Motifs from the north-western region of Slovenia, Gorenjska, appeared in the work of Matija Jama (1872–1947) after he finally settled down in Ljubljana in 1924. Their topography was not extensive. The views of Lake Bled, established as tourist souvenirs a century ago, were a certain bet at the market. However, the majority of his motifs, as established by the Slovene Impressionism, are topographically unidentifiable intimate fragments of nature, from the broader outskirts of Bled, or panoramic views selected so as to avoid characteristic horizon lines which would allow for topographic identification. The Landscape with a River is one of even later colour studies, featuring a marvelous range between blues and greens, a modernist sequence of planes parallel to the picture surface, and emancipated brushwork. Besides its stylistic merits it is an eloquent document of Jama's existential predicament and pragmatic solutions of technical problems in pictorial preparation during the years of economic crisis that followed the stock market crash of 1928.
The Landscape with a River is painted on a canvas pasted on a plywood board. Under the raking light it is possible to notice vertical lines which are at odds with the painting’s horizontal composition. The mystery is explained by the X-ray exposure which allows us to clearly read a fragment of a female figure which matches rather well certain smaller studies of the shepherdesses of the Bela Krajina region. Stratigraphic micro-photography confirms two very different palettes. What makes our finding peculiar is the size of the body which would fit within a canvas at least 120 cm tall. There is no painting of such ambition known in Jama's oeuvre. We are dealing with an abandoned project cut up into smaller formats for new paintings.
A small painting of a Shepherdess / Spinner kept in the National Gallery of Slovenia could be one of the studies for the abandoned painting. There is a certain congruence in execution of the right outstretched arm in both – the flow of strokes and articulated shape. Samples of red from the embroidery of the girl's shirt in underpainting and the red in the study seem identical. The status of the study is further confirmed by the pentimenti, registered by the naked eye and revealed under X–ray exposure. They indicate corrections of head and body position within the frame. The evidence gathered by application of scientific methods of examination integrated into the artist's biography allows us to conclude that Jama conceived of his large figure no sooner than 1930, when he returned to the region of Lika after more than two decades, painting at Plitvice lake district and in Bela Krajina. We can hardly expect him to start the series with the large canvas. The paint had consolidated enough that the painter did not bother softening it for the intended reuse and the new layer did not quite bond with the old surface. Therefore the painting Landscape with a River must be dated into the second half of the 1930s, since by 1941 the Italian and German occupation of Yugoslavia drastically limited travel possibilities.
The painting Landscape with a River belongs to the Government Collection managed by the National Gallery of Slovenia. It was treated urgently in 2011 because of a serious threat of loss of the painting substance. The technically poorer execution of the overpainting caused cracking and peeling of the upper paint layer. The purpose of the latest, already the fourth, conservation treatment was to consolidate the surface and regulate the microclimatic impact in order to warrant the best possible conditions and prevent recurrence of the threat.
Andrej Smrekar, Simona Škorja
Sonja Fister, Katja Kavkler, Restoration Centre, IPCHS, Polonca Ropret, Researc Institute, IPCHS
9 January–5 February 2014
National Gallery of Slovenia