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Exhibitions and Projects
Exhibition | 26 May – 2 Oct. 2022

The Sculptor Ivan Štrekelj (1916–1975)

Ivan Štrekelj belongs to the first generation of sculpture students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, founded immediately after the Second World War, and to the generation of artists who worked in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a prominent figuralist, mainly depicting girls, rarely men. He created in stone, fired clay, wood, plaster and bronze.

Ivan Štrekelj was born in 1916 to a railway worker father and a homemaker mother in Glince, Ljubljana. At the age of seven, he became deaf due to meningitis. Between 1924 and 1932 he visited the National Institute for the Deaf and Speech-Disabled on Zaloška cesta in Ljubljana, where his drawing teacher Ivan Erbežnik gave him full attention and encouraged him to create. He spent his secondary school years (1932−1935) at the Technical Secondary School, where his professor of sculpture and carving was France Kralj. Kralj apparently recognized his talents, since Štrekelj stayed with him for another year after finishing school. It was then that he decided to study sculpture at the Academy in Belgrade, where he successfully passed the entrance exams in 1938. He studied with the Serbian sculptor Sreten Stojanović and received high grades. Due to the Second World War, he interrupted his studies, returned to Ljubljana in 1941 and made a living working in the Kunovar Stonemasonry at Žale in Ljubljana. This experience was important for his craft, as he became well-versed in working with various stones. In the academic year 1945/1946 he enrolled in the 3rd year of the newly-established Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana. Among his professors, the most famous were already-established artists and sculptors who studied at Zagreb and other academies and who were members of the Independent art group, founded in 1937. Professors Frančišek Smerdu and Boris Kalin left the strongest mark on Štrekelj's work. Smerdu later entrusted Štrekelj with the carving of his own sculptural drafts, showing respect for his skills in stone sculpture.

After completing the specialist course in 1949, the sculptor set on an ambitious work programme and realized the best, most mature works in his oeuvre with his characteristic quiet, intimate and autobiographical messages. His most significant pieces are: Monument to the Hostages (1952), Deluge (1954), Sitting Girl with a Book (1959), Repose I (1956), Torso of a Girl (1956), Repose II (1957), Washing Her Hair (Girl Washing Herself, 1957), Youth (1957), A Necklace (1957). In 1952 he made his most famous public monument, the Monument to the Hostages in Rožna dolina in Ljubljana, which was executed in the spirit of socialist realist monuments.

Štrekelj female figures are corpulent, with stronger hips and thighs, depicted in a standing, sitting, squatting or lying position. Portraits occupy a special place in his body of work – they are the largest in number and the sculptor mostly made them to order. Štrekelj was a great and attentive portraitist of patrons, friends and their children. 

In 1962, Stojan Batič invited Štrekelj to take part in the construction of the monument to Boris Kidrič in Maribor. Already in 1958, in Maribor, Štrekelj sculpted a high relief for the Monument to the Fighters for the Northern Border, designed by Drago Tršar.

Štrekelj's motifs were mainly realistic portraits and sensitive female nudes inspired by the French sculptor Aristide Maillol. Sensory specificity strongly marked his work and prevented him from integrating fully into the social and artistic world. His works convey a restrained confession of helplessness, silence and loneliness. Štrekelj died in 1975 in a tragic accident while crossing the railway line in Tivoli park in Ljubljana.

Forty statues, sixteen works on paper and one oil painting are presented at the exhibition, as well as photographs of three public monuments and four tombstones. This exhibition marks the first occasion Štrekelj's creative path is presented in a monographic exhibition.

Authors of the exhibition
Mateja Breščak, Petra Rezar

Project leader
Mateja Breščak

Conservation-restoration works for the exhibition
Tina Buh, Andreja Ravnikar, Erica Sartori, Martina Vuga

Exhibition and graphic design
Ranko Novak

The works of art were loaned by
National Gallery of Slovenia
Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana
Železniki Museum – Public Institution of Ratitovec
private collectors
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clubs Association of Slovenia

The project was supported by

26 May – 2 October 2022
National Gallery of Slovenia
Narodni dom Gallery
Cankarjeva 20
1000 Ljubljana