Exhibition “Serbian Royal Portraits” is a place where the history of two Serbian royal families, Karadjordjević and Obrenović is intertwined. An exhibition was opened in mid-November 2019 in Belgrade, in the House of Jevrem Grujić. For the first time in one place, two dynasties that had major roles in the history of Serbia are linked together.
Although at first sight, they may seem like separate stories, the fates of the members of both families are very connected. While you are strolling around through salons of the House of Jevrem Grujić, you slowly forget the present and return to the past.
Well, it was a time of courts, balls, wars and turbulent historical events in the mountainous Balkans.
A few words about the exhibition
Portraits of rulers and members of the royal family have always been important witnesses of the time in which they were created. And later, when new successors came to the throne as well. The exhibition “Serbian Royal Portraits” takes us back to the period of Serbian history from the beginning of the 19th to the mid-20th century.
Eh, if these portraits could speak, what stories they could tell us!
The portraits on display are works by famous Serbian painters, such as Steva Todorovic, Anastas Jovanović, Uros Predić, Paja Jovanović, as well as other artists. Nowadays, these portraits are in museums all over Serbia. The authors of the exhibition are the descendants of Jevrem Grujić, Aleksandar Conić, and Lazar Šećerović.
By listening to an interesting story told by the curator, you will find out more about Karadjordjević and Obrenović families, as well as about the social and political life in Serbia.
And let us remind ourselves of the history and the fate of the members of these families.
The founder of the Serbian and Yugoslav royal Karadjordjević family was Djordje Petrović, known as the Black Djordje or Karadjordje. He was the leader of the First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813). During his reign, Serbia became a state with the state apparatus and courts, and the Great School was established. He was married to Jelena and they had seven children.
Karadjordje was executed in July 1817 by the order of Prince Miloš Obrenović. Otherwise, it is interesting that Karadjordje was the best man at the wedding of Prince Miloš and Princess Ljubica Obrenović!
In 1839 his youngest son Alexander became an adjutant of Prince Michael Obrenović. After his abdication in 1842, Alexander Karadjordjević was elected as a prince of Serbia. During his rule, various reforms in the development of the state were made and new institutions were founded and constructed, such as the National Library and the National Museum.
Alexander was forced to abdicate by the decision of the Saint Andrew’s Day Assembly in December 1858. He retired to his estate and died in 1885 in Timisoara. First, he was buried in Vienna. Then in 1912, his remains were moved to the Memorial Church of St. George at Oplenac. He had nine children from his marriage with Persida and he was later succeeded by his son, Peter I Karadjordjević.
King Petar I Karadjordjević
The Karadjordjević family returned to the throne with King Peter I after the May coup in 1903 and the assassination of King Alexander Obrenović. First, Peter I was elected as King of Serbia (1903-1918) and then as King of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918-1921).
More precisely, King Peter I was the first and only Serbian ruler of the modern age who was crowned and anointed at the age of sixty. He advocated liberalism and was the chief commander of the Serbian army in the Balkan Wars. In the First World War, he withdrew with his army through Albania.
King Peter I was married to princess Zorka, daughter of the King of Montenegro, Nikola I Petrović. They had three children: a daughter Jelena and sons George and Alexander. The beloved Serbian king passed away in 1921 and was buried in his endowment, St. George’s Church at Oplenac.
King Alexander I Karadjordjević
King Peter I was succeeded by his son Alexander I Karadjordjević.
He returned to Serbia after his father came to the throne. His older brother, Djordje abdicated. First Alexander became king of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1921, and then king of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929-1934). He was the supreme military commander in the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Also, he is known as Alexander the Unifier.
Alexander was assassinated in 1934 during an official visit to Marseille.
He was buried in the mausoleum of St. George’s Church in Oplenac.
Queen Mary Karadjordjević
Alexander’s wife was Romanian Princess Mary Hoencolern, who descended from the Russian imperial family and the British royal family. She was highly educated and loved by the Serbian people. During World War II, she sent humanitarian aid to Yugoslavia, under her pseudonym. Also, she helped to build the Children’s Hospital in Tiršova Street and the Institute of Oncology in Belgrade.
Queen Mary remained known for being one of a few female drivers at the time. She adored cars!
In the portraits, we see her as a strong, beautiful, and elegant woman.
But there is another image, which portrays her as gentle and sad. It is a caricature of our famous painter Milena Pavlovic-Barili. As a girl, she spent some time at court together with her mother, who taught Queen Mary the Serbian language.
After World War II she lived in England with her sons, where she died in 1961. She was buried in Windsor. But in 2013 her remains were moved to the royal dynasty mausoleum at Oplenac with the highest state honors.
Queen Mary was a great role model as a good mother and wife. She received the National Order of the Legion of Honour from the President of France, General Charles de Gaulle.
Peter II Karadjordjević
Queen Mary and King Alexander had three sons: Peter, Tomislav, and Andrew.
