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Art in Slovenia

Biedermeier and Romanticism

Matevž Langus

(Kamna Gorica, 1792 – Ljubljana, 1855)

The Artist's Wife
(c. 1828), oil, canvas, 89,5 x 66 cm

NG S 199, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
The portrait of Langus’s wife Ana Wiedenhofer, a German living in Ljubljana, was made as the accompaniment to his own self-portrait. Both of the pictures are traditionally ascribed to 1828, the year of their marriage. They had no children of their own, but shortly after Langus’s brother Janez passed in 1838, they adopted his daughters Marija and Henrika. Henrika followed in her uncle’s footsteps, becoming a painter herself.
Depicted from the knee up, the painting shows Ana as a young woman sewing, her face turned towards the user. In contrast to the soft shading of the face, the fabric of her dress and of the shawl draped over her shoulders is painted more rigidly. On the left is a table, upon which is a still life of sewing supplies. Depicting her doing housework reflects the zeitgeist, in which women in urban environments were expected to know how to knit and sew, as well as other handicrafts.
Langus painted a few other Ljubljanese women, though instead of sewing accoutrements we often find them holding an open book.

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.