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Exhibitions and Projects
13 June 2019–4 September 2019

Revelations, June 2019

New acquisition: Gvidon Birolla, Eagle's Nest

Painter and illustrator Gvidon Birolla (Trieste, 12 June 1881 – Ljubljana, 29 May 1963) was a representative of Slovenian Art Nouveau (Secession). Between 1901 and 1906 he studied art in Vienna: he first attended the K. K. Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, but after a year he enrolled in the Akademie der bildende Künste. He studied under Professor Christian Griepenkerl (1836−1916), who taught history painting. Under the same professor the famous Austrian painter Egon Schiele (1890−1918) studied from the autumn of 1906 onwards; of Slovenian artists Jurij Šubic (1855‒1895) and Ivan Žabota (1877−1939) were also among his students.

Apart from studying while he was in the Austro-Hungarian capital, Birolla also dedicated his efforts to national awakening activities and creative work: he was a co-founder of the Vesnaart club, a joint society of Slovenian and Croatian secondary-school and university students (it operated from 1902 on, but was formally founded on 9 May 1903). Serving as the first president of the society was painter Saša Šantel (1883−1945), and besides Birolla the following artists were among the most outstanding Slovenian memebers: painters Hinko Smrekar (1883−1942), Maksim Gaspari (1883−1980) and Fran Tratnik (1881−1957), and sculptors Svetoslav Peruzzi (1881−1936) and somewhat older Franc Berneker (1874−1932). Mentioned among the Croats should be sculptor Ivan Meštrović (1883−1962) and painters Tomislav Krizman (1882−1955) and Mirko Rački (1879−1982). The members followed the then fashionable Secession movement (Austrian Art Nouveau) and their slogan read From the people – for the people.  In terms of expression, the Vesna members were realists: characteristic of their visual language are linear drawing and explicit flat planes, whereas in terms of subject matter they systematically drew on folk material. In their depictions of Slovenian landscape and the local man within it, the Slovenian members of the club successfully conveyed also the Slovenian folk psyche.

The Vesna members were susceptible to the ideals which underlined artistic freedom and fin-de-siècle motifs. – Among the tasks taken on by the Vesna art society was organization of art exhibitions too. Because of the short functioning of the club (it formally operated only until 1906), they failed to organize an exhibition of their own; they only presented themselves as a group under the common name of Vesna at the 1st Yugoslav Art Exhibition in Belgrade in 1904. They were favourably accepted by the critics, and the sale was a success also for the 23-year-old Birolla: of his four exhibited pieces he sold three, one of these – Church on the Hill – to King Peter I Karađorđević.

After finishing his studies, Gvidon Birolla returned home and was active as artist in Škofja Loka and its surroundings. The motif of the Eagle' Nest, acquired by the National Gallery of Slovenia in 2018, was also taken from the Škofja Loka Hills. The painter signed his work but did not date it. It is possible to infer from the artist's life story and creative career that he painted it around 1910, when, due to unexpected circumstances, he had to take over the management of the family business and had less and less time for painting. After 1917 he wilfully gave up art activities for slightly more than twenty years. Shortly before the Second World War he resumed painting practice and won recognition particularly as a successful and much liked illustrator, while he repeated on his canvases mainly variations of the themes that had artistically attracted him during his first creative period.

Works of art by Gvidon Birolla are imbued with Secessionist comprehension and inspired by folk motifs and village originals. They are characteristic for pure lines, limited colour planes, suffocated colouring and quite often the choice of unusual viewing point. His specific style, pervaded by homeliness and fairy-tale atmosphere, is easily recognizable.

Mojca Jenko

Translated by
Alenka Klemenc
13 June 2019–4 September 2019
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana