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Art in Slovenia


Ferdo Vesel

(Ljubljana, 1861–1946)

Two Friends
(c. 1889), oil, canvas, 60 x 49,5 cm

NG S 531, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana
Two young women, dressed in the regional ethnic costumes of both Bela Krajina and Gorenjska (White and Upper Carniola, respectively), are reading a letter together. The artist placed a spindle next to them, likely as a decorative element. The National Gallery bought the work from the artist in 1922 under the title Belokranjici (Prijateljici), or Friends. Vesel was interested in ethnic dress even as a child, beginning to collect costumes under the influence of the veterinarian Sadnikar; Vesel, Sadnikar, and Ivana Kobilca travelled the countryside during their break from studies and made a record of local idiosyncrasies. In terms of its ethnographic theme, it can be compared with Vesel’s later work Before the Wedding (Pred Svatbo, NG S 528), while its colour palette is typical of Ferd Vesel’s (and Ivana Kobilca’s) Munich years. 
The motifs of friendship took on more importance in the 19th century, in part due to the expansion of schooling, and thus to the fact that young people, girls included, spent comparatively more time with schoolmates and likeminded peers (the first Romanticists, e.g., were from circles that formed in the German university town of Jena), as well as to the rise of the middle class, the idea of free time, and various other cultural changes. Among Slovenian fine artworks, there are also a self-portrait of Jožef Tominc with his brother France, a portrait of Anton Karinger’s wife Roza and her friend the Baroness Schmidburg, as well as several depictions of Hinko Smrekar, both from his student years as well as from the time of his internment.

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.