King Alexander was succeeded by his firstborn son, eleven-year-old Peter II. Since he was a minor, the state was ruled by the regency headed by his cousin, Paul Karadjordjević. After he had signed the Tripartite Pact in 1941, Hitler attacked Yugoslavia, and the family members went into exile.
The monarchy was officially abolished by the decision of the Constituent Assembly at the end of 1945.
In exile, he first lived in London and then in America, where he died in 1970. Together with three other family members, he was buried in 2013 in St. George’s Church at Oplenac. From his marriage to the Greek princess Alexandra, he has a son Alexander Karadjordjević. He lives with his wife Katarina since 2001 in the Royal Palace in Belgrade.
The Obrenović dynasty
The founder of the Obrenovic dynasty was Prince Miloš, actually Miloš Teodorović. He took this surname from his maternal half-brother, Duke Milan Obrenović.
Together with Karadjordje, he participated in the First Serbian Uprising. And he was the leader of the Second Serbian Uprising. During his reign from 1815 to 1839, feudalism was abolished in Serbia and a principality with a constitution and assembly was established. More precisely, on 15th February 1835, in Kragujevac, the first Constitution of the Principality of Serbia, known as the Sretenje Constitution was enacted.
This day is the most important in the political and historical sense for the state of Serbia.
Also, it is interesting that on the same day in 1804, the First Serbian Uprising began in Orašac under the leadership of Karadjordje. Today Serbia celebrates this day as its National Day.
Prince Miloš was married to Ljubica Vukomanović.
She was strict and serious. There was a story that she had killed one of Miloš’s mistresses, beautiful Petrija, with a flintlock holster pistol! They would often come into conflict. The residence of Princess Ljubica, located in Belgrade, was built as her residence.
Besides Milan and Michael, they had three more daughters, while four children died in infancy. She was buried in the Krušedol monastery on Fruška Gora mountain.
Furthermore, there were rumors that Prince Miloš also had at least eight other illegitimate children and numerous mistresses…
Michael (Mihailo) Obrenović
Prince Miloš was forced to abdicate for despotic behavior. He was succeeded by his son Milan, who died of illness after only a month of the rule.
Then his second son Michael came to the throne and he ruled twice. He first assumed power in 1839, after the death of his brother. Michael ruled until 1842 when he was overthrown after the uprising. His wife was Julia, the daughter of Hungarian Count Hunyady. They met at the court of Vienna, but the marriage did not last long. Julia could not have children and she returned to Vienna to live a free life.
Do you know that prince Michael wrote the famous poem:
“Što se bore misli moje” (Why do my thoughts torture me)? 🙂
After the overthrow of Prince Alexander (son of Karadjordje) and after the death of his father Prince Milos in 1860, Michael became the Prince of Serbia again. He became a good diplomat but ruled autocratically in domestic politics. Prince Michael was assassinated at Kosutnjak in 1868 and was buried in the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Belgrade.
In 1882 the Serbian people erected a monument to Prince Michael in the center of Belgrade. It is located on today’s Republic Square and has been known for generations as a traditional meeting place: “At the Horse”. It is an equestrian statue of Prince Michael. Around the monument are inscribed 6 names of cities: Belgrade, Smederevo, Kladovo, Sabac, Uzice, and Soko. These were liberated cities given to Serbia by the Turkish authorities after their withdrawal.
Prince Michael had one illegitimate son, Velimir, who could not succeed him.
With him, the line of direct descendants of Prince Miloš was quenched.
Milan Obrenović, the grandson of Miloš’s brother Jevrem succeeded Prince Michael.
Since he was a minor, a regency was established to rule in his name. He ruled as a prince from 1868 to 1872, and later as king of Serbia from 1872 to 1889.
King Milan was married to Natalia Keschko, the daughter of a Russian colonel and princess of Moldova.
She was the favorite Serbian queen. But that marriage was not happy, mainly because of political differences. The king turned to love adventures. They divorced after eleven years of marriage. Actually, he even banished her at one moment. Also, he did not even have the support of the people. The state was shaken by numerous internal crises. After all, the king Milan abdicated in favor of his son Alexander, who was also a minor.
Draga was a widow and ten years older than King Alexander. Of course, it was inappropriate for a royal family.
Milan, Alexander’s father, left Serbia to protest and went to Vienna. He died there in 1901 and was buried in the Serbian Krušedol monastery. That relationship was also a big disappointment for Queen Natalia.
Despite everything, the couple got married in July 1900.
And the best man was Russian Tsar Nikolai II Romanov.
After news of false pregnancy and numerous political problems, people’s dissatisfaction grew. Officers of the secret organization “Black Hand” planned the assassination of King Alexander and Queen Draga on the night of May 28-29. This event is known as the “May Coup” and it extinguished the Obrenović dynasty.
