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Permanent Collection


Ivan Zajec

(Ljubljana, 1869−1952)

Adam and Eve
1896, bronze, 197 x 100 x 86 cm
signed and dated lower on pedestal: Ivan Zajec fecit 96

NG P 379, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

In the last year of his studies under professor Carl Kundmann (1838−1919) in 1896, Ivan Zajec started working on a plaster cast of Adam and Eve, showing the work at exhibitions in Ljubljana and Zagreb four years later. The sculptor's estate holds the original copy of his professor's assessment, dated to 20 July 1896: "In this sophisticated and fascinatingly made group of life-sized figures of Adam and Eve, [the sculptor] has again proven his capacity for beauty and originality, and has further made significant progress in his understanding of the human form." The sculptor himself donated the composition to the Provincial Museum before 1902, from where the cast went to the National Gallery in 1934. In 1955, the National Gallery had the plasters cast in bronze, and the original heads of Adam and Eve are preserved.

This monumental and realistically sculpted figural composition with a biblical motif was heavily influenced by Italian early Renaissance painting (Masaccio) and sculpture. Adam’s form is classically calm, upright, and muscular, with bowed head, clenched left fist, and grim look, as his right hand embraces the shamed and crouched Eve. The two are depicted as in motion, banished from the Garden of Eden and entering into an uncertain future. The snake crawling along the ground on the statue’s base is hardly noticeable, despite its centrality to the legend inspiring the motif and despite being entirely analogous to Zajec’s previous academic work Startled Satyr (Prestrašeni Satir, NG P 406).

From Romanticism to Realism
The first traces of realism can be observed in the late landscapes by Anton Karinger. In the late 1860s, encouraged by examples from Munich, he gradually discovered the value of a random landscape view. Possibly from direct observation in situ his pictures of forest sections were made then, oil sketches on a small-scale, rendered in free, painterly brushwork, which can also be traced in his select mountainscapes. 

With his highly moral and artistic attitude Janez Wolf paved the way for realist tendencies. He was a teacher to the Šubic brothers, Janez and Jurij, and Anton Ažbe. Wolf elevated the status of the artist from the previous level of a craftsman to the level of an artist with a higher mission. He stimulated his pupils to take up studies at art academies and facilitated their enrolments through his personal connections. Wolf’s religious works demonstrate inclination to the art of the Nazarenes, which replaced the older rural Baroque tradition. Wolf’s monumental manner of presenting the human figure by way of emphasizing volume was carried on in the sphere of religious painting by Janez Šubic. While Janez Šubic made use of traditional models of above all Venetian painting, realism in Jurij Šubic’s religious subjects is manifest in pedantic historical and topographical definition of costumes, e.g. in his painting Sts Cosmas and Damien. During his years in Paris, Jurij Šubic worked with the Czech artists Vojteˇch Hynais and Václav Brožík, the Hungarian Mihály Munkácsy and the Croat Vlaho Bukovac, who later took a teaching post at the Prague academy. 

Ivan Franke’s travel to the Far East gave rise to a more original style of vedute painting, with an obvious intention of rendering light in a different way.
Weak and unambitious local demand and the absence of academic centres meant that most Realist and academically trained artists spent a great deal of their creative lives in major art centres, first in Venice, Rome and Vienna, then also in Munich and Paris. 

Slovenian painters of the Realist period can be divided into two generations. In the works by the older generation, which includes Janez Šubic and Jurij Šubic, detachment can be observed from the contents and formal language of traditional religious themes and tendencies towards a more exact observation of reality and ever more obvious dealing with painting issues. Realistic approach is evident in Janez’s treatment of the sitters in the portraits of his family members and in Jurij’s down¬to-earth portraits of his contemporaries. Both brothers also tackled the question of psychological characterization in their portraits. The landscape studies in oil which Janez spontaneously sketched in the vicinity of Rome are our earliest plein-air vedute. Jurij’s professional paths led him to Athens and Paris, then to Normandy. While there, he painted minute genre scenes, rendered as plain-air pieces, and he devised the motif which he subsequently elaborated into the picture Before the Hunt which was successfully exhibited at