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Art in Slovenia

Biedermeier and Romanticism

Matevž Langus

(Kamna Gorica, 1792 – Ljubljana, 1855)

Adam Heinrich Hohn
1834, oil, canvas, 82 x 63 cm
bottom left: Langus pinxit 1834.

NG S 205, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Adam Heinrich Hohn – whose initials we see inscribed into the casing of his pocket watch – was a merchant from Ljubljana who made his fortune in the retail sale of construction material, continuing his endeavors in bookbinding. He owned a house on Mestni Trg, opposite Town Hall. We know him as one of the city’s first patrons of the arts. The work before is a portrait in memoriam, which Hohn’s son Eduard Joseph commissioned from Langus, as is reported in the commemorative book, symbolically embellished with painted mementos. Hohn’s depiction is a stereotypical one, painted before a landscape background, a technique Langus regularly applied in his portraits during the 1830s. A middle-aged gentleman with a noble countenance and the finest attire poses from the waist up with Ljubljana’s downtown in the background. All of the city’s sites are included in the painting, from the becrossed dome and the outline of Šmarna gora (Mt. Saint Mary) on the left to the bell tower of the old Jesuit church beneath Castle Hill and the meandering Ljubljanica on the right. The viewer’s eye is drawn low, accentuating and broadening the landscape effect, and giving Hohn’s portrait a more monumental impression.

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.