Milena Pavlovic Barili

Published on 14 January 2022 at 13:33

Milena was born in Pozarevac ( Serbia ) on November 5, 1909 .

She devoted herself completely to everything she did. Her painting is filled with unusual events, encounters, departures, wanderings and partings, sorrows, latent traumas and nostalgic memories.


Almost all of her surreal-magical compositions had a romantic meaning, veils, draperies, symbolically signify divisions and separations, but also merging and connecting reality and imagination, light and darkness, good and evil, intimacy and the sensual. By painting lamps and saints, she brought the light of wisdom and enlightenment into ambiences where darkness reigned.


Her masks hid and protected the identity of the character, butterflies spoke of the shortness of life, and broken pillars and severed arms or legs spoke of desires and longings.


Milena studied painting in Belgrade and Munich. She organized her first exhibition in Belgrade, followed by her exhibitions in Pozarevac, London, Paris, Rome, and New York. Multiple talented, Milena also wrote verses that she first published in 1934 in the Italian newspaper Quadrino.


She has always hovered between her two homelands - Serbia and Italy, so it is not surprising that she has a great urge to go to a third country, America, and find her peace there since 1939.


Her letters show that this departure meant growing up, and in a symbolic sense, liberation from parents who were too strong personalities. From New York, she writes to her parents less and less and dedicates more to herself.


One of the letters of an unknown date testifies about the painter's specific relationship with her mother: "... If you only knew how much I need you to understand me one day and tell me: 'Darling, are you tired, rest a little, because you are did everything you could. 'It seems to me that once in my life I heard that from you, I would never have insomnia again. Never again would the dawn or the sun find me awake and overwhelmed by thoughts and worries and fears in bed. And I wouldn’t always feel crazy and guilty. I do not allow others to tell me that I am crazy or wrong, because I know and see that none of them could maintain my balance. I'm completely crushed here. I know how my grandmother says: 'There is no way out of this skin', so I'm fidgeting too and I can't change my temper. "


Milena has spent the last six years of her life in America. There she painted, exhibited and, more importantly for her period, she worked in illustration, design, costume, scenography. Milena's fashion illustrations published in Vogue during 1940 and 1941 are characterized by light lines and colorful airy watercolors. She drew ladies in simple dresses with a lowered waist or an irregularly shaped neckline that exposes the shoulders, decorated with pearls, flowers, necklaces, earrings, tiaras, brooches, fans, scarves. The painter drew world women after her example.


Milena Pavlovic-Barili died on March 6, 1945, at the age of 36 in New York. According to some, the consequences of the unfortunate fall from the horse were fatal for the artist, and according to others, a heart attack. It was only in the 1950s, after an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade, that the Serbian public became more interested in the work of Milena Pavlovic-Barili.


In her native Pozarevac, in 1962, a legacy gallery was opened, which today houses about 800 of her works. The exhibition includes a bronze casting of the painter's hands, intimate family photographs, the painter's personal dresses and lace velours. Like Milena's whole life, all that is left of her is metaphysical rhapsody.