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Exhibitions and Projects
9 May–2 June 2013

Revelations, May 2013

The Function of Photography: The case of Matej Sternen

In the next generation of the Slovenian impressionists photography took over the functions that were traditionally associated with drawing. Landscape, which became the dominant genre of Slovene painting after 1903, is less dependent on drawing skills, although it has to be noted that with the exception of Matija Jama between 1903 and the end of the First World War no Impressionist completely refrained from the figure. Among them, Matej Sternen is the painter in whose oeuvre the landscape never outweighed the human figure. His legacy contains a whole series of photographic plates and vintage photographs, some of which date to Ažbe's school in Munich before 1900, which were used by the painter for decades as models for his preparatory drawings, studies, and finished paintings.

Even the earliest photographs can be linked to the actual works in Sternen's oeuvre. Immediately recognisable is the nude with raised arms, which is also found in full length in a graphic version. The photographic plate is interesting mostly because on the left we can peek behind the screen into Ažbe's teaching studio with an easel and paintings hung on the wall. Nude from the back was also taken on the same spot and we can add some other photographs to them. The photographs are usually cropped, limited mostly to the figure, with the context completely lost, which determines very clearly the painters' interest in photography. Even more telling are some samples in the Museum of Modern Art where he folded all four margins of a photograph to frame the composition.

Sternen's application of photography does not deviate substantially from that of his colleagues. Because of his preoccupation with the human figure, the evidence of it is greater than with other painters. Different ways of its application show that "the mechanic reproduction technique" mostly replaced the function of graphic template and drawing, so these kinds of photographs are ranked as studio material at the turn of the century that was becoming ever more important for the establishment of modern painting method. It is also close to Jakopič's manner of compositional development in drawing during his sojourn in Munich. In this we see, with Jakopič and especially with Sternen, the practical application of Ažbe's advice to his students to draw with colour. Most photographs can be tentatively attributed to Sternen himself since there is no reliable evidence for corroboration of authorship.

Author
Andrej Smrekar

Proofreading
Alenka Klemenc

9 May–2 June 2013
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana