In 2012, the National Gallery of Slovenia received a donation of thirty-seven works of art in plaster and clay by sculptor Frančišek Smerdu (Postojna, 1908 − Ljubljana, 1964). They were donated by Mojca Smerdu, the artist's daughter and like-wise an academically-trained sculptor. The donation includes drafts for the artist's diverse works, including drafts for heads, portraits, small-scale pieces, reliefs and for monumental memorial sculpture. The exhibition of donated works will thus present the Slovenian sculptor who was a Professor at the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts, member of the Independent Art Group (Neodvisni), and the maker of public monuments and intimate pieces in baked clay, plaster, bronze and stone.
The sculpture of Frančišek Smerdu is studied by Slovenian art history within the thirty-year context of Slovenian sculpture, from the 1930s to the 1960s. Within the history of Slovenian sculpture, Frančišek Smerdu is regarded as a designer of smaller intimate pieces, which express a sort of monumentality, and of large public monuments, characterised by a peculiar kind of "intimacy". The sculptor used the same vehemence in both small pieces and large monumental works.
In 1927, Frančišek Smerdu completed his studies with Alojzij Repič at the sculpture department of the Craft School in Ljubljana and a year later enrolled in the Zagreb Academy. Among his teachers in Ljubljana were France Kralj and Anton Sever, who passed on to his student the knowledge on relief modelling, which runs through the entire Smerdu’s body of work. At the Zagreb Academy, he was taught by sculptors Robert Frangeš Mihanović and Frano Kršinić, a Dalmatian master of marble nudes and pure Mediterranean shapes. Stone remained Smerdu's favourite medium for life, undoubtedly also due to the artist's roots in the Karstic region.
Smerdu graduated from the Zagreb Academy in 1932 and a year later completed his specialization in sculptore with Ivan Meštrović, who undoubtedly exerted the greatest influence on the young artist. In 1946, he became a professor at the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts, established a year prior, and taught there until his passing.
After the war, Smerdu received many public commissions and also had several private customers. In the 1950s, he made the monument to the Underground Resistance Fighter in Ljubljana, Memorial to the Karst Resistance Fighter in his native Postojna (both completed in 1952) and Memorial to the Victims of the Second World War in Domžale (1953). Among the works, we find reliefs with dynamic scenes from the National Liberation Struggle. Among the sculptor’s works, the most attention was given to the monumental Memorial to France Prešeren in Kranj (1952); for Prešeren’s Portrait (1948) the artist received the 1949 Prešeren Award.
Producing memorial sculpture was hard work, so the artist let his imagination and artistic drive loose in the studio by making small female figures. Throughout his career, he often withdrew from the commissions with ideological charge into a peculiar world of small-scale works striving for harmony and beauty, which stand out from his oeuvre. Sensitive, poetic or rather lyrical spirit of Smerdu’s creations is noted by every researcher of his work. Belonging to his collection of small sculpture in baked clay, stone and bronze, which occupied the artist during his serene studio work and brought him a distinction of being a sensitive sculptor of intimate small pieces, are sitting, crouching or reclining stylised female figures, made between 1950ies and the artist’s death in 1964. Pieces, like the Reclining Female Nude, Girl with a Bouquet, Petit Dreams, Collecting Her Thoughts, Girl with a Book, Woman Crouching, Woman Sitting and Woman Standing are rounded in their own volume, and marked by soft transitions, lyricism, gentleness, mindful stillness, silence and sensitive mood.
The sculptor Frančišek Smerdu belongs to the third generation of academically-trained Slovenian sculptors, which lived through both World Wars and after the second one participated in building a new societal order and at the newly-established Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana took care of the next generation of sculptors. Among his students we should mention sculptors Jakob Savinšek, Stojan Batič, Drago Tršar and Ivan Štrekelj.
Through his work, Frančišek Smerdu pursued realist ideals of serene classics, while the most notable themes of his oeuvre are pure lyricism in sculpture, including a dreamy mood of his reclining or sitting female nudes who read, rest or meditate in their self-sufficiency. Smerdu’s works express the duality of the past and the present and of heroic monumentalism and expressively poetic intimism of a studio, making them unique and destined for timelessness.
The National Gallery of Slovenia is deeply grateful to the donor for her priceless gift to the sculpture collection of the Gallery.