Memories of the Landscape and Its People – National Histories, Imperial Memories Session 5

Session 4 of our online seminar series National Histories, Imperial Memories: Representing the Past in Interwar Central Europe will take place at


18.00 CET on 30 November 2021

on Zoom, featuring papers by

Heidi Cook (Truman State University, Kirksville)

Bohdan Shumylovych (Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv and Center for Urban History, Lviv)

Nóra Veszprémi (Masaryk University, Brno – CRAACE)

Moderator: Julia Secklehner (Masaryk University, Brno – CRAACE)


The event is free and open to all, but you need to register. Click here for the registration form. See the full seminar schedule here.


Watch the session on our Youtube channel:



Heidi Cook (Truman State University, Kirksville)

Maksimilijan Vanka’s So That Our Fields May Be Fertile from Habsburg Empire to Croatian Nation

In the early 1990s, a painting caught the eye of the first president of the new Republic of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman. At that time, it was not hanging in a gallery or a museum, but rather belonged to Tuđman’s tennis partner. The monumental painting executed in an academic naturalism depicted a group of women in the bright floral folk dress of the Moslavina region of Central Croatia. A young kneeling woman offers a wreath of flowers to a painting of Mary held by a young girl. Fields of newly planted crops are visible behind them, indicating a spring ceremony blessing the wheat. President Tuđman was so impressed by the painting that he had it purchased it for the Office of the President, where it resides in the main conference room today. With this acquisition, Tuđman assigned the painting a diplomatic role at the country’s negotiating table, representing the identity of the new Croatian nation state through its depiction of traditional folk culture. In this paper, I examine how the original context and reception of this work—and the triptych of which it was a part—complicates this simplistic appropriation of the painting as nationalist symbol. Croatian artist Maksimilijan Vanka (1889–1963) painted So That Our Fields May Be Fertile from 1916 to 1917, in the very last years of the Habsburg Empire. In a period when a variety of Central European identities were competing but not mutually exclusive, Vanka created images of Croatian folk culture for international, cosmopolitan audiences, and exhibited works in pro-Yugoslav exhibitions before and after the fall of the Empire. My research examines how images of Croatian folk culture took on a variety of meanings aligned with cosmopolitanism, Yugoslavism, nationalism, and socialism in the political and artistic contexts of the late Habsburg Empire and interwar Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Heidi Cook is Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History and Director of the University Art Gallery at Truman State University. Her research specializes in the art, design, architecture, and museum history of modern Central Europe, and her work explores visual constructions of nationalisms and the relationship of tradition to modernity and modernism. She completed her PhD in the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. Her dissertation focused on Croatian-American artist Maksimilijan Vanka and explored how objects and images related to Croatian folk culture were used to imagine a variety of competing identities in the late Habsburg Empire and interwar Yugoslavia. She recently published a chapter on ‘Maksimilijan Vanka’s Our Mothers and the Croatian Memory of the First World War,’ in Portraits of Remembrance: Painting, Memory, and the First World War edited by Steven Trout and Margaret Hutchison.


Bohdan Shumylovych (Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv and Center for Urban History, Lviv)

Three Films from the Three Hills: Interwar Polish and Soviet Cinematic Imagination about the Carpathian Mountains

