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Exhibitions and Projects

Revelations, November 2018

They were Gorizians. The Great War and the Šantel family of artists

In the recent few years the National Gallery of Slovenia has been intensely organizing and digitizing its special collections of personal archives of artists and their fellows. This collection also includes a voluminous correspondence of the Šantel family, which, however, is only part of the family archive, since the other part is privately owned.

The above-mentioned material also contains a war diary written in the ethnically mixed city of Gorizia in German shorthand by Avgusta Šantel Sr (1852–1935). The entries date from 23 May to 16 June, 1915, when, due to incessant Italian attacks, the family decided to leave their beloved home city. They put off the departure from day to day, waiting for Avgusta Jr (1876–1968) to join them from Pola, where she was employed as a teacher at the Imperial and Royal War Navy. They wanted to leave Gorizia in a body.

After 25 June, the following members of the family left the “Austrian Nice”, as Gorizia was popularly called at that time: the 63-year-old mother, Avgusta Sr (descended from impoverished Austrian nobility, a painter, relative of the Gorizian Biedermeier painter Jožef Tominc), the 70-year-old father, Anton (a patriotic Slovene of peasant origin, retired grammar-school teacher of mathematics and physics, music lover), and the daughters – the 41-year-old Henrika (a painter), the 39-year-old Avgusta Jr (a drawing and music teacher, painter, violinist) and the 28-year-old sickly Danica (a needlework teacher, gifted for painting and music). On leaving, the Šantels were convinced they would be back by October. They left the care for all their Gorizian property to their maid and the acquaintance Eva Mlekuž as well as the care for Mother’s  relative Marjeta Domide (née Jesenko) who was unable to set out on the way because of ill health. The first station on their refugee wandering was in Ljubljana. The Šantels stayed in the city for eight days, after which they went on to Dolenjske Toplice where a suitable dwelling awaited them.

Ample evidence of how the Šantel family experienced their refugee situation is provided by the correspondence exchanged during the war between the family members and their close relatives or friends and acquaintances. The Šantel parents and sisters frequently corresponded with Saša (1883‒1945), their son and brother respectively, whom Mother called Alexander. He lived with his family in Istria (Pazin, Sušak) and had artistic talents too ‒ he was a painter and illustrator, violist, composer, choirmaster, and also stage and costume designer. In his letters the son often advised Mother how to act and decide in difficult situations they had to face; among other things he also warned against leaving their paintings in Gorizia but rather to get them out of frames and take them along in rolls.

After four months the refugee family Šantel left Dolenjske Toplice and moved to Vienna on account of Danica's illness. Mother's sister Henrietta, the widow of the famous physicist Dr. Ludwig Boltzmann (PhD student of Josef Stefan, the Slovenian professor at the University of Vienna), was living in the capital and saw to it that the niece was received at the sanatorium for pulmonary diseases at Alland already on the 2nd of November. Since Danica’s treatment dragged on and the distance of the health resort from Vienna was a logistical problem, the Šantels moved to a rented house in nearby Groisbach in the first weeks of 1916. Although Danica was given several therapies at Alland, they did not cure her and after a few months she was discharged from the sanatorium. Meanwhile, military authorities summoned Avgusta Jr to come and teach in a refugee camp; she chose Steinklamm near Rabenstein, where the refugees were mainly locals of the Littoral and Istria.

The Šantel family saw no reason why they should continue at Groisbach. So they decided to return to the Slovenian territory. They bought a villa with orchard near Krško and moved there before the end of March 1917. They finally had a home of their own again, on their own land. The peaceful milieu suited them well: Father Anton devoted himself to fruit growing; they were again close to their acquaintances – the refugees from Gorizia; the daughters resumed painting; and also Saša with his family was closer by. However, they did not enjoy the Krško villa long: on the 23rd of February, 1918, it burnt down and they were homeless once again. At the end of the Great War, the Šantels were living in Krško as tenants.

In April 1920 Father Anton (born 1845) died, in May 1921 Danica (born 1885) died too. Henrika (1874‒1940) and Mother then left Krško and joined Avgusta Jr, who was a teacher at a secondary school in Maribor.

After the war, also Saša left Istria and moved with his family to Ljubljana in 1920. At the State Crafts School he took up the post of a teacher of decorative drawing and graphic arts. On his persuasion, the Maribor part of the family also moved to Ljubljana in the early 1930s, after Augusta Jr had retired. Mother and the two daughters bought a villa with a garden in Verstovškova (today’s Teslova) street. Their new home finally enabled them to live a calm family life for which the Šantels had longed fifteen years.

The former Gorizians never returned to their beloved city, which had been destroyed during the war and, according to the Treaty of Rapallo, belonged to Italy afterwards.

Mojca Jenko

Alenka Klemenc

8 November – 5 December 2018
Narodna galerija
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana