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Exhibitions and Projects
5. March–1. April 2020

Revelations, March 2020

Smrekar and Gaspari. Caricatures of Slovenian Artists

On Christmas Day 1926, Ilustrirani Slovenec (The Slovenian Illustrated, a weekly addition to the daily) published Hinko Smrekar's self-caricature and caricature of his colleague Maksim Gaspari to introduce the house caricaturists of the year. The cooperation lasted through the next year, too. In 2018, the National Gallery of Slovenia purchased two caricatures, one of Rihard Jakopič and one of Matija Jama, painted by Maksim Gaspari, which had appeared in the illustrated periodical on 3 May 1925. Smrekar's portrayals are focused on the existential circumstances and the characters of the two artists, while Gaspari's are a response to the specific events in artistic life of Ljubljana. At that time Jakopič conceived his large canvas The Blind Man. Around that time, Matija Jama returned to Ljubljana from Belgrade after his efforts in the capital of the new country had come to nothing. The impressionist generation thus re-entered the local scene.

It is reasonable to argue that the Slovenian caricature surfaced by the participation of the Vesna Art Club members in the satirical periodicals Jež (The Hedgehog, 1902–1909) and Osa (The Wasp, 1905–1906). The prose-writer-and-linguist Fran Levstik's Pavliha (The Joker, 1869–1870) might have been the model for Slovenian satirical papers throughout the first half of the -20th century, but the editor had to hire a Czech caricaturist, Karl Klíč (1841–1926). The members of the Vesna Club were the first generation of artists that entered the political scene through caricature and took a critical stance towards any social deviation regardless of its political origin. Rapprochement with the men of letters, where the cutting edge belonged to cooperation between the writer and dramatist Ivan Cankar and Hinko Smrekar, sharpened satire as an effective weapon in the hands of Slovenian intelligentsia.

It is a pertinent question whether the first subjects of the caricature were the artists or not. The physiognomic studies of the Renaissance were not really caricatures in their own right, while the visual pranks and teasers have been part-and-parcel of art studio life from time immemorial. Wonderful examples of the kind can be found in the sketchbooks of Janez Šubic (1850–1889), who was no stranger also to self-irony. The first concept of Cankar’s book Krpanova kobila (Krpan's Mare; 1906–1907) was based on the caricatures of the Slovenian moguls of cultural life, several artists among them. Smrekar masterfully synthesised them into the Masquerade of Slovenian Literati and the Masquerade of Slovenian Artists in 1913. For the effort, invested in the execution of those two drawings, he couldn't have expected an adequate reward, so he mused over the possibilities of having them reproduced and sold at lower price in larger volume. Gaspari solved the problem by drawing myriads of pastels on paper framed in pompous frames, as one can see in his Slovenian Madonnas exhibited in 1917.

For a draughtsman it was highly urgent to find a job of an illustrator with a periodical in order to survive. Gaspari practically singlehandedly covered the entire initial year of The Slovenian Illustrated. Smrekar joined him in 1926. It seems that the post-1900 generation thus reached its second — and the last ― climax. Jama endeared himself to the Slovenian bourgeoisie with his Gorenjsko landscapes and Lake Bled in particular, while Jakopič heightened his grandiloquence with social allegory that had started with The Blind Man. Of the Vesna Art Club Smrekar and Gaspari were the last active members that kept pace through caricature. Before the decade drew to a close, younger generations took control of the Slovenian art scene.
Author
Andrej Smrekar
5. March−1. April 2020
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana