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Exhibitions and Projects
Exhibition | 5 Oct. 2023 – 11 Feb. 2024

Ivan Zajec (1869–1952)

The sculptural oeuvre of Ivan Zajec, the author of the Prešeren Monument in Ljubljana, has not been thoroughly studied yet. It encompasses public monuments, sepulchral, ecclesiastical and architectural sculpture as well as portrait, allegorical and genre motifs. In terms of style, it ranges from historicist idioms and Art Nouveau to individual attempts at picturesque Impressionism and programmatic post-war Socialist Realism.

It was his father, sculptor Franc Ksaver Zajec, who inspired Ivan Zajec to start sculpting. In his father's workshop, the young man acquired the first skills in sculpture, after which the family’s wealthy relative Josipina Hočevar of Krško enabled him to study at the Vienna Academy. There he studied in the years 1889–1893 with Edmund von Hellmer, the artist of Viennese monumental sculpture of the time, and in 1896 he completed the special course under Karl Kundmann. Good schooling provided him with reliable technological and craft knowledge which is manifested in the handling of details and in the skilful manipulation of various materials.

After the Prešeren Monument was unveiled in Ljubljana on September 10, 1905, Zajec left for Paris in January 1906. It has been known hitherto that he exhibited there in 1906, and sources also provide information that he exhibited two works in the Paris Salon in the following year too; besides, he had already exhibited in Paris as early as1900, namely at the World International Exhibition. In August 1907, he travelled to New York. He certainly travelled to London in the summer of 1912, which, however, does not exclude his possible repeated trips to the British capital. In October 1910, the sculptor moved to Trieste, and three years later to Rome, where he stayed until 1915, when he was interned to Sardinia. In Rome, he exhibited his sculpture Wounded Amazon in 1914, at the Second International Exhibition of the Secession. He returned from the internment on Sardinia in August 1919, when he registered his place of residence in Ljubljana, where he settled for the rest of his life. After returning to Ljubljana, the sculptor lived without a job for quite a few years, because, as we can see from his letters and personal notes, he was denied by the authorities the acknowledgement to be a nationally important artist. Confirmed has been Zajec's participation in the art competition at the 1924 Olympic Games, and the title of the work has been found with which he entered the competition. From 1927 until his retirement in 1940, he taught modelling at the Department of Architecture of the Technical Faculty in Ljubljana. After the Second World War, he received state financial support, when early in 1947 he was awarded an accolade and came under the official protection of the state. In 1950, he received a lifetime achievement award, the Prešeren Prize.

Despite the impact of contemporary French examples, the sculptural oeuvre of Ivan Zajec was most deeply influenced by the professors of the Vienna Academy and their already erected monuments along the Vienna Ring. The sculptor could admire them daily during his long stay in Vienna and they served him as models both in designing his monument and tombstone sculpture and in sculpture in general.

The exhibition displays fity-seven works in marble, bronze, plaster and clay, which the sculptor designed in the centres where he was living and creating, namely: Ljubljana, Vienna and Munich, Paris, New York, Trieste, Dubrovnik, London, Rome, internment on Sardinia, and final settlement in his native Ljubljana. Presented are also archival biographical excerpts, information on schooling, later teaching work, the sculptor's financial situation, his extensive oeuvre, commissions, production for the free market and status independence compared to the Slovene sculptors, his contemporaries.

Author of the exhibition
Mateja Breščak

Project leader
Kristina Preininger

Conservation-restoration works for the exhibition
Tina Buh, Barbara Dragan, Miha Pirnat, Andreja Ravnikar, Matevž Sterle, National Gallery of Slovenia
Zala Debevec, Martina Vuga, Academy of Fine Arts and Design Tadeja Trajkovski, Božidar Jakac Art Museum
Liza Lampič, Katarina Toman Kracina, Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana
Institute for the Protecton of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, Restoration Centre

Exhibition set-up and design
Ranko Novak

The works of art were loaned by
Antikvitete Novak Art Gallery
Božidar Jakac Art Museum
Gorenjska Museum
Riko Art Collection
Škofja Loka Museum
Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana
private owners
Vok Collection

The project was supported by

Ivan Zajec – Life Chronology

Ivan Zajec – Life Chronology

5 October 2023 11 February 2024
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana