In the Slovene village of Poljane nad Škofjo Loko, a painting and sculptural workshop of Štefan Šubic (1820–1884) was active in the nineteenth century. Its tradition goes back to the late-Baroque workshop of his father, Pavel Šubic. Štefan had eight children; five of them were boys and all of them carried on their grandfather's and father's trade. However, only Janez (1850–1889) and Jurij (1855–1890) managed to create art on the level of European quality. They were well acquainted with artistic currents in great art centres of Europe, and their works notwithstanding the fact that they were based on the postulates of the ideals of classical art and in spite of conventionality of public commissions introduced the standards of the new time into the Slovene artistic milieu. This is best expressed in their studies, whether drawings, oils or watercolours, which, with their attraction for plein-air and relaxed strokes, testify to their individual inspiration. From their early academic style of painting they progressed to a realistic interpretation of motifs. This holds true particularly of the younger brother Jurij, who found a visit to France most inspiring and liberating. In 1883, he was, as the first Slovene, accepted to the Paris Salon with praise. In the field of drawing, the Šubic brothers were also pioneers in high quality Slovene book illustration; they participated with great success especially to the journals Zvon and Slovan.
Within the sphere of religious painting, the two pictures featuring the same motif of the Adoration of the Magi, one by Janez, the other by Jurij, introduce a new sense of formal and colour freshness into the sacred theme. The paintings no longer depend on the Nazarene aesthetic principles, but they reveal direct modelling on earlier, i.e. Renaissance art, suggestive Venetian painting in the first place, thus demonstrating the elements of realistic handling of form and content. With their search for beauty and classical harmony, the two painters surpass mere craftsmanship, so that they helped to improve local art and elevate it above the anaemic production of their time. And more: in addition to innovations introduced to formal elements and the interplay of colours and light, their figures in altarpieces are also psychologically persuasive.
The work of the Šubic brothers, unfortunately prematurely brought to an end, was an important turning point for further development of progressive artistic currents. We can conclude with the fact, already known, that the painting of Janez and Jurij Šubic opened the door for realism in the visual art in the Slovene lands and pointed the way to the four Slovene impressionists.
8 May–4 June 2014
National Gallery of Slovenia