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Art in Slovenia

Biedermeier and Romanticism

Anton Karinger

(Ljubljana, 1829–1870)

Montenegrins on Watch
1869, oil, canvas, 30 x 40 cm
signed and dated lower left: Karinger 1869

NG S 3402, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

Karinger’s most notable (and largest-scale) painting with a Montenegrin theme dates from 1862 and was created in response to the dramatic assassination of Prince Danilo. The artist exhibited his epic hommage to the late reformer a year later at an exhibition of the Austrian Artists’ Association in Ljubljana. He based the realistic landscape and the picturesque Montenegrins on drawings and watercolours done in the course of his stay on the Bay of Kotor in 1854, where he was serving with the Austrian 17th Infantry Regiment, and during his travels in the surrounding area. He also visited the Prince’s court in Cetinje, where he painted portraits of the Prince and some of his family. 

His sketches from that period served as a direct record that inspired several landscapes and other scenes later painted in oils. Montenegrins on Watch is a painting from Karinger’s late period, as is evident from the thick applications of paint and the more relaxed brushstrokes without outlines. The diagonal composition divides the canvas into two parts. The harmonious, warm ochres and reds of the lower part contrast with the blue of sky and sea. The graduation of colours creates spatial depth and, in combination with the narrative staffage, an idyllic mood that does not hint at the proximity of danger.

In contrast to the monumental painting The Funeral Procession of Prince Danilo, Montenegrins on Watch is a direct account of life on the frontier and an expression of contemporary interest in discovering picturesque, unfamiliar and primitive life at the edge of the Habsburg Empire.

Together with the earlier painting, this small work represents an important addition to the National Gallery collection, since at the time of the Karinger exhibition in 1984 only three of his Montenegrin scenes from a total of “around fifteen oil paintings” were known (Anton Karinger. 1829−1870, National Gallery, Ljubljana 1984 [ex. cat.], p. 22 ff.).


References: New Acquisitions 2011−2021, National Gallery, Ljubljana 2022

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.