In 1933 and 1934, in two countries of post-Habsburg central Europe, namely Poland and Czechoslovakia, appeared two films about the Carpathian Mountains and its inhabitants. Film director Jan Nowina-Przybylski (1904–1938), and screenwriter Marceli Tarnowski (1899–1944) produced the movie Przybłęda (Stray) for the company Blok-Muzafilm. This was a melodrama about love in a highland village of the Carpathians, in which the main role was played by Ina Benita, a Polish performer of Jewish origin. Next year, in 1934 film director Vladislav Vančura (1891–1942) together with screenwriter Karel Novy (1890–1980), created a film that was based on literary text produced by Ivan Olbracht (Kamil Zeman, 1882–1952). The film was titled Marijka nevěrnice (Unfaithful Marijka) and told a story about love and betrayal in a highland village, but on the other side of the Carpathians. Both films however featured imagined and real inhabitants of highland Carpathian villages, namely Hutsuls, who now lived in different countries after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. But the aesthetics of these films differed: if in the Polish film Przybłęda directors almost created a kitsch representation of exotic highlanders, in the Czechoslovak movie Marijka nevěrnice there was no sentimentality, and, instead of professional actors, the producers involved local villagers who talked in their native languages. 35 years later, the villages featured in movies were Soviet Ukrainian, and in 1971 the studio Ukrtelefilm produced the musical Chervona Ruta (Red Rue), similar to Polish or Czechoslovak films about the mountains and love. This film had immense popularity in Soviet Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR, and similarly to other films mingled together kitsch and art, but now in socialist settings. This paper tackles the issue of imperial legacies in the representation of Carpathian highlanders and the mountains. It discusses why some tropes and imaginations prevailed after the empire has already gone for many years and shows how ontological gendered metaphors control our imagination about the natural landscape.

Bohdan Shumylovych is an Associate Professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University and Head of Public History Projects at the Center for Urban History in L’viv. He holds a master’s degree in modern history from the Central European University (Budapest, Hungary) and a diploma in art history from the L’viv Academy of Arts. In 2020 he received his PhD from the European University Institute in Florence. He has been a fellow of several grant programs, and worked with the archive of the Faculty of Visual Arts at George Washington University, Washington, as well as with the archive of Open Society Institute ( in Budapest. At the Center for Urban History he coordinates the Public History programme, gives lectures, participates in the development of the Centre for Urban History’s thematic exhibitions, and carries out research. The main focus of his work is media history in East Central Europe and the Soviet Union, as well as media arts, visual studies, urban spatial practices, and urban creativity.


Nóra Veszprémi (Masaryk University, Brno – CRAACE)

From Transylvania to London via the Great Plains: Nostalgia and Radicalism in György (George) Buday’s Images of Folk Traditions

The interplay of the imagery of landscape, folk culture and history was a common feature of nineteenth-century artworks conveying a national message. Places became worthy of representation because of events that had happened there in the past, peasant culture was of interest because it supposedly preserved ancient national characteristics. With the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the emergence of central Europe’s new states, connections between space, place and history were reshaped in cultural memory. The imagery of historical landscapes and rural scenes inherited from the previous century was reinvented in this context.

This paper will trace these transformations through book illustrations by the printmaker György (George) Buday (1907–1990). Born in Kolozsvár/Cluj in Transylvania, Buday moved to Szeged, Hungary, with his family as a teenager and studied at the university there. He was a founding member of the Szeged Youth, a student organisation that focused on exploring peasant culture around the town, but gradually shifted towards highlighting the desperate conditions of Hungary’s rural poor. Collaborating with the ethnographer Gyula Ortutay (1910–1978), Buday produced a series of illustrated books on folk tales and traditions. In line with the organisation’s aims, the images combined modern art with vernacular traditions and national history, and were celebrated by critics as quintessentially Hungarian. In 1937 he emigrated to Britain, where he continued to work as a printmaker. In these later works, he often recycled images created in his youth, placing them into new contexts. Images of the landscapes and people of Hungary and Transylvania were combined with those of Britain, evoking the histories of these places and nations, and at the same time also Buday’s personal history. The transformations of the images reflect Buday’s own journey from romantic nationalism towards what he himself described as a ‘universally human’ inspiration.

Nóra Veszprémi is a research fellow at Masaryk University, Brno, where she participates in the European Research Council-funded project Continuity/Rupture: Art and Architecture in Central Europe 1918–1939. She has previously worked as a research fellow at the University of Birmingham, a lecturer at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and as a curator at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest. She specialises in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Central European art, particularly the construction of national identity and representations of the historical past in visual culture. Her most recent publications include two co-authored monographs on museums in Austria-Hungary (2020, 2021) and an article on the politics of the imagery of the historical landscape in post-Trianon central Europe, published in the Austrian History Yearbook in 2021.


This seminar is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 786314).

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