This article was first published in Pećat, the Belgrade, Serbia weekly on August 6, 2014, and the “as published version” follows. A version of the article was published on August 9, 2014 in Britić, with additional images which can be accessed at the following site: “Paja Jovanović Revisited”
I first became aware of Paja Jovanović, the legendary Serb artist [1859-1957], when I saw the painting Seoba Srba [The Great Serb Migration] on the wall above a fireplace in an apartment on New York’s Central Park West in the 1970’s. Now skeptics will immediately pounce and denounce the painting a forgery. Not so. There is the 1895 original, the one that was to be exhibited at the 1896 Budapest Millennium Exposition but ended up an also ran to the Vršac Triptych which actually won the Gold Medal, the Patriarchate of Belgrade version and the one commissioned in 1945 by Milenko Cavic in gratitude for his protection during World War II that was then owned by Svetozar and Nelly [Kosara] Mandukich.
On the back of that painting is the following legend: “This painting was commissioned by Milenko Cavic and replaces the large original Seoba Srba, [the] endowment of Karlovći Patriarch Branković – and destroyed during the German occupation by Bishop Šarićevom’s Pavelić bandit destroying bands” … “I am transferring this painting, Seoba Srba, in trust to my friends, the family Mandukich [signed] M. Cavic”. That tells the story and that is the provenance of the one I saw many times in New York which now hangs in Belgrade’s National Museum.
Now Nelly Mandukich was not Hollywood beautiful but she was a striking captivating woman. There was the daredevil in her – her father was one of the 14 fighter pilots that made up the fledging Royal Serbian Air Force – that appealed to me. She was part of the “stari Beograd” high society before the war, as were my parents. But the Mandukich family ties to Paja Jovanović hark back to the young penurious artist being smitten by Mila Mandukich, a well-to-do local beauty, during a visit to Vršac in 1883, ties that bind.