Rihard Jakopič diligently saved all kinds of documents not only of his family but also archival material which documents the formation and early history of Slovenian modern art. One of the segments of his archive is a collection of photographs, limited mainly to portraits, certainly, but in addition to a number of most important photographers of the early history of Slovenian photography, some very interesting experimental works can also be found among them.
The grandparents and parents of Rihard Jakopič built a promising family business for growing and fermenting cabbage out of a humble peasant property in Krakovo suburb of Ljubljana. They did not commission painted portraits of themselves but they did pose in front of a camera from time to time as soon as photographic services became available in Ljubljana. Some of the family portraits were made already during the 1860s and in the family chest we can find logos of almost every important photographic studio in Ljubljana.
The young student in the Ažbe art school in Munich hastily purchased a photo camera. On his father's request he summarized his study expenses for past fourteen years in July of 1902. Among the items of his list were a photo camera and other photographic equipment. His photos of the 1895 earthquake devastation, as well as of his wife in natural environment from Škofja Loka ten years later, or naked boys bathing in the Gradaščica brook, were published in 1970. The photo taken from the Krakovo Quai with the view of Žabjak and Šentjakob was definitely taken by the painter himself. Less certain is the authorship of the Ažbe Art School with three unidentified students. There he met a colleague painter, Nadežda Petrovič, his friend until her premature death in 1915. Nadežda was an excellent photographer. Jakopič and Grohar stayed with her family in Belgrade several times. The group photograph was probably taken in 1906 during the Yugoslav Art Colony campaign. The almost overlooked exhibition of the colony was documented by Milovan Jovanović, the court photographer and brother of the painter Paja Jovanović. His photographs in the Jakopič Bequest are the only concrete documents of the exhibition which indicate how Grohar used the same hanging system in the fall of that year for the staging of the exhibition in Trieste.
The photographer Avgust Berthold was a close friend of Jakopič in Škofja Loka and in Ljubljana. His gum bichromate portrait photographs differ from the "official" ones known today by the experimental audacity in the model's pose as well as technically, since the use of red pigment is rather unusual. These circumstances put a new perspective on their friendship and creative mutuality.
Another important photographer was Fran Vesel, who was the chronicler of the beginning of artistic life in Ljubljana not just through his camera lens but also as collector of relevant information and documents. Besides the large portrait of Jakopič he produced a number of photos taken in the Jakopič Pavilion, where he tried to capture a more intimate image of the master, founder and manager. These photographs have been undisclosed for almost a century. Vesel's photographs of various exhibitions in the Pavilion are of great documentary importance.
In his later years, when Jakopič was likened to the image of Moses, he had his portraits made by important photographers as well. Veličan Bešter and Fran Krašovec made his portraits on his 60th anniversary in 1929. Bešter limited himself to studio portraits of his prominent physiognomy, while Krašovec produced a series of images of the artist in his studio, where Jakopič looked like a biblical prophet. Ante Kornič photographed him almost ten years later when Anton Podbevšek prepared the monograph on the artist. Jakopič’s photos from the studio have been well known ever since, but Kornič made a veritable reportage on the old artist and his daily whereabouts. The last in line was the artist Miha Maleš. His extraordinary series of the aged man in an arched courtyard adorned with flower pots was taken only a year before Jakopič’death. Maleš also photographed him on his death-bed. That funerary portrait represents the disappearance of the long tradition started by the arts and taken over by photography. Maleš's companion on the occasion was Božidar Jakac who produced two etchings as a farewell to Moses.
1 October–4 November 2015
National Gallery of Slovenia