“Auntie painted me, that’s why
we’re running late a bit late,” explained Mira Pintar to her mother Marija in a letter
from Berlin of summer 1913, where she vacationed for weeks with Marija’s sister
Ivana Kobilca. The visit by the young relative was crucial for the painter, who
after years of health problems again began to paint more ambitiously and
started to think about exhibiting.
The portrait of Mira Pintar
reflects moderate middle-class modernism that defined Kobilca’s oeuvre since the
late 1880s, when she lived in Munich. Already then the motif of young women in
white was common in the Bavarian capital. Symbolist mythological, religious,
historical and fairy-tale scenes of dreamy girls, often depicted (semi)nude,
shared their iconography with Realist bourgeois portraiture: the white dress
was a symbol of the pure, the eternal and the innocent, while the woman’s
self-confident gaze, youth and beauty stood for the sexualized corporality.
The conflict between the
female flesh and the female ideal attracted (male) writers and visual artists
for millennia. Vestal Virgins, the caretakers of the central hearth in Rome and
the guardians of Roman welfare, wore a white stola like Roman matrons, while
their hairdo was arranged in a wedding-day style. Also Mary, Mother of Jesus,
and other Christian female saints were depicted in white and bright garments
when they stood for the fiancée from the Song of Solomon, where her
betrothed uses almost erotic similes to describe her; among others, he equates
her with a lily among the thorns (SoS 2:2). But the beauty of a young female
could also bring trouble. Hesiodus thus describes Pandora, the first woman:
“For the renowned Lame One moulded from Gaia a likeness / of majestic maiden
through the plans of Kronides. / Goddess grey-eyed Athena girded and dressed
her / in a silvery white garment. Down from her head, she drew / with her hands
a veil skilfully wrought, a wonder to behold.
… For from her is the descent of female women
/ for the race and tribes of women are destructive, / a great pain for mortals,
living with men, ... (Hesiod, The Theogony, 571–575 and 590–592).
Kobilca draped in white both
anonymous models (A Dutchwoman, Parisian Woman with a Letter -
maybe German painter Maria Slavona?) and patrons from bourgeois families
(Baumgartner, Souvan, Bussjäger, Arndt, Šlajmer, Povše). She mostly employed
pastel for these works that reflect contemporary fashion style.
The refinement, relaxed
brushstroke and Secession style of Mira Pintar render it superior to all other Kobilca's pictures of
this genre. The portrait firmly places Kobilca besides her Slovenian colleagues
(Ivan Vavpotič, Rihard Jakopič, Matej Sternen, among others) and her European
role models, especially Wilhelm Leibl (1844–1900) and Albert Weisgerber (1878–1915);
theirs and other similar works were exhibited at the Berlin Secession and the
art gallery of Paul Cassirer that Kobilca frequented.