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Art in Slovenia


Alojz Gangl

(Metlika, 1859 – Prague, 1935)

Josip Stritar
1894, bronze, 60 x 35 x 24,5 cm
signed and dated verso: Al. Gangl / 894

NG P 308, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

In 1894, Alojz Gangl sculpted a bust of a poet Josip Stritar in the latter’s villa in Vienna. This picturesque and dynamic work, which pleased Stritar greatly, boldly approaches modernist trends.

In the year it was created, Stritar, who did not spare praise for Gangl’s work, wrote in Ljubljanski zvon: “Mr Alojzij Gangl – I want to say a few words about this man after this long preface – Gangl is not a craftsman, nor a self-taught man; he is a true artist, educated in the best school at the Vienna Academy. He is an artist from head to toe; suffice to talk to him and watch him look at someone, as if to say: ‘How would I do this one?’ And when his mouth speaks, his eye also speaks and his hand speaks! Gangl is quite renowned, as I am well aware; he does not need my publicity; his Vodnik in Ljubljana, in particular, speaks for him, as do the beautiful sculptures on the theatre in Ljubljana. I think I may also publicly express my joy that we Slovenes have such a virtuous artist, especially in a profession which has hitherto been a stepchild – but no reproaches! I am not very generous with the adjective ‘genius’ – it should be reserved, I think, for special occasions, so it doesn’t wear out and lose its value. However, in this case I think this adjective would not go amiss.”

In 1929, the sculptor celebrated his 70th anniversary, and at that time he sought to sell the bust of Josip Stritar. On the 100th anniversary of Stritar’s birth, the statue was offered to the cultural committee of the municipal government. Most likely, the purchase was finally made by the Ban (governor) of the Drava Banovina and former mayor Dinko Puc.

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.