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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 17 June−8 July 2021

Revelations: Hinko Smrekar

Self-Portraits and Self-Caricatures

It is certainly Hinko Smrekar of all Slovenian artists who made the greatest number of self- portraits and self-caricatures. They reflect his life story from the initial defiance, through great grief, to melancholic privacy. The earliest ones occur on illustrated postcards he repeatedly sent to his friends, next comes Žane(John) which is perhaps the most fashionable image in his entire oeuvre. He portrayed himself in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters: with a smart plumed hat, a red scarf and a Virginia cigar in his mouth, in a defiant pose, showing us the “fig sign”. He also used his self-portrait as a signature, while in 1906 he first depicted himself as a hanged man. Then follow his images in fashionable suits with excrement on the head, which is also one of his signatures; then as a Buddha, or with angel wings or in a monk’s hood. Dating from 1908 is a serious and carefully elaborated self-portrait, and he repeated one of the kind only thirty years later when he depicted himself in a blue painting smock, obviously tired from the strains of life. The Self-Portrait at Playing Cards is one of numerous tavern motifs, so dear to Smrekar, in which the desperate wife with children and, very likely, the toothless mother-in-law come into the tavern to look for the paterfamilias, when he has already lost everything at cards. Several images showing the detention and internment of Smrekar are on his illustrated postcards, whereas he presented in detail his life of that time in image and word in his satirical, yet moving autobiography Henrik Smrekar – črnovojnik (Henrik Smrekar – Landsturm Soldier).

In 1920/21, Smrekar was treated in several spas, among others Laßnitzhöhe and Bled, where he was housed in the Arnold Rikli health centre. Despite several years of his creative standstill, a self-portrait has been preserved, inscribed Sic transit gloria mundi – thus passes the glory of the world – as well as an illustrated postcard with his fashionably dressed figure walking along Lake Bled. He also added a number of his own images to caricatures he made for the Zagreb paper Koprive (Nettles; 1927–1932), e.g. how he just sneezes strongly and dresses are flown off from maidens, or how he demonstrates a cooling machine during summer heat waves. Outstanding among his self-caricatures – now unfortunately lost – is his drawing Self-Caricature as Charlie Chaplin (1931) which he made to illustrate his autobiography published in the magazine Naša knjiga (Our Book) that was issued in Novi Sad. His often quoted sentences “Me, Hinko Smrekar, by God’s grace the eccentric-clown of the Slovenian nation …” and “Since Ivan Cankar died, I feel like I’m only half alive” are taken exactly from this self-presentation. He also drew himself as a juror in the Miss pageant, then while passionately kissing a girl in the rain. Furthermore, he presented himself with his bride – Death because of years-long stubborn gossip about his (supposed) wife. He also included his self-portraits in exhibition advertisements, e.g. in the one for his first solo exhibition in the Obersnel Gallery in Ljubljana (1940) or in the advertisement for his statuettes. In the self-caricature of 1942 he depicted himself with a Janus head, showing two faces of his character – a face of a melancholic with an extra long dripping nose and a face of a joker. The long dripping nose was his trademark from 1905 on, when Ivan Cankar published his short story A Tale of a Long Nose in which he described or rather caricatured Smrekar.

The present Revelations are focused merely on video presentation of Smrekar’s self-portraits and self-caricatures. The original works will be on display at the Hinko Smrekar 1883‒1942 exhibition in the National Gallery of Slovenia from July 8, 2021 through February 13, 2022.

Alenka Simončič
17 June–8 July 2021
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana