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Exhibitions and Projects
7 June–5 September 2018

Revelations, June 2018

Biedermeier Children Portraits

The period of Biedermeier demonstrates a special interest in portraying children as unique and specific individuals. Particularly portraits of children began to thrive in secular painting, which was a logical result of the overall flourishing of portraiture that had been triggered off by the bourgeoisie after the French Revolution. Children portraits, like portraits of adults, became a question of social status. It was also the time when the middle-class society was focused on idyllic family life concentrated on children.

Among the Slovenian Biedermeier painters it was particularly Matevž Langus (1792–1855) that quickly, skilfully and successfully adapted his work to the demands of his clients. From the 1820s onwards he was one of the most sought-after portraitists of children. Typical of Langus’ portraiture are oil portraits which show a topographically recognizable veduta in the background. Although at first sight it seems that his portrait schemes of children rely to a great extent on the patterns of his adult portraits, his portrayals of the young ones nevertheless have certain specific features in common. As a rule, children are presented in full length, mainly in a seated position. Almost always attributes of childhood are added – toys and different animals in the same role. In contrast to adult portraits, those of children also include emphasized floral symbolism.

In terms of formal questions, the central attention is always given to children’s figures which, as a rule, occupy the foreground. This attention is achieved by careful and emphasized plastic modelling of children’s faces and bodies as well as by exact description of details of their clothing and attributes. The landscape backgrounds are always topographically identifiable. However, the detailed and smooth painting manner in children’s figures has no equivalent continuation in the landscape. Even if we allow for the effects of atmospheric perspective, the backgrounds seem too dull and schematized. The landscape image serves as a geographical attribute within the coordinates of the adult world and is reasonably shifted far into the background. The children’s phantasy world is enclosed within palpably painted leaves of grass and a web of gaily coloured flowers of the home garden – the “miraculous” garden – which is the most frequent setting for children’s portraits.

The painting Two Children is the epitome of all the stated characteristics. The portrayed children have not been identified yet, but in the background to the left the outline of the Rožnik hill with the church can be recognized, which indicates Ljubljana as the home place of the sitters. The garden architecture behind the children acts as a safe shelter. The small dog in the picture implies children’s play and adds animated genre content to the portrait. Forget-me-nots, which occur as an attribute of unspoiled memories of carefree childhood in all portraits of children in outdoor settings, are also included in the present picture – meaningful are those in the hands of the younger child, being so small that it is only trying to stand on its feet. The memory of helplessness and elementariness of the earliest childhood is also evoked by the nakedness of the young sitters. Roses next to the elder girl were also a compulsory addition, but not only in children’s portraits but also in those of adults, women in particular.

The painting is not dated, but according to the shortcomings in anatomy and formal characteristics it can be ranked with Langus’ early works, those that were executed around 1830. Particularly rewarding is comparison with his portrait of an unidentified young lady kept in the museum in Novo mesto. In both pictures the same troubles with proportions and other difficulties of a beginner can be observed, together with formal synchronicity in details, such as the way of painting the roses or the ornaments on fabrics. The two canvases are also almost identical in size. However, only further investigations on the basis of the stated indications can possibly disclose content- and client-related connections between the two portraits and lead to reliable identification of the sitters.

Kristina Preininger

Translated by
Alenka Klemenc

7 June–5 September 2018
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana