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Exhibitions and Projects
25 March–16 May 2021

Miha Pirnat

Painter and restorer

Painter and restorer Miha Pirnat (born 1924) began to gain experience in artistic expression at the School of Arts and Crafts. Later, he continued his studies of painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. He completed his studies in 1957, after spending a further two years specialising in restoration work. At the School of Arts and Crafts, where he was taught by Zoran Didek and Maksim Sedej, among others, as well as later at the academy, he turned to painting watercolours, which became part of his intimate, personal experience of the world.

Thus watercolours cover the most significant part of Pirnat’s oeuvre, oil paintings are rather rare. As watercolour painting is a quick technique, it is quite understandable that he fell in love with it, since he was constantly pressed for time. His watercolours mainly feature landscapes, there are few genre scenes. He also painted several self-portraits, something rather rarely taken up by watercolour painters. He looked for motifs in the immediate vicinity of his home, or in Ljubljana where he attended school. Later on, he painted in his spare time, at the weekends, or to relax after the strenuous restoration fieldwork when he was separated from his home and family. At times, painting watercolours helped fulfil his need to express artistic ideas, while at other times it was a form of meditation, and occasionally such painting even served as a sketch for an oil painting. Even the watercolours from his early period, before his studies at the academy, demonstrate considerable virtuosity, both in composition and in the rendering of perspective and colour. Over years of hard work, he developed into a mature and expert watercolour painter.

Pirnat’s watercolours are direct, light and uncluttered; but the painted surface is often quite full yet artistically no less expressive. There is no room for any modification here – a watercolour either works or it doesn’t, repairing it in any way would only result in a smudgy smear; and nothing of the sort can ever be found among his watercolours. The colour scale of his early watercolours is quite intense, and the technique applied comes close to oil painting (Venice, 1947). Later on, the scale is more subdued, and the paintings acquire the light and airy features that are so typical of most of his watercolours. The motifs vary considerably: from emotionally charged to calm and intimate moods within his family. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he portrays his home interiors with so much love. This clearly shows how attached he was to his family, while his landscapes also reveal how close he felt to the beautiful land of Slovenia.  

Landscape motifs painted in different seasons make up the most abundant part of his oeuvre, since Miha Pirnat devoted most of his time particularly to these themes. The perspective and character of place are a faithful depiction of nature and both – complemented by light colours – can be instantly recognised. These motifs often include farmhouses and other rural buildings, village vistas and parts of rural settlements. Painted most frequently are Sevnica Castle and the area surrounding Hrastovlje, as these locations were both closely related to his restoration fieldwork. Another motif he typically painted is a village on the Croatian coast – Banjole and its immediate surroundings. Pleasantly surprising are his tranquil forest motifs, ideal for long walks and hikes. Landscapes featuring trees, painted in one form or another, often appearing in the foreground, are also one of his regular motifs. 

His coastal landscapes are particularly poignant and idyllic, radiating a somewhat mysterious mood, a peaceful reflection on the surface of the sea imbued with nostalgic longing. He truly loved the sea. These motifs were usually painted on summer holidays with his family, where his everyday worries could be left aside. Other motifs, including those from Hrastovlje, are also filled with a sense of serenity, optimism and tranquillity.

Miha Pirnat is better known as a restorer than a painter, as he was one of the pioneers of organised restoration activities in Slovenia.He devoted most of his professional work to the restoration of paintings, with interventions on both wall paintings and easel paintings. He was involved in restoration work on a number of important Slovene cultural monuments. Moreover, he was appointed to undertake restoration work in other parts of former Yugoslavia. His eagerness to gain more experience and knowledge took him across the borders of Slovenia to work with other experts restoring wall paintings in Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox churches. Demonstrating his vast knowledge, expertise and dedication to work, he was offered an opportunity to work in Egypt and Sudan. He joined a Yugoslav team of restorers entrusted with the rescue operation to salvage Coptic and ancient Egyptian wall paintings which would otherwise be lost after the completion of the Aswan Dam.

He was entrusted with the restoration of the famous “Assunta” polyptych by Titian from the Dubrovnik Cathedral. His restoration undertakings in Slovenia include: wall paintings in the Hrastovlje church, wall paintings in the Lutheran Cellar in Sevnica, the ceiling of Brežice Castle, rural churches with important Gothic paintings, sacral buildings in the earthquake-prone zone around Kobarid, rural farmhouse frescoes and a number of oil paintings on canvas (paintings by Metzinger and Cebej, large-scale paintings from the Strunjan church, to mention only a few).

  • O razstavi Miha Pirnat: Slikar in restavrator (video, Slovene only)
    O razstavi Miha Pirnat: Slikar in restavrator (video, Slovene only)
  • Miha Pirnat: Slikar in restavrator (video, Slovene only)
    Miha Pirnat: Slikar in restavrator (video, Slovene only)

Author of the Exhibition and Project Leader
Miha Pirnat ml.

Preparation of Works of Art for the Exhibition
Miha Pirnat ml., Tina Buh

Exhibition Set-up
Miha Pirnat ml.

Translated by
Nataša Hirci

Catalogue and Print Design
Petra Benedik

The project was supported by

25 March–16 May 2021
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana