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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 6 Jan. – 1 Feb. 2022

Revelations: Matija Jama (1872−1947)


Matija Jama, Slovenian impressionist painter most worldly of his generation, was born a hundred and fifty years ago. So dedicated to landscape and the countryside has perhaps been only Ivan Grohar, although in a very different manner. The samples of other genres are rather rare in Jama's oeuvre. They are limited to the field studies of types (heads or full-scale "studies" of the shepherds and peasant girls of Bela krajina).The second group consists of images of people connected with his family. We can safely argue that Jama did not paint public portraits. An outstanding exception are the unique Portrait of Leo Souvan, 1900, and a depiction of his sister Portrait of Rozi Bleiweis with Children, 1901. Both are on view in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Slovenia, New Wing. Jama took the commission of his friend and patron as a professional assignment, cast it into the modernist Art Nouveau mould and at the same time dignified the image of a self-confident socialite, a member of the social elite of Ljubljana.

Almost all other portraits known today remained in the artist's bequest, so they must certainly be images of his immediate entourage. Among them are also thirteen of all-together fifteen known self-portraits. In the ACH Collection, today part of the National Gallery's holdings, there are four female portraits and three self-portraits that must belong to the "family images". The model in the portrait of a dark curly-haired young woman has not been identified. Frontal bust of the girl in a dark dress is executed with the unleashed silhouette and emancipated brushstroke. The dark tone of her hair and dress extrapolates the tan of her face and the lowered neckline. The smaller portrait in three-quarter profile is of painter's elder daughter Madelaine, reunited with her father in 1938. Taken in a close-up with cropped contour is painted in a very different manner, although probably at the same time. The elongated brushstrokes model the volumes and extoll the blush of her cheeks, while the whole is tempered in colour and well balanced in tone. The remaining two portraits perhaps belong to the same sitter, most likely Agnes, the younger daughter who visited the artist with her mother in 1939. The sombre and tempered image is articulated with rather long brushstrokes and dulled palette. As though lacking the depth of field, the face is sharply defined, while the peripheral areas lend a sense of incompleteness. Particularly outstanding is the portrait in a white shirt and with an asymmetrical hairdo. By repetition of the facial outline parallel to the picture surface, Jama produced an extremely modern painting that in tackling of painting problems announces the solutions of the second half of the 20th century.

Jama's faces seem as specimens under a microscope offered to the mercy of the painter's gaze, particularly when looking at the self-portraits. All three of them were included in the 1974 exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art. The dark bust with a ray of light from the right could be dated to the late 1920s. The improvised make of the stretcher that holds the board indicates that there was no definitive purpose to the artist's intentions. It was rather an experiment. Quite differently touches us the stern face with spectacles. However, the crudely expanded shoulder line indicates its state of un-finish. The small, brightly lit image, although described in the 1974 catalogue as unfinished, touches us vividly and expressively. It manifests a tremendously confident painting routine, which pulls out the crucial elements of the painter's physiognomy by suggestive and broad brushstrokes. That paint handling chronologically corresponds to the actual realisms of the 1930s, while the gestural laying on of the basic colours that at the same time determine the light and the shaded areas are appreciated by today's viewers who draw from the experience of gestural painting of the second half of the 20th century.

Andrej Smrekar

Presented: 6 January 2022, 6 pm.

6 January – 1 February 2022
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana