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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 7 Oct.–3 Nov. 2021

Revelations: Ivan Kotar (1865‒1908)

Ljubljana Photographer Ivan Kotar and the Photo Documentation of the First Slovenian Art Exhibition

We do not know much about the life of professional photographer Ivan Kotar. The master is mainly known through his rich and extensive body of work, most of which is kept by the National Museum of Slovenia. Kotar left his photographic legacy to Rudolfinum, the then Provincial Museum of Carniola: the vast majority of the material is kept by the Department for History and Applied Arts, with some of the images in the care of the Graphics Cabinet. Individual photographs can also be found in other public and private collections: in the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia, in the legacy of Dr Mirko Kambič and in the National Gallery of Slovenia, where we keep five signed positives in the Special Collection of Archival Documents. 

Most of what we know about Kotar can be gleaned from his obituary in the newspaper Slovenski narod (6 April 1908): “The 42-year-old photographer Ivan Kotar died in Ljubljana yesterday morning after a long and painful illness. The deceased was a gifted artist who made many masterfully executed shots of landscapes and images. Of particular note are the finely and precisely executed pictures of archaeological objects, such as vessels and various ornaments for the Rudolfinum Provincial Museum. He also produced beautiful pictures of splendid halls of the provincial government palace in Ljubljana. He leaves behind a widow and two dependent children without any property. Let the memory of him be gentle!” A news item with identical content was also published by the newspaper Slovenec on the same day. – On Saturday, 11 April, Slovenski narod in the column "The Deceased in Ljubljana" mentioned that among the people who died last week "Ivan Kotar, photographer [age of] 42, [lived at] Rimska cesta 2", who died on 5 April. – Besides the public notices from the time of the master's death, there are only a few facts known about Kotar: that he was first a musician and only later became a photographer, that he had his studio on Emonska cesta 10 (Emona Street) in Ljubljana since 1898 and that he collaborated with the Provincial Museum in Ljubljana. 

Ivan Kotar, who has been almost completely erased from the collective memory by the passage of time, was apparently a respected photographer during his life. His legacy certainly offers the most profound glimpse into his life: he was engaged in portrait photography, he had a keen sense of documenting cultural and natural heritage, he was a chronicler of his time (he immortalized a number of important contemporary events - from personal, religious and cultural celebrations to construction feats and the fallout of various disasters); on several occasion he used the trigger to photographically 'freeze' the artistically perfected views of various Slovenian landscapes.

The Provincial Museum of Carniola played an important role in the master's professional life; he was hired as its museum photographer. They were obviously pleased with his services, since he stayed in this function for the rest of his life. 

Undoubtedly, the master was also a lover of fine arts. He left us images of the First Slovenian Art Exhibitionin the City Hall in Ljubljana (15 September - 28 October 1900); a photograph of painter Matej Sternen (1870‒1949), taken in 1901 during his work on the presbytery decoration in the renovated Trnovo church in Ljubljana, has been preserved; and in 1908 Kotar was in the studio of Ivan Zajec (1869‒1952) when the sculptor was making a relief for the tomb of the Majdič family in Kranj. Kotar also took excellent pictures of church interiors (for example the Cathedral and the Ursuline Church in Ljubljana and the parish churches in Škofja Loka and Gornji Grad), including paraphernalia and paintings, which often accompanied professional articles published in contemporary periodicals like Dom in svet and Ljubljanski zvon

Ivan Kotar is also the author of a series of images on postcards, issued at the turn of the century. They depict various palaces, bridges, churches, squares and streets in Ljubljana, views of Vrhnika, Ljubljana, Železniki, Naklo near Kranj, Postojna and Koče near Pivka, and there are also postcards with views of the entrance to Postojna Cave and the front of the mignificent Haasberg mansion in Planinsko polje.


Mojca Jenko   

7 October - 3 November 2021
National Gallery of Slovenia
Cankarjeva 20
1000 Ljubljana