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Art in Slovenia


Jožef Petkovšek

(Verd, 1861 − Studenec, Ljubljana, 1898)

Venetian Kitchen
1888, oil, canvas, 121 x 135 cm
signed lower right: J. Petkovšek. / Venedig.

NG S 1748, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

A couple sits at a table eating a meal while an elderly woman feeds a child by the window. The furniture, walls and shelves are full of bottles, plates, pots, baskets and other household utensils. The light enters the room from the viewer’s direction and through the window on the right. Perspective is created by the table, the stone flags on the floor, the furniture and the strong shading of the figures. Petkovšek conceived the work in the Veneto region in 1888, the year of his impulsive marriage to the seventeen-year-old Marija Filipesco, when he and his bride set off on a honeymoon tour of Italy that would later be interrupted by the painter’s mental illness.


Petkovšek spent some time in Paris, where he was inspired by the works of the successful painter Jean-François Millet (1814–1875) and, in particular, by those of Léon Lhermitte (1844–1925) and Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884). Venetian Kitchenis Petkovšek’s attempt at painting a monumental rustic genre piece in which the influences of Paris have already faded and Petkovšek’s mental disquiet is evident in the dark scene, uncomfortable atmosphere and a room in which every last corner is crammed with objects. He returned to this atmosphere in his next large painting (At Home), in which he once again painted a beam of light falling through the window, although without the effect that a similar beam has in the painting Before the Hunt which his colleague Jurij Šubic (1855–1890) successfully showed at the Paris Salon in 1883, the year before Petkovšek arrived in France. Petkovšek also painted a larger version of Venetian Kitchen, today lost, and several studies (one of which is hidden beneath Petkovšek’s study of Bastien-Lepage’s painting Haymaking).

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.