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Exhibitions and Projects
3 January – 10 February 2019

Revelations, January, 2019

Ivana Kobilca: Mira Pintar and Young Women in White

“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.

Michel Mohor

3 January – 10 February 2019
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana