The two artists are indispensable figures in Slovene painting between the two wars. In 1903, both of them were among the founders of the short-lived, nationally oriented artists’ club Vesna. It is true that their paths did not diverge, but they belonged to different strata of society. Ivan Vavpotič (1877–1943), a graduate of the art academy in Prague, was a respected painter of well positioned middle class with the reputation of court painter to the Karađorđević dynastic family. In addition to magnificent salon portraits in grand manner he also perfectly mastered still lifes and plein-air motifs demonstrating impressionistic picturesque quality. His entire work is characterized by refined handling of light transitions and brilliant colours. As a skilled draughtsman he was also an excellent and witty illustrator of books. The well-educated and widely active cultural figure and commentator of contemporary art scene and a well-mannered gentleman was certainly a contrast to the younger Hinko Smrekar (1883–1942) who entered Slovene history of art as a perceptive caricaturist. He was exceptionally skilled as a draughtsman and printmaker and was one of the beginners of graphic arts in Slovenia. Rather than his decent education it was his penetrating ability and his utterly honest and unyielding nature that prevailed in his work. He was a caustic chronicler of his time. As a satirist, caricaturist and illustrator he relentlessly and harshly ridiculed hypocrisy and other vices of his contemporaries. With his critical insight he analysed the social and cultural situation of the time and made fun of petit bourgeois mentality by means of his engaged caricature. In his tireless, almost feverish creative activity he unmasked the inhuman capitalism and already called attention to the first signs of militarism. This was the main reason why the Italian occupation authorities, instigated by petit bourgeois interests of the locals, shot him as a hostage immediately after his arrest, without court procedure. Irrespective of how we look upon his satire today, his caricatures always address us with their eternal issues of social deviations. Besides having produced innumerable caricatures on a variety of subjects and illustrations, Smrekar also depicted many persons from cultural life. His caricatures tell us more about the person they present than even the best studio photograph, because only through Smrekar’s keen perception the depicted notables become recognizable personae.
Besides rendering the physiognomy in a caricatured way, the image of Smrekar’s fellow painter Ivan Vavpotič, dating from 1927, also underlines his profession. As the caption explains, Vavpotič is presented in the role of stage designer of the National Theatre in Ljubljana, where he was engaged some more than two years. His face in the caricature is typically long, with the typical beard and moustache, and he wears an exceedingly wide-brimmed hat reminiscent of Don Quixote’s. The caricaturist humorously emphasized the role of the stage designer, shod in ballet slippers, by adding a brush as big as a besom, and huge containers of paints. The sheet of paper Vavpotič holds in his hand probably alludes to a libretto which, being stage designer, he had to know well.
The presentation screens in the Permanent Collection.
5 May – 1 June 2016
National Gallery of Slovenia