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We remember

Rihard Jakopič (1869−1943)

On the 150th anniversary of his birth

Jakopič is an outstanding personage in Slovenian art. He earned a special place in the Pantheon of our artists not only as a painter but also as a man who strategically integrated art into a broader social context.

Rihard Jakopič was born in Trnovo quarter in Ljubljana on 12 April 1869, into the family of an ambitious vegetable grower, Franc Jakopič, and his wife, Neža, as their eighth child. In 1887 he left for Vienna to study painting there, but after two completed academic years he moved to Munich, a city that made a decisive impact on him. There he kept company with fellow painters Ferdo Vesel, Anton Ažbe and Matija Jama. He kept visiting the Bavarian capital, or mostly lived there until 1900 when he returned to Ljubljana. A year earlier he co-founded the Slovenian Artists Association and jointly with the members organized the first Slovenian art exhibition (1900). In 1903, soon after the hostile reception of the second Slovenian art exhibition of the previous year, he moved to Škofja Loka. He went to Prague for a few months, and after his return he joined organizational works for the exhibition of Slovenian Impressionists to be held in the Miethke Salon in Vienna early in 1904.  That same year he married Ana Czerny and continued to paint in Škofja Loka, together with Ivan Grohar and Matej Sternen. With Grohar and Matija Jama he also exhibited in the Vienna Secession the following year.

In 1906 he returned to Ljubljana and remained there to the end of his life. Jointly with Matej Sternen, he opened a drawing and painting school in 1907; it operated until the outbreak of the First World War. In 1909, with the permission of the Municipality of Ljubljana, the painter erected his own pavilion (hence called 'Jakopič Pavilion') on the city's plot in Tivoli Park. This was the first permanent art gallery in Slovenia. He soon organized the first historical overview of Slovenian painting in his pavilion. In 1918 he helped to found the National Gallery Society which in two years' time managed to mount its first permanent exhibition. During the Great War and its aftermath Jakopič and the rest of Ljubljana's townspeople faced shortage, and in 1923 he managed to sell his pavilion to the Municipality, which in turn gave it away to the National Gallery Society the following year. When the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts was founded in 1938, he became a member of its Arts section. The painter died on the 21st of April, 1943, aged seventy-four.

Rihard Jakopič was the key player in the setting up of Slovenian modern art and all mechanisms that go with such a feat. With the help of Ferdo Vesel he managed to persuade Anton Ažbe to open a painting school in Munich, in which the later Slovenian Impressionists came together. When he saw one of the paintings by Ivan Grohar in a shop-window in Ljubljana, he went to look for the artist at his home in Gorenjska region (Upper Carniola) and encouraged him to delve into European Impressionisms. By exhibitions in his pavilion and his activity in the National Gallery Society he helped the native fine arts to pass into history. In his written (and oral) criticism he made a stand on his own and other painters’ modern art language. With his help, domestic art market was started (which, however, still remains weak).

In terms of painting, his scope of interest in subject matter was limited: from the birch trees of Škofja Loka, the Sava River between Tacen and Črnuče, and motifs of Ljubljana, to visions of life in private. Initially, he combined the principal doctrines of Impressionism (painting before the motif, sketchiness, primacy of perception) with symbolism and Art Nouveau, while in later years he became increasingly expressive (“Do not make an object but a vision.”). Together with Grohar, Jama and Sternen, Jakopič was the pioneer of modern painting in Slovenia, and jointly with them “set up the apparatus of Slovenian Impressionism” the purpose of which was “to express the deepest revelation of the human soul”.

In 2019, we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Rihard Jakopič, an outstanding personality of Slovenian art, an excellent painter and one of the founders of the National Gallery of Slovenia.

Edited by
Michel Mohor
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana