The art fund of the National Gallery of Slovenia represents one of the core activities performed by the curators. The collection, nearing a total of 13,000 inventory units, chronologically encompasses the period from the 13th up till the 20th century. It was conceived with the help of the donations of the founders of the National Gallery Society in 1918, with the presentations of the oeuvres of Slovene painters, and the painters who worked in the area of present-day Slovenia, being systematically added since then through purchases, bequests and donations. Curators make sure that the items in the collections and depots are appropriately stored and handled, they study the material that connects the Gallery fund with the wider artistic arena, presenting it to the public in the form of exhibitions, publications and lectures. The art collection of the National Gallery of Slovenia is divided into the painting and sculpture fund, a fund for works on paper and photographic collection.
The painting collection includes works depicted on a canvas, wooden or metal support, as well as pastels. Most of the permanent exhibition space is dedicated to this collection. The oldest artistic heritage is represented by the fragments of frescoes and an extensive collection of copies of medieval wall painting, a unique witness to the state of the frescoes, which are now lost in many cases or are not as well preserved. The Baroque of the 17th and 18th century is reflected in the work of the initially anonymous itinerant and later local painters, such as Valentin Metzinger, Fran Jelovšek, Fortunat Bergant and Anton Cebej. Its core is the Neoclassical collection of paintings from the Auersperg Palace in Vienna, the work of Franz Kavčič, who worked between Vienna and Rome as a professor of the Imperial Academy. The collection of the 19th century presents the development of painting in the best possible way: from Neoclassicism, through the Biedermeier portraits and landscapes, to the romantically perceived landscapes, the realism of the late 19th century, and the picturesqueness of Impressionism. Especially precious are the works of the realists Janez and Jurij Šubic, the almost entirely preserved oeuvre of realist Jožef Petkovšek, as well as the extensive fund of work by Ivana Kobilca. With the collection of the Impressionists, the representatives of the first generation of Modernism, Ivan Grohar, Rihard Jakopič, Matija Jama and Matej Sternen, we come to the 20th century, at which point the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Slovenia comes to a close with their early works.
The second part of the painting fund features the paintings by masters of other European schools, and was founded on the research of the Slovene artistic heritage spanning over several decades. The selection of works from the collections of certain national institutions, and particularly the fund of the National Gallery of Slovenia, developed into a permanent display in 1997. Today, attempts are being made to merge what used to be known as “the cabinet of foreigners”, “the foreign masters” or “the European painters” into an organic whole with the so-called Slovene art collection.
Works on paper are with regard to meaning divided into the core – so-called Slovene drawing and prints, as well as the assorted material of various European schools. The first group is dominated by drawing, whereas the second is almost exclusively represented by printmaking. The collection formed systematically, at least from Jakopič’s efforts on, since it was the underlying principle to justify the institution. Everything else is a result of random opportunities and therefore has the character of a collection of curiosities. The National Gallery of Slovenia is the keeper of an important collection of drawings by Franc Kavčič. An important role in its formation was played by Fran Windischer, who donated eighty-five prints to the National Gallery of Slovenia in 1935. These include historical compositional studies, genre scenes and moralizing motifs, as well as landscape studies for large formats. The core of the drawings by Matevž Langus is represented by eight signed sketchbooks. Seven of them come from the collection of the Loka nobleman Karel Strahl, and the eighth from the estate of Josip Dostal. Not only are the sketchbooks a valuable document of the artist’s education and maturation, but they also provide a revealing insight into the artist’s wide range of thematic interests. The folio containing over four hundred drawings by Janez and almost one hundred by Jurij Šubic, is the most important part of the Gallery’s collection. It is distinguished by a breadth of motif and typology, particularly in Jurij’s oeuvre, even though it is smaller in quantity than Janez’s. The gallery collected the greater part of this fund under the leadership of Ivan Zorman, whereas a considerable part derives from the possession of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of the People’s Republic of Slovenia and the Trpin legacy. The drawings by Jožef Petkovšek and Anton Ažbe are particularly special to the collection, whereas a special mention should also be given to Ivan Grohar’s study for the painting Potatoes, not omitting to also draw attention to the Self-portrait in charcoal by Jakopič. The most comprehensive are the folios of drawings and some prints by Matej Sternen and Rihard Jakopič, selected from the painters’ legacies. Best represented from the Vesnani group are Hinko Smrekar and Gvidon Birolla. It was precisely this group that tended drawing and printmaking more than any generation before it. In both cases, the collection has an extensive folio of works in different techniques that the Gallery managed to acquire in the period after the Second World War.
The sculpture collection of the National Gallery of Slovenia is home to the sculptures that – with their quality or cultural and historical significance – represent the sculptural creativity on Slovene soil of the past. It represents all stylistic directions and sculptural techniques, specific to sculpture-making in this area. By material, wood, stone, bronze, plaster and clay dominate. In addition to monumental Gothic, Baroque and early Modernist sculptures, the collection also includes small items, medals, plaques and badges, as well as copies of several art pieces of historical significance that can not be dislocated from their permanent sites, as well as parts of architectural sculptures. A part of the collection is represented by the plaster casts of ancient sculptures from the Louvre that were acquired by the National Gallery of Slovenia in 1927 and are today divided between various Slovene cultural institutions. The oldest works of sculpture date back to the Romanesque period, even though this period is insufficiently represented due to the lack of preserved works in Slovenia. The transient Early Gothic style and the relatively well preserved Late Gothic sculpture are represented most comprehensively in the collection with virtually all regional features. The Baroque is represented by numerous monumental works in wood, the sculptures of Jožef Straub, Jožef Holzinger, Veit Königer, Mihael Henrik Löhr and the Franciscan sculpture workshop. The sculpture of the end of the 19th century can be seen in the works of Alojz Gangl, Alojzij Repič, Ivan Zajec and other representatives of historicism. More modern directions are well represented by artists like Franc Berneker, Svetoslav Peruzzi, Ivan Napotnik and Lojze Dolinar.
The collection of photographs is the institution’s most recent collection. The documentation records of the National Gallery of Slovenia revealed that there were many photographic images of recognizable Slovene photographers preserved, among which photographers/painters prevail. Although these works are extremely evidential as historical documents, first-class photographic products can also be found among them. Included among the greatest treasures are the photographic plates that probably belonged to Ivan Šubic, which were used by his cousin Jurij Šubic for drawing illustrations for the Österreichische Monarchia im Wort und Bild, as well as the extensive fund of Sternen’s plates and photographs, and two plates with nudes by Ivana Kobilca. Among the plates there is also a set of images of France Gorše’s exhibition at Kolizej in 1935. The photograph of Ivana Kobilca and August Berthold has been supplemented with a contact copy of the original plates on archival paper. Photographs of Fran Vesel are being discovered in almost every part of the documentation of Fund D. The collection includes photographs that bear witness to technological developments in Slovenia, with the examples of individual photographic studios now also being added to the collection. The Gallery has acquired works through donations, like for example, The Body in Motion by Tone Stojko and two albums by Peter Kocjančič.
Mateja Breščak, MA, Museum Adviser
Head of Curators
Andrej Smrekar, PhD, Museum Councillor
Ferdinand Šerbelj, PhD, Museum Councillor
Michel Mohor, Curator