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Art in Slovenia

Biedermeier and Romanticism

Matevž Langus

(Kamna Gorica, 1792 – Ljubljana, 1855)

Self portrait
(c. 1828), oil, canvas, 90 x 66 cm

NG S 201, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Matevž Langus produced several self-portraits. This self-portrait from the permanent collection emphasizes the status that Langus had built for himself as a painter by his wedding in 1828. He was already an established painter at the time, and so he recovered financially and thrust himself into the urbane environment around him, especially after moving with his wife to Reduta, where he could paint on larger canvases and exhibit his work to others in the city.
His countenance here is depicted from the waist up, confidently sporting a velvet jacket, his hair done perfectly. He is sitting before a dark background, with just the section around his head any lighter. The painter’s gaze is focused and the hands are accentuated, the left one holding a taut canvas and the right a drawing utensil. The pen here is not merely a professional attribute, but also alludes to the stylistic characteristics of Langus's painting: emphasized sharp lines, a thin and smoothed layer of colour, and soft, plastic modeling. Such an attribute has another meaning, as understood by the Biedermeier painters, namely that any painting should be based on an excellent sketch.

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.