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Art in Slovenia

Biedermeier and Romanticism

A Fisherman
(19th cent.), oil, canvas, 149 x 116,5 cm

NG S 2418, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
A three-quarter length portrait of a fisherman, who is preparing to carry away a number of large (freshwater?) fish (chondrostoma nasus?). Beside him is a dog, while in the background we see a wall on the right and a grapevine on the left. The fisherman’s red cap suggests some Mediterranean port, perhaps on the Thyrrenian or on the Adriatic coast. As regards style this is a very important example of 19th century academic realism, with still a touch of the romantic spirit. It would appear that the compositional theme owes something to 17th century painting in Antwerp or in Rome, while the pictorial solution itself is typical of the 19th century, which is also indicated by the type of cracks in the layers of paint. Since there is no signature we are confronted with the multitude of artists who painted in a similar manner, so that it is difficult to suggest a name or determine the place where this important picture was painted.

Preservation: In the upper right the leaves have been overpainted fairly recently. The overpainting on the hair on the left side is indistinct. The paint is cracked.
Provenance: Unknown. Probably FCC ca. 1945; Government of Slovenia, Villa Podrožnik; entrusted to the Narodna galerija in 1986.
Exhibition: 1989, Ljubljana, No. 60.
Lit.: Zeri and Rozman 1989, pp. 150–151, Cat. No. 60, Fig. 61.

Biedermeier and Romanticism
Heavily censored public life between the Congress of Vienna and the Spring of Nations in 1848, weakened Church patronage, and the ascending middle class marked the era when life focused on the privacy of the family circle, individual dignity and the sense of belonging; this is expressed in the Central European art as the style of Biedermeier which coexisted with a Romantic view of nature. 

Portraiture was the genre of painting that saw its heyday in this era. Matevž Langus, Jožef Tominc, Mihael Stroj and Anton Karinger established themselves as individually formed portraitists who demonstrated their self-confidence as artists also through their self-portraits. The painters initially relied on formal characteristics of Neoclassicism. Stroj’s late portraits and particularly those by Karinger abandoned the Biedermeier manner and adopted a more realistic approach. 

Interest in landscape first appeared as the background of portraits; towards the mid-century first autonomous city vedute emerged. The Biedermaier landscape is idyllic, descriptive, and furnished with staffage figures. Painters were attracted by tourist destinations and locations that were related to homeland identity: Mt. Triglav, Lake Bohinj, Bled. Anton Karinger and Marko Pernhart established themselves as explicit landscapists. The latter became famous for his multi-part panoramas from mountain peaks. 

Still lifes became an attractive decoration of a middle-class home, and they also found favour with amateur women painters, one of whom was Countess Maria Auersperg Attems.