The National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana, purchased a small-scale clay sculpture, Girl with a Pussycat, by Ivan Zajec from a private art gallery in 2011. The acquisition joined the sculptor's plaster Portrait of a Girl and a number of his sketchbook drawings of girls already belonging to the Gallery's holdings. The sculptor seems to have been quite fond of depicting motifs with little girls.
Ivan Zajec (1869–1952) oeuvre contains numerous small-scale figural sculptures of genre subject matter, which he preferably made of plaster and terracotta. Belonging to this type are also the realistic plaster waist-length Portrait of a Girl and the small-scale clay sculpture Girl with a Pussycat. The face of the girl in the latter sculpture is softened by its gentle childlike features, her loveliness is further enhanced by her hairdo. The playful forms originate from a specific intimate mood of the arrested moment. The sculptor’s feeling of the material, i.e.clay, even leaves a permanent mark on it: his fingerprints. The rich imagination of Zajec, teeming with playful ideas, suggestive ease and sometimes also childishly naive sentiment, found its fullest expression in works like these.
Zajec also made drawings of girlish figures in different postures almost as full-page sketches in his sketchbook, which he completed by degrees. It contains five sheets of smaller dimensions, fastened subsequently at the beginning and featuring the motif of a woman dancer, and seventeen bigger sheets with different drawings. The artist mainly drew full-page studies of female figures, animal motifs, ornamental patterns and architectural elements. He later filled the void around bigger drawings with miniature figures. He presented his girls with characteristic hairstyle – their hair is fastened into buns, plaited or loose, and decorated with a ribbon or a bow – and dressed in girls’ frocks and pinafores as standing figures, or seated reading, or absorbed in play. He inscribed some of his eleven playful and jovial girls with his models’ names: Vilma, Ada, Elvira, Vida … In some cases the face and the arms with hands are rendered in softer drawing, while pencil strokes are stronger when describing the falling folds of the draperies; in other cases the entire figure is delineated with a more vigorous contour.
The sketchbook with the preparatory drawings of girls dates from the time when the plaster Portrait of a Girl and the terracotta Girl with a Pussycat were executed. The latter sculpture is signed Jean Zajec at the back, which indicates that it was made around the year 1906, thus at the time when the sculptor was staying in Paris between 1906 and 1909.
Mateja Breščak, Martina Vuga
Translated and proofread by
6 June–1 September 2013
National Gallery of Slovenia