Otherwise, all the property went to Queen Natalia. In her testament, she bequeathed everything to the endowments of the Obrenović family and the University of Belgrade. Later Queen Natalia became a nun in the Catholic Church. She died in 1941 in poverty and was buried at a cemetery near Paris.
After these events, the Karadjordjević dynasty with King Peter I came to the Serbian throne again.
Who was Jevrem Grujic?
Well, it is time to say something about the owner of the house where the museum is today.
Jevrem Grujic (1826 – 1895) was a minister several times, a judge of the Grand Court and a diplomatic representative of Serbia in Istanbul, London, Paris, and Brussels. He belonged to the first generation of Sorbonne state scholarship recipients. Thanks to him, the First Law on the National Assembly of 1858 was passed. He actively participated in the decisive political events of Serbia and often came into conflict with the ruling regime.
He met his wife Jelena (1840 – 1897) at a court ball. Jelena was the adopted daughter of Theodore Herbez, the Minister of Finance and Jelenka Herbez. On one of the estates Jelena’s mother received from Prince Miloš as a wedding gift, in 1886 Jevrem erected a house for his family, i.e. today’s home of Jevrem Grujić.
Jelena was the Vice President of the Belgrade Women’s Society, founded in 1875 under the patronage of Princess Natalia.
The lineage of Jevrem Grujić continued along the female line through daughter Stana. Several families descended from her, including the heirs of Lazar Šećerović and Aleksandar Conić, the founders of today’s Museum. More about Jevrem Grujić’s family as well as the connections that members of this family and Conić, Šećerović and Naumović had with Karadjordjević and Obrenović, can be found here.
Museum Art Collection
In addition to portraits, there are over 400 works of art in the Jevrem Grujić House that have been collected over the past two centuries. As permanent exhibits, you can see style furniture, various porcelain items, ceramics, decorative figurines, family jewelry.
Then there are the famous collections of weapons by Stevan Ćurčić, one of the largest collectors of weapons, as well as authentic weapons from the First and Second Serbian Uprising. The collection is complemented by rare newspapers, a family library, photographs, private letters from royal family members, decorations and royal gifts.
A special place is occupied by the oldest preserved wedding dress in Serbia from 1850. It belonged to Jelena Grujić and it consists of several hundred thousand silver threads!
One of the most significant gifts is a beautiful gilded and crystal set for liquor.
It was a gift from King Milan and Queen Natalia Obrenović to Stevan and Stana Čurčić.
Also, at the exhibition, you can also see personal items, such as handbags, combs, various boxes, powders, mugs, medals…
Besides them, there are a few small pencils.
The ladies used them to write down in notes with which cavaliers will dance at the ball!
With Queen Natalia at a tea party
Queen Natalia Obrenović was a great friend of Jevrem Grujic’s family. She would arrive unannounced and without protocol. During the exhibition, on Sundays from 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm, you can attend an unusual reception. More precisely, it is a tea party with Queen Natalia 🙂
The curator (Nevena Ostojić) in the role of Queen Natalia, tells the assembled ladies what her life looked like. She shows how to serve tea according to royal protocol. Also, Queen talks about how ladies in high society should behave.
And at the end of the party, there is a sweet surprise. With tea, the ladies can taste a chocolate cake, served when Queen Natalie was coming. It is made according to a recipe from 1888 and it is delicious!
Visitor information about the exhibition
The Museum of the Jevrem Grujić House is located at 17, Svetogorska Street in Belgrade (next to Atelje 212 Theatre). It is open to visitors Thursdays and Fridays from 3 pm to 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm. Guided tours are organized every hour.
During the exhibition, an educational, creative workshop for children “The Little Kingdom” is organized on Saturdays from 4.30 pm to 6 pm.
And for parents, here are two real theater plays. The first is the story of 20th-century fashion icon Coco Chanel and the play “Little Black Dress”. The second play, “Two Women and One War” is about two great benefactors of the Serbian people, Mabel Grujić and Jelena Lozanić.
Exhibition “Serbian Royal Portraits”
Well, I believe that this story seems like a short history class to you 🙂
In a word, it was the fate of the Serbian royal families. The portraits that we look today are silent witnesses of the past years and the turbulent history of the Serbian people.
Certainly, it is much easier today. Every mobile phone has a camera, we take selfies or photos and we immediately have a memory of the last moment!
But the portraits are something else, though. It is a history captured at one moment in time that describes the position of the person being painted. Symbols such as saber, holster, decorations, ribbons, jewelry, and clothing suggest what lies behind the enigmatic or harsh gazes of its owners.
The home of Jevrem Grujić was a well-known place for balls, social elites, and politicians of these times.
Also, the first discotheque in Belgrade and the Balkans was opened in the basement of the house!
Today it is a historic house and a cultural monument of high importance for the Republic of Serbia.
And it is the only Serbian member of the European Historic Houses.
Well, it is quite a good reason to visit this unique museum-town house and exhibition.
Portraits remind us of the past. And it is up to us to create the future we want.