Sava Šumanović was born to a well to do family in Vinkovci on 22 January 1986. His father Milutin, a forestry engineer, retired early and returned to Šid where he applied himself to managing a large estate, while his mother opened a first post office in town. That is where he completed his four-year primary education before enrolling in grammar school in Zemun as the age of ten. He discovered his artistic inclinations and started taking painting lessons at a private school, determined to completely dedicate himself to this calling, which was against his father’s wishes. His education at the Higher Temporary School for Arts and Crafts in Zagreb began in 1914, first in Oton Iveković’s class and then with Menci Klement Crnčić. Šumanović regularly participated in school exhibitions, receiving highest praises for his work, so his first solo exhibition took place at the Urlich Salon in 1918. Apart from his fellow painters, Šumanović socialised with poet A. B. Šimić while working on illustrations for Šimić’s literary magazine. Also, between 1919 and 1920 he was involved as production manager at the Croatian National Theatre. Later on, Šumanović left to study in Paris at the studio of the inevitable Andre Lhote, who had considered him his most talented student. Under Lhote’s influence, instead of producing paintings inspired by secession and symbolism as till then, he began to paint works of post-cubist orientation which will become a constant of his creative expression. In Paris Šumanović became friends with Amadeo Modigliani, Max Jacob and especially with Rastko Petrović. In the summer of 1921 he returned to Zagreb but the presentation of his work did not get a warm reception in a conservative environment. Therefore, Šumanović felt the urge to support his artistic views with a theoretically-based background, so he published studies entitled Painter about Painting and Why I like Poussin’s Painting.

During his stay in Zagreb Šumanović painted intensely but also found time to work as a librarian at the Arts and Crafts Museum. In 1925 he again left for Paris, where he was a free artist while also working at Lothe’s studio; he painted tirelessly, studied old masters, showed his paintings at the Autumn Salon and Salon of Independent Artists, where he got positive reviews and was received well by both audiences and gallery owners. In 1926 he painted his famous Drunken Boat, a painting named after Rimbaud’s poem, which had been completed in seven days and nights. Another great painting of his, Breakfast on the Grass, attracted a lot of public attention. Complete dedication to art, excessive work and psychological exhaustion brought him to the verge of illness. He returned to Šid to recover but did not cease to paint, mostly landscapes full of light and homely atmosphere. He participated at the Yugoslav Exhibitions of Art – the fifth of which took place in Belgrade in 1922 while the sixth one in the series was staged in Novi Sad in 1927. After that, in 1928, he left for Paris again, rented a studio at Montparnasse and painted his best works, Luxembourg Park and Lying Nude, while socializing with some of the greatest artists of his time.  His mother came to Paris after he had suffered a nervous breakdown, and brought him back to Šid in 1930.

He was treated at a private clinic in Belgrade but there he also painted a few panoramas and, especially, landscapes. On return to Šid he continued painting themes based on the drafts brought over from Paris, as well as nature scenes. Aside from landscapes of specific composition and texture, he began to paint monumental nudes in landscape which critics at the time had named Šiđanke (The Women of Šid). Following his father’s death in 1937, he took over management of the estate and studied English, frequented exhibitions and organised his own exhibition in 1939 at the New University of Belgrade, where he displayed as many as 410 of his paintings. This exhibit turned into his great personal and creative triumph. With the arrival of the Ustasha government, along with 150 of his fellow citizens, he was arrested and taken to Sremska Mitrovica. He was executed there and buried in a common grave on 28 August 1942. Thus, tragically sharing the destiny of his fellow countrymen, died one of the greatest Serb painters of all times.