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Art in Slovenia

Biedermeier and Romanticism

Pavel Künl

(Mladá Boleslav, 1817 – Ljubljana, 1871)

Harvest in Mestni log
1854, oil, canvas, 14,4 x 19,5 cm
dated and signed lower right: 17/7 854 P. Kűnl

NG S 1153, National Gallery
In this small painting, women dressed in peasant clothes are harvesting corn. More than half of the painting is taken up by the clear sky and the distant hills. Künl sketched several locations around Ljubljana in his sketchbook and also transferred a pastoral scene from the suburb of Šentpeter to a small canvas. 

Künl painted Harvest in Mestni Log on Monday, 17 July 1854. Like the majority of artists of his and earlier generations, he worked outdoors, although the resulting pictures were always small oils or graphite studies, intended for the study of composition and colour. Franc Kavčič sketched his way around Italy, while Marko Pernhart sketched in the hills and mountains, precisely dating his sketches of clouds. Subsequent generations of artists transferred these sketch-like qualities, improvisations and impressions to gallery canvases, and showed once again that style is not just technique but also an intersection of self-confidence, message and social dynamics. This small image is thus an ideal starting point for a conversation about how bold European artists adopt the marginal practices of an earlier generation and place them at the centre of their activity. The National Gallery took the painting over from the National Museum in 1933.

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.