Ilija Bašičević Bosilj (born 1895, Šid, Austro-Hungarian Empire, died 1972, Šid, Yugoslavia)

Born into a peasant’s family Ilija spent most of his life working on land and his wine yard. During the World War II Ilija had to flee from his hometown to Vienna (Austria) due to the fact that Croatian Nazi regime sentenced both Ilija and his two sons on death. While living in Vienna Ilija contracted severe tuberculosis and had to go home where his hard working life had to be slowed down because of the illness. After the communists took away his land Ilija started new chapter of his life and started to paint. Since 1957 when the first drawings were made, till his death in 1972, Ilija was a painter. The fact that his older son was well known art critic Dimitrije Bašičević (today much better known as internationally acclaimed conceptual artist Mangelos) made people doubt that Ilija was really the author of his paintings so in 1965 Ilija was forced to paint in front of the commission in Zagreb. It is the only case in art history that one artist was put in such a position in order to prove that he is really the author of his paintings.

Ilija painted passionately, every day and most often till late at night. Art became his religion and his profession. His works were exhibited worldwide and very early he got his first professional contract, namely he was represented by the Galerie Hilt in Basel. Jean Dubuffet acquired seven Ilija’s paintings in 1963 (now part of La Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne). Max Bill as well as prominent Italian film director Carlo Ponti included Ilija in their private collections. Ilija was also championed by the two leading scholars of European naive art, Anatole Jakovsky and Oto Bihalji-Merin. Bihalji-Merin anointed him as one of the most powerful and original of all the naive painters from the postwar period.

Ilija has made over 2000 paintings and drawings. Significant part of it is being kept in his museum Ilijanum (Šid, Serbia). In 2007 London based Raw Art Magazine has chosen Ilija to be one of 50 classics of art brut in the world. Several times Ilija’s paintings have been exhibited together with those of Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, Chagall, Darger and Rousseau.

“ilija made his own world like

a new construction that followed

a previous destruction after some

preceding destruction

which is not seeable though.

Whether we call it a construction or reconstruction

– the world is – in all likelihood – original…” Mangelos


“The paintings signed Ilija (in Cyrillic letters) by a shaky hand have been, ever since they appeared back in 1957, an inexplicable mystery for their numerous critics who can claim with certainty only one thing about these paintings: they exemplify a stunningly high-quality art, which evades all constraints of its origin, stylistic classification, historical movement and cultural context…

The scenes and figures which have no recognizable features of our world are introduced (distributed, or lined alongside, above or beneath each other) on a strictly two-dimensional plane in which there is not a single trace of spatial illusionism and where the substance of color applied with extreme sensitivity is the direct bearer of the expression and sensibility, or in a word, of the very fascination of the painting. Bosilj’s paintings are indeed painted or visualized stories, but in these paintings which fundamentally speak of the two-sided human destiny and the two-faced human nature (life-death, good-evil, beautiful-ugly, truth-lie, etc.), which are existential basics, all narration is condensed into emblematic figures, archetypal images and timeless symbols…

Whether Bosilj is a supposedly “naïve” artist, or some other kind, is totally irrelevant today, at the end of a century which has seen enormous extremes in art, but also great achievements within those extremes, what matters is that Bosilj is a very idiosyncratic artist, who is easily recognizable as such in the contemporary world of art in general.”

Ješa Denegri

Text by Oto Bihalji-Merlin

Ilija has painted the walls of his house

Ilija often used unconventional materials like pieces of wood he found in his house or books from his library. He painted even on posters for exhibition.