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Art in Slovenia

Franc Kavčič/Caucig - Neoclassicism

(Gorizia, 1755 – Vienna, 1828)

Born 1755 in Gorizia as son of the tailor Andrej from Volče near Tolmin, died 1828 in Vienna. His training in Vienna was arranged by the highly-educated and wealthy Count Philipp Cobenzl, who then sent him to study at the Academy in Bologna and in Rome between 1779 and 1781. Between 1781 and 1787 he lived and painted in Rome with the painters Josef Bergler, Simone Pomardi, Michael Köck, Josef Riedl and Felice Giani. In the years 1787 to 1791 he lived in Vienna, in 1791 he produced drawings after the works of old masters in Mantua, in particular he copied Giulio Romano and reliefs on ancient sarcophagi. From 1791 to 1797 he studied in Venice. In 1796 the Venetian academy appointed him a member of its committee. From 1796 onwards he was a corrector, from 1798 to 1820 professor, and then until his death director of the Academy in Vienna, from 1808 onwards he was also head of the painting department of the Viennese Porcelain Manufactury. In 1823 he was made an honorary member of the Roman Accademia di San Luca. He was a friend of the sculptor Antonio Canova. As regards his drawing, composition, colouring and choice of themes Caucig was a distinct Neo-classicist. His work was influenced by the French Neo-classicist painting with which he became acquainted in Rome, and the painting of Pompeo Batoni, Angelica Kauffmann and J. Ph. Hackert. In oils he painted mythological and biblical scenes and idyllic landscapes. With bistre and Indian ink he drew sketches for oil paintings, vedutas of Rome and its environs, Venice and its surroundings, vedutas of Salzburg and places in the Salzburg area, views of Passau and areas around Vienna, drawings after ancient statues, reliefs, Etruscan and Egyptian objects, drawings after the works of old masters (a considerable number after Raphael). About two thousand of his drawings survive and many of them are very important as documentation. The greatest number of Caucig’s works are in Vienna and in Ljubljana, some are in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Italy, one is in the United States.

Lit.: Ksenija Rozman, Franc Kavčič / Caucig, Ljubljana 1978 [ex. cat.]; id., The Roman Views of Felice Giani and Francesco Caucig, Master Drawings, 3, 1980, pp. 253-257, figg. 30-39b; id., Franc Caucig 1755-1828: Drawings from the Narodna galerija in Ljubljana, Cambridge 1984 [ex. cat.]; Schönes altes Salzburg, Salzburg 1989, passim [ex. cat., more authors]; La pittura in Italia: L'Ottocento, Editor Enrico Castelnuovo, Milano 1991 (biogr. Maddalena Malni Pascoletti); Ksenija Rozman, Franc Kavčič Caucig in Češka, Ljubljana 2005 [ex. cat.].
Franc Kavčič/Caucig was an important representative of European Neo-classicist painting. Even though he depicted stories from Greco-Roman antiquity, his ethical message is fully contemporary and mirrors the time of great social changes. 

In the 1780s, Kavčič was trained in Rome where he drew also at the French Academy at the time of the second sojourn of Jacques Louis David in the Eternal City, and when Angelika Kauffmann occupied the former residence of Anton Raphael Mengs. After more than twenty years of professorship at the Vienna art academy, Kavčič was appointed director of its painting and sculpture school. He also led the painting department of the Viennese porcelain factory, and towards the end of his life he became an honorary member of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. Several of his compositions thus appeared on the products of the imperial porcelain works. 

His paintings are characteristic for their compositional monumentality and clarity, impeccable modelling by means of sharp drawing, thin polished paintlayers, underlined role of female protagonists in his scenes, and academic reserve. He relied for his motifs on the rich treasury of classical history and mythology as well as biblical stories. The Old-Testament Judgement of Solomon as a narrative of the ruler’s wisdom was thus a very suitable subject matter for the prestigious commission from Emperor Francis I. As to literary sources, Kavčič was inspired by the Idylls of Salomon Gessner. The painter’s landscapes are of the Arcadian type, they are ideal and thoughtfully composed in accord with classical rules and his travel memories. They contain architectural vestiges of the glorious past and are animated by means of tiny pastoral scenes. 

The painting output by Kavčič had some influence on his numerous Viennese students in the first half of the 19th century, while in the history of art he also left trace by taking part in the intense polemics with the members of the Brotherhood of St Luke, when he defended the then already conservative ideas.