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Art in Slovenia


Ivana Kobilca

(Ljubljana, 1861–1926)

Girl in an Armchair
(1891−1892), oil, canvas, 73,3 x 60 cm

Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
The young woman sits with arms folded on the padded arm of a chair and gazes confidently towards the viewer. Together with Parisian Vegetable Seller and, in particular, Boy in a Sailor Suit, the painting forms part of a trio of dark-blue Parisian portraits which Ivan Kobilca painted in parallel with her bright plein air and blue-and-white works.

The sense of melancholy exuded by the trio can be attributed to the painter’s general disposition, enhanced by the difficult circumstances of a Parisian ménage that also included Rosa Pfäffinger, Maria Slavona and Willy Gretor. In 1892 Kobilca submitted the painting to the Salon of the Société nationale des beaux-arts along with the plein air work Under a Pergola and thus demonstrated once again her stylistic range and her love of exploration and experimentation, so characteristic of her work between 1888 and 1893. The painting was next exhibited in Vienna in 1893, where it attracted the attention of the satirical newspaper Der Floh, whose writer suggested that, with only one painted arm, the girl in the painting was “reminiscent not of Nelson but of his fleet” (an ambiguous allusion to sprightliness, cheerfulness, or perhaps something more vulgar).

In the spring of 1902 the work was bought by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. It attracted attention once again with the filming of a documentary about Ivana Kobilca (Ivana Kobilca – Portrait of a Painter, Fabula and RTV Slovenia, 2008). It has been on view as part of the Permanent Collection of the National Gallery since January 2016.

From Romanticism to Realism
The first traces of realism can be observed in the late landscapes by Anton Karinger. In the late 1860s, encouraged by examples from Munich, he gradually discovered the value of a random landscape view. Possibly from direct observation in situ his pictures of forest sections were made then, oil sketches on a small-scale, rendered in free, painterly brushwork, which can also be traced in his select mountainscapes. 

With his highly moral and artistic attitude Janez Wolf paved the way for realist tendencies. He was a teacher to the Šubic brothers, Janez and Jurij, and Anton Ažbe. Wolf elevated the status of the artist from the previous level of a craftsman to the level of an artist with a higher mission. He stimulated his pupils to take up studies at art academies and facilitated their enrolments through his personal connections. Wolf’s religious works demonstrate inclination to the art of the Nazarenes, which replaced the older rural Baroque tradition. Wolf’s monumental manner of presenting the human figure by way of emphasizing volume was carried on in the sphere of religious painting by Janez Šubic. While Janez Šubic made use of traditional models of above all Venetian painting, realism in Jurij Šubic’s religious subjects is manifest in pedantic historical and topographical definition of costumes, e.g. in his painting Sts Cosmas and Damien. During his years in Paris, Jurij Šubic worked with the Czech artists Vojteˇch Hynais and Václav Brožík, the Hungarian Mihály Munkácsy and the Croat Vlaho Bukovac, who later took a teaching post at the Prague academy. 

Ivan Franke’s travel to the Far East gave rise to a more original style of vedute painting, with an obvious intention of rendering light in a different way.
Weak and unambitious local demand and the absence of academic centres meant that most Realist and academically trained artists spent a great deal of their creative lives in major art centres, first in Venice, Rome and Vienna, then also in Munich and Paris. 

Slovenian painters of the Realist period can be divided into two generations. In the works by the older generation, which includes Janez Šubic and Jurij Šubic, detachment can be observed from the contents and formal language of traditional religious themes and tendencies towards a more exact observation of reality and ever more obvious dealing with painting issues. Realistic approach is evident in Janez’s treatment of the sitters in the portraits of his family members and in Jurij’s down¬to-earth portraits of his contemporaries. Both brothers also tackled the question of psychological characterization in their portraits. The landscape studies in oil which Janez spontaneously sketched in the vicinity of Rome are our earliest plein-air vedute. Jurij’s professional paths led him to Athens and Paris, then to Normandy. While there, he painted minute genre scenes, rendered as plain-air pieces, and he devised the motif which he subsequently elaborated into the picture Before the Hunt which was successfully exhibited at the Salon in Paris. Jointly with his brother Janez he received a prestigious commission to paint frescoes in the Provincial (now National) Museum in Ljubljana. 

Jožef Petkovšek, too, relied on French realists and traditions of salon painting in his realist plein-air picture Washerwomen by the Ljubljanica. In his Landscape by a River he already dealt with a purely artistic issue of light and reflections, which brought him close to the Impressionist search. In contrast, his interiors are marked with dark, cool metallic colouring with sharp beams of light, which imbues the genre-like protagonists with anxious, frozen expression. 

Ferdo Vesel was inclined to experiment extensively with figure, colour, and technique, which brought him close to the Impressionist search.