Ninety years ago, after considerable time and effort, a group of educated Slovenes of different vocations finally came together to establish a National Gallery Society, tasked with collecting and exhibiting Slovene art both past and present. Unlike other similar European institutions, the National Gallery still had no collection. The history of the organisation and consolidation of the National Gallery Society, its progress to the status of national institution and its variegated activities were publicly presented ten years ago when the Gallery celebrated its eightieth anniversary. This time the exhibition and catalogue look back to the very beginnings of the national art collection and speak to the creativity, vision, determination, skill and intelligence of its founders. They shed light on details concerning the acquisition of the first works of art and the founders’ interests, artistic tastes, beliefs, quandaries and insights in the context of the period.
Expanding the Gallery’s art collection was from the very beginning one of its main and possibly even most prestigious tasks. Initially the emphasis was on the reconstruction of the evolutionary trajectory of Slovene art, but today this is limited by budget constraints. The initial guidelines for collecting works by Slovene artists and others whose creativity has influenced the development of Slovene art are still valid today. In the 1920s the focus was gradually shifted from the work of contemporary artists to a historical collection, but several extensive recent donations have again shifted the collection’s timeframe to a more contemporary period. We believe that donations of individual works of art, larger sets and even whole collections will continue to supplement the insufficient funding for purchases of important works of art that belong in the national public collection and ought to be accessible to all of society.
The two permanent displays – Slovene art and European painting – consist of 358 paintings and statues. Before the original building was expanded in 1993, which provided space for temporary exhibitions, the permanent display of Slovene art had to be removed every time a large exhibition was organised. Today, three exhibition areas are available in addition to two temporary displays: the main exhibition area in the New Wing, the exhibition area in the Entrance Hall and the Narodni dom gallery since 2006. In 1948 the National Gallery, which was already a state institution, employed five people; twenty years later it had eleven employees and today it has thirty-five.
The National Gallery complex covers an area of 12,130 square metres. Permanent collections occupy 2,040 square metres and optimal storage facilities for works that are not on display cover 810 square metres. The library, photo archives, lecture hall and other public facilities extend to over 400 square metres, whereas the restoration workshops, offices and utility areas occupy over 760 square metres.
Ninety years of productive life for the main national institution in Slovenia for collection, protection, preservation, research and exhibition of works of art of the previous centuries is an admirable age. Since the founding general assembly on 18 September 1918 to the present day, the Gallery has preserved its autonomy and professional integrity on the path mapped during its founding and first years of activity, despite the fact that this journey was marked by changing historical circumstances and national and political systems, many professional crossroads and even various individuals’ attempts to assert their personal interests. With its collections, exhibitions, collected documentation, research, plications, restoration activities and various pedagogical and continuing education programmes, the National Gallery has significantly contributed to Slovene art history and, in certain of its chapters, even taken the lead. The best possible conditions have been provided for works of art and professional activities, thereby laying solid foundations for future development.
The present generation has every reason to show respect and admiration for the work of its predecessors, who, together with the tradition itself, bind and direct us in our work. The National Gallery collection as a representative compilation of examples of artistic creativity must remain a component part and solid core of our collective awareness in the future.
Author of the exhibition and editor of the catalogue
Lenders of art works
City Museum of Ljubljana
Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana
The exhibition and the catalogue were subsidized by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.
18 September–21 December 2008
Narodni dom Gallery