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Exhibitions and Projects
7 September – 4 October 2017

Revelations, September 2017

Ivana Kobilca and the Kessler Salon

After Marija Kessler had moved to Ljubljana with her husband and four young daughters, the family regularly hosted Slovenian intellectuals and participants in Slovenian Modernism in their apartment at today’s Prešernova 4 and in their villa under Osojnica in Bled.

The Kessler salon, knowingly or not, followed a long line of bourgeoisie gatherings that from the French Enlightenment onwards presented a melting pot of class and vocations, an arena of ideas and views, and a web of acquaintances, friendships and romance.

Salons gave rise to women hosts and women participants. Until the 20th century, women education was restricted to home economics, religion and teaching, and salons represented a unique opportunity for women to be exposed to avant-garde ideas. The hosts opened their homes and thoughtfully invited guests, housed them, introduced them to each other, read their letters aloud and kept in contact through regular correspondence.

Salon was not limited to a salla, a hall. Faster and reliable postal network meant that letters, followed by postcards, telegrams, and photographs travelled to places large and small, wherever the people stopped. Preserved examples of correspondence partially reveal salons’ dynamics, but mostly present jottings of personal relationships that inspired artists.

If Marija Kessler was the host of the salon, then her daughters and their friends were its soul. Mici and Ani Kessler and their younger sisters Vera and Slava, Melitta Levec, Dana Kobler, and Mira Pintar inspired artists such as Ivan Cankar, Oton Župančič, and Ivana Kobilca.

Ivan Cankar fell in love with Mici Kessler and dedicated to her the character of Milena in his short novel Novo življenje (New Life) and a collection of short stories Za križem (After the Cross). Parts of his triptych Volja in moč (Will and Power) are named after Melitta Levec, Mira Pintar and Dana Kobler.

Oton Župančič and Ani Kessler fell in love with each other and were married. She and their three children were one of the greatest inspirations for the poet.

In the period between 1907 and the First World War, when the Kessler salon was most active, Ivana Kobilca was living in Berlin, but during her stays in homeland, and also later, she portrayed many of the participants. Most well-known are her portraits of Mici Čop, née Kessler, Ani Župančič, née Kessler, her husband Oton Župančič, Dana Golia, née Kobler, and Mira Pintar, Kobilca's niece. It was Mira Pintar, together with Cankar, who introduced Kobilca into the Kessler circle, where the painter found new patrons. She visited the Kesslers in Ljubljana and in Bled and hosted them during her stay in Bohinjska Bela. Her portraits of the members of the Kessler salon are a testament to an exceptionally productive period of Slovenian art and complement the eternal triangle between the muses, literature, and fine arts.

Michel Mohor

7 September – 4 October 2017
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana