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Exhibitions and Projects
Exhibition | 1 Dec. 2022 – 9 Apr. 2023

Matej Sternen (1870–1949)

This exhibition follows Matej Sternen through his changing understanding of artistic calling from painter-decorator via independent through "private" artist, who in his late career limited his work to a few studio genres and seldom exhibited while he secured his existence by restoration of artistic heritage. His first experience of artistic creation is bound to his neighbour Jožef Petkovšek, who returned from Paris in 1886. He lent Sternen Paris Salon catalogues to copy from them and used the Alegories and Emblems albums by Gerlach and Ilg, published 1882−1884, where he focused on illustrations by Franz von Stuck. Between 1893 and 1896 he practised drawing at the Vienna art acadmey following the principles of ideal beauty. In 1899 he entered the school of Anton Ažbe where he mastered the broad Munich brushstroke and drawing form nature – from live models. He spent winters from 1901 through 1907 in Munich and tried to exhibit publically.  He joined the endeavours of Slovenian painters to organize artistic life in Ljubljana by adherence to the artistic association Sava headed by Rihard Jakopič. Their ways parted in bitter disagreement in 1910, when Sternen started to experiment with printmaking techniques and engaged in restoration projects of the imperial Office for protection of Cultural Monuments, which took most of his time. The next year he produced a series of newfound landscapes, whereas his most important production of ambitious nudes emerged in 1914 in Munich extending through his conscription late in 1916.

After the Great War Sternen exhibited sporadically only in group exhibitions, with an exception of the 1927 exhibition of Slovenian Impressionists where he chose to exhibit mainly his recent production to emphasize his distinction. At that point he gave up ambitious salon formats and started to experiment with poses of nudes on a smaller scale. After completion of ceiling murals in the Franciscan church in Ljubljana in 1936, his public profile soared. He became the portrait painter to the upper middle class to whose taste he adjusted his late nudes painted again on a large scale.

The painting of Matej Sternen is distinguished within the impressionist generation by his understanding of tradition focusing on the alexandrine periods of the history of Western painting. He constructed his identity through the lens of the late nineteenth century art starting with the golden age of Venetian painting of Titian and Veronese, early Baroque of Rubens and Rembrandt, eighteenth century French painters Fragonard and Boucher, as well as Venetian Giambattista Tiepolo. Among the Modernists he was closer to Degas, Rops and Toulouse- Lautrec than Manet and the rest of the impressionists. He perceived this tradition through the representatives of the Munich Secession and groups of younger painters of the Dachau School, Die Scholle and the Liutpoldgruppe, while later on he emphasised his alliance to the old masters. In contrast to his boasting about the importance of drawing, he did not cultivate it as an independent discipline. Drawing was the means for imitation of old masters and preparation of painting by maintenance of professional routine. His experimentation with certain printmaking techniques served the same purpose. The exhibition consists of selections of paintings, drawings, prints and presentation of his extraordinary restoration achievements.

Author of the exhibition
Andrej Smrekar

Authors of the conservation-restoration exhibitions
Gabrijela Kovačič, Celje Regional Museum
Ajda Mladenović, Institute for the Protecton of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, Restoration Centre
Mateja Neža Sitar, Institute for the Protecton of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, Maribor Regional Office

Project leader
Mateja Breščak

Project participants
Tina Buh, Nataša Ciber, Mateja Krapež, Kristina Preininger, Alenka Simončič

Conservation and preparation of objects
Tina Buh, Barbara Dragan, Miha Pirnat, Andreja Ravnikar, Erica Sartori, Simona Škorja, Katja Tittl

Exhibition set-up and design
Ranko Novak

Works of art lent by
National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia
National Galery of Slovenia
Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana
Museum and Galleries of the City of Ljubljana
private owners
Government of the Republic of Slovenia

The project was supported by

The National Gallery of Slovenia is part of the Impressionisms Routes, one of the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe.

1 December 2022 – 9 April 2023
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana