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Art in Slovenia


Jurij Šubic

(Poljane nad Škofjo Loko, 1855 – Leipzig, 1890)

Sketches for the Ceiling of the Grand Staircase of the National Museum of Slovenia
(1885), oil, canvas, 45,5 x 69,5 cm
dat. in sign. d. zg.: V Parizu / meseca junija / 1885 / Jurij Šubic, napis l. zg. na sliki: Skice za / stopnišče / v ljubljanski / "Rudolfinum."; napis sr. sp.: Gosp. dr. F. Papež-u / Jurij Šubic / v Ljubljani 30/VIII. 85; na podokviru l. zg. nalepka. NARODNA GALERIJA LJUBLJANA / INV. ŠTEV. / ŠUBIC Jurij / 'Skica za stopnišče Narod- / nega muzeja' /, 45x69,5 - sign. ni / NM-NG 532, nalepka (moder kemični svinčnik): III/9, d. zg. (črn flomaster): 3614, z modro barvico: kat. št. / 128a, d. sp. (črn flomaster): inv. št. NG 444., žig: NARODNA GALERIJA LJUBLJANA, žig: NM 532

NG S 444, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Jurij Šubic was in Paris when, along with his brother, he took over a commission from the Provincial Committee upon the passing of painter Janez Wolf to paint the ceiling inside the Rudolfinum Provincial Museum (today the National Museum of Slovenia and the Natural History Museum of Slovenia). His employers requested the personification of the 4 disciplines that characterized the museum, namely natural science, art, history, and archaeology. Jurij Šubic finished both the sketch and the work itself in Paris, shipping them from there to Ljubljana. 
The personifications took the form of exquisite, ethereal female figures in long flowing gowns that remind the viewer of Pompeiian frescoes. They are surrounded by cherubim carrying their attributes in a collaborative scene. The personifications are placed below a deep blue sky, whither ascend and attain the achievements of science and art. Šubic made several sketches of the scene from various angles, with various attributes, and in several different colour schemes, with the same going for the cherubim (NG S 443).

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.