Influential Croatian Women -Slava Raškaj- the deaf messenger of beauty

Slava Raškaj, Mala gluhonjema Vera Papić iz sela


Slava Raškaj



What some of the women through history experienced is just a reminder that some of them paved a way for future generations of not only women but many marginalized groups of people. The poor, disabled, orphans, refugees, old, sick…..we all know how much time had to pass to open up the door of modern society for everyone.
In a world of the 19th century, evolving art and political shifts…being a young woman who strived to be an equal part of this world were just unattainable. Now imagine being a young woman going against your role while being deaf.
Did we catch your attention? Here is a story of a young woman who, although deaf from birth, had given the world such beauty for the eyes.






She was born into a noble family in Ozalj near Karlovac. Due to the impossibility of communicating with other children, Slava was very withdrawn and serious, even as a child. In the extreme need to express herself somehow, to speak with a drawing if not a word, she would often sit in the corner of the room, lost in the drawing. She also had a lot of fun while playing in the garden where she talked to plants.

Her careless childhood was abruptly stopped in her eighth year when she is sent to the Department for Deaf Children in Vienna. It was very difficult to imagine how an eight-year-old kid felt then, torn away from her parents and brother and sister, alone in a foreign country, deaf and mute. Luckily, she spent summers back in Ozalj where she enjoyed every single day absorbing scents, colors, and landscapes of the gloomy Ozalj region, so Slava drew small flower studies.



Slava Raškaj, Rainy day in Samobor hills


In Vienna, Slava received fine art lessons. Upon returning from Vienna, her paintings were first discovered by a friend of her family, who had good connections in the world of art. There came the painter Bela Čikoš Sesija, one of the crucial Croatian painters of the 19th century as well as one of the founders of the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb.
With Čikoš Sesija she learned to paint academically and evolved her own personal and authentic artistic expression.
Instead of the great historical figures of the past, in her paintings, we find ordinary people from the Ozalj region: children, small peasant children, shrubs, ordinary farmhouses etc…

Her main expressive agent becomes watercolor. In her intimate lyrical watercolors, she wanted to keep the atmosphere of the moment, revive everything that made up her world in its unique and fresh way: her garden, river Kupa, shrubs, flowers, trees, woods. The motives speak of her pensive and romantic soul.

Slava Raškaj

Slava has worked independently and outdoors: she went to Maksimir and the Botanical Garden, where a miraculous cycle of waterlilies emerges, which is one of her best works.

Thanks to Čikoš Sesija, Slava Raškaj participated in several exhibitions, starting with the exhibition in Zagreb in 1898.
She was also exhibiting in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In 1900 she exhibited five works in Paris and in 1901 she participated in a “traveling exhibition” in several Croatian cities.

Čikoš also introduced her to the Zagreb Society of Artists. But this gentle art soul was increasingly drawn to loneliness. She was beautiful with her soul and body – but sad and unhappy about the fate of her deafness. She said she loved painting – she loved nature, flowers, and above all water. She would imagine hearing all the sounds of nature.

In 1899 she left Zagreb forever and came back to Ozalj for good.

The next two years will be the most fertile in her creation, and Matko Peić in her monograph says: Between the painting spirit and the painting material in the watercolors of Slave Raškaj, such an organic unity has been achieved that these watercolors can be considered as a model of experience and expression co-operation.


But the loneliness that Gloria/Slava felt deeply pressed her more and more … She fluttered more and more like a closed bird in the darkness of her mind, best described by her brother Juraj: When the Glory/Slava came to the girlhood, it seemed to be extremely difficult to tolerate the deafness of the state.  She only lived in her work.

The loneliness that Slava Raškaj felt deeply pressed her more and more … At the edge of the mental shrinkage, there was more and more spending time in the abandoned mills in the canyon of Kupa, with ruins and gaps, which will later translate into her paintings. In winter, deafen landscapes were best suited to the condition of her psyche. But as she painted the landscape, she painted it as herself: an old mill that collapses at the Kupa river, a tree nestling in the garden, a little girl sitting alone in the sun – all these landscapes were self-portraits.

Raskaj Slava

In 1901, the first obvious signs of illness appeared. Sitting alone in the garden, socializing only with her dog, running through the woods ended with delirium. When the situation deteriorated, when she began to run away from her closest people, she was sent to the Mental Institute in Stenjevac, where she remained for almost four years, until her death in 1906 at the age of only 29!

All the words, music, sounds, and emotions she never heard, and much more than that…That is what Slava Raškaj tried to show the world in her paintings. Though deeply unhappy, she left behind only beauty to us. Her watercolor work represents the highest range of Croatian watercolor paintings at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.
And today, because of Slava Raškaj, we have an artist whose memories and thoughts will live among us forever, never letting her be forgotten!

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