memory of Baldo Bogišić and his achievements. The advisers in question were the clerk Antun Bratić (1865-1924) and Đuro Bijelić. Marija Pohl considered Đuro to be a more devoted of the two advisers, thus making him her personal secretary. Marija Pohl’s letters, addressed to various people, including Vlaho Bukovac, were often written in Đuro’s hand, while Marija would only provide her signature. At that time, the position of a secretary in charge of Bogišić’s collection meant being the secretary of the overall cultural reality of Cavtat. In addition to managing all affairs concerning the Bogišić collection, Đuro Bijelić worked for a long time on the creation and subsequent unveiling of a monument to Baltazar Bogišić in Cavtat. Via the numerous projects undertaken during the decade of his involvement in the monument’s creation, Đuro succeeded in securing the memorial area where Bogišić’s statue would later be erected.

In 1914, the correspondence between Vlaho Bukovac and Marija Pohl, as well as his correspondence with Đuro Bijelić, intensified due to the affairs concerning the construction of the monument. Bukovac’s opinion was important to Đuro Bijelić due to the fact that the realisation of the monument rested solely on Đuro’s shoulders. The letters that arrived from Cavtat at that time were filled with sadness, poverty and emigration as a consequence of the political turbulence of the 20th century. Đuro’s acquaintance with Vlaho Bukovac was friendly, thus their correspondence offered an intimate insight into the representation of Cavtat.

Lina and Gjorgji Bijelić – `An Admirable Female and Male Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat'
Cavtat, Franciscan monastery, 1909
G. Bijelić in the picture to the left of Bishop Marčelić

Đuro’s letters to Bukovac reveal that Cavtat has few visitors, while the few visitors have little interest in cultural heritage, which would prompt him to `run after them‘ in order to show them the valuable Bogišić’s collections, as well as those which belonged to Bukovac. In other words, Đuro served as the guide to all Cavtat visitors of note, presenting the exhibited Bogišić’s and Bukovac’s collections to them. Bijelić followed his compatriot’s work abroad and was truly happy for the success of Vlaho and his family. In his letters to Bukovac, he would complain about the lack of interest in his friend’s works, but always highlighted the fact that he nevertheless proudly presented the works in question to the visitors as if they were his own.

While Đuro Bijelić exposed tourists to the Cavtat cultural heritage, Paulina promoted it in an effort for it to achieve global fame. She took her collections of Konavle handicrafts to world exhibitions, receiving awards in Vienna, Paris, London and Graz. In addition, she published articles and numerous manuscripts in the Zbornik za život i narodne običaje Južnih Slavena, as well as in other journals and newspapers. She expressed strong disapproval of her contemporaries, such as Vid Vuletić Vukasović, who falsely presented Konavle embroidered handicrafts as part of the Serbian folk embroidery. For instance, she criticised Vuletić Vukasović for publishing his works in Cyrillic because the script in question made the promotion of the Konavle embroidery in the West more difficult.

Đuro and Paulina were not alone in their work. Both founded and were members of numerous associations. In 1907, Đuro Bijelić was one of the founders of the Epidaurum Society – the Committee for the Excavation and Preservation of Epidaurum Antiquities. Its members, inspired by the enthusiasm of the Reverend Father Niko Štuk, worked on the excavation of the ancient site of Epidaurum. However, in a 1912 letter to Frano Bulić, the Reverend Father Niko Štuk wrote that Đuro Bijelić was mentioned as the only member whose enthusiasm had remained undiminished. Đuro was a member of the Society’s Board until 1914. Meanwhile, Paulina, among other things, founded the charitable Sisters of Charity Society in Dubrovnik and later the Anica Bošković Society; the efforts of the latter society have left a lasting mark on the cultural heritage of Dubrovnik. For instance, Paulina is the person responsible for the installation of the monument to Ruđer Bošković at the Dubrovnik marketplace.

Lina and Gjorgji Bijelić – `An Admirable Female and Male Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat'
Cavtat, Baltazar Bogišić monument

The dedication of both siblings to their respective endeavours was recognised during their lifetime. Namely, Đuro was awarded the Order of Knight of the Emperor and King Franz Joseph, the Order of Prince Danilo I (third class), and the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great. Paulina was also awarded an order of merit, just like her brother, which was rare for a woman of the time. Namely, at the suggestion of Bishop Carević, she was presented with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal by Pope Pius XI; on 22nd October 1933, she received the medal with the accompanying certificate in the reception hall at the bishop’s palace.

In 1933, Đuro had not been among the living for 14 years. Little was written about him due to the fact that he committed suicide in 1919, prompted by the situation which was taking place in Cavtat that year. Namely, by the end of 1918, a new state, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, was established. Despite the fact the state in question was established as a union of several previously existing states in the northwestern Balkans, the residents of Cavtat viewed it as an extended Serbia, according to the records of the Cavtat parish priest. In 1919, in the aftermath of the First World War, many tumultuous events unfolded in Cavtat. One such event was the June protest against the Italian annexation of Dalmatia. Bijelić was attacked and insulted at the assembly held in Cavtat on this occasion. In the new state, a decorated Austrian state official displaying a different national feeling was considered to be politically compromised. After requesting removal from the list of councillors, he committed suicide at the St. Roch Cemetery in Cavtat the very next day. Prior to his departure from this world, he said goodbye to his friend Vlaho Bukovac via a farewell letter:

Dear Vlaho,

Before I leave, I bid you farewell.

I assure you that I do not consider myself guilty at all – for I have done no ill deed – even though it appears that way, unfortunately.

Thank you for your love and sincere friendship, and may the Almighty repay you with good so that you and your family may be completely contented.

The last goodbye to you and all of your family,

Your friend Gjorgji

10th June 1919

Lina and Gjorgji Bijelić – `An Admirable Female and Male Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat'
Letter to Vlaho Bukovac

The manner in which Đuro ended his own life was unacceptable to the religious community and thus overshadowed his numerous contributions to his hometown and its heritage. In the end, neither he nor Marija Pohl lived to see the public presentation of the monument to Baltazar Bogišić, on which they had been working for years.

On the other hand, Paulina spent the rest of her life in Dubrovnik with her friend, Sister Malvina. Still dedicated to preserving cultural heritage, she led the Anica Bošković Society until sclerosis removed her from public life a few years prior to her passing. As the Reverend Father Karlo Capurso, secretary of the Anica Bošković Society since 1917, said in his eulogy in honour of Paulina: `On 18th January 1944, after a long illness, the great soul of this noble Dubrovnik woman and cultured Croatian Catholic worker passed into eternity.

Lina passed away on her late brother’s birthday.

An Admirable Female and Male Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat – on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Paulina Bogdan Bijelić’s death, the Reverend Father Karlo Capurso a biography of Paulina’s life under the title An Admirable Female Portrait from the Picturesque Cavtat