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Exhibitions and Projects
Exhibition | 27 October 2021 ‒ 13 Feb. 2022

Hinko Smrekar part 2


Hinko Smrekar was a versatile, independent, free-thinking and socially engaged artist. Because of this, he was repeatedly indicted and imprisoned, and then shot as a hostage in 1942. He spoke a number of foreign languages and used them to caption his works to make them more widely comprehensible. His rich, fantastic, and strong style cannot be put into any of the artistic movements of the time. He followed domestic and foreign socio-political events and was up to date on both global processes and the local crime section. Everything he saw and felt, whatever moved and shocked him took shape in his drawings. With extraordinary precision, he drew attention to what we recognise as the permanent failings of the human character, making his images timeless. Admirable are his courage, openness and honesty, with which he gained not only artistic but also historical legitimacy to portray his era and its people.

In order to get through, Smrekar took on any job – illustrating books for different target audiences, making honorary diplomas, advertisements, ex libris, drawing caricatures and socio-political satires, drawing ethnographic and fairy-tale motifs, and scenes from folk superstition and folk tales. He was a self-taught man who perfected the drawing technique so that his works depicting a multitude of people still retain harmony with the rules of anatomy, perspective and composition, and also amaze the viewer with their immediacy and sincerity. His speciality was pen-drawing – washed, water-coloured or combined with pastels, while his prints – woodcuts, etchings, and aquatints, make him one of the best printmakers of this era. In later years, he started painting in oil, and around 1940, also to sculpt.

Due to the scope of Smrekar’s body of work and the sensitivity of the material (the exhibition is mostly made up of works on paper, which according to museum standards can only be exhibited for three months at a time), the exhibition is divided into two parts.

Part 1: 8 July – 3 October, 2021
The exhibition covers the period between 1902 and 1917. It includes illustrated postcards from his study years and the time of the Vesna Art Club, and illustrations for the books by Ivan Cankar, under whose influence Smrekar began to develop a sharply critical tone, which he then continued in caricatures. During these years, he drew more than fifty self-caricatures and caricatures of contemporaries, motifs for Slavic Playing Cards and Slavic Tarock Cards, drawings with ethnographic motifs taken from Slovene folk songs, socio-political satire and caricatures that mostly deal with the attitude of petit-bourgeoisie society towards the arts and artists, a series of postcards War in Pictures, drawings of larger formats and graphic prints with fairy-tale motifs and scenes from folk superstition and folk tales, drawings for the medical doctor Dr Franc Derganc, drawings of his internment in Scheifling and illustrations for the story Martin Krpan by Fran Levstik, where he recreated the story’s proud and ironic outlook of a rural man on imperial Vienna.

Part 2: 27 October, 2021 – 13 February, 2022
This exhibition covers the period between 1918 and 1942. During these years, Smrekar’s strong creative enthusiasm led his across the narrow Slovenian borders into the universal, world realm. There is an obvious turn from the artist who went abroad full of ideals and youthful enthusiasm, to the one who became increasingly bitter over the years and saw deformity all around him. Therefore, we should not be surprised that he became such a caricaturist and an almost absolute cynic, like all defeated, doubting idealists.

Numerous self-caricatures and caricatures of his contemporaries, loving portraits of his mother, socio-political satires and illustrations for various publications and books, fairy-tale scenes with dwarves and elves and humorous mountaineering scenes were followed by two cycles that are true prophetic visions – the graphic cycle The Seven Deadly Sins and a cycle of larger drawings Mirror of the World; in both he strongly condemned society and individuals living in it, especially their morals and the disorderly, confusing social conditions. Shocking drawings of the mentally unwell, sketches for the competition to decorate the grand hallway of the Banovina Palace, oil paintings and sculptures in baked clay were followed by illustrations for Andersen's fairy tales. He also drew attention to the ascending Nazism in a series of political caricatures depicting Stalin and his generals, Churchill, Roosevelt, and others.

Hinko Smrekar (video), author: Rok Hace
Hinko Smrekar (video), author: Rok Hace

Author of the exhibition
Alenka Simončič

Tina Buh, Mateja Krapež, Michel Mohor

Conservation-restoration works
Tina Buh

Visual and graphic design
Ranko Novak

Works of art loaned by
Festival Velenje – Velenje Gallery
Miran Jarc Library, Novo mesto
Škofja Loka Museum
Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana
National Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia
National Gallery of Slovenia
National and University Library, Ljubljana
National Museum of Slovenia
Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences
Slovenian Theatre Institute
private collectors

The exhibition was supported by

Part One of the Exhibition
8 July 2021 ‒ 3 October 2021

Part Two of the Exhibition
27 October 2021 ‒ 13 February 2022

Narodna galerija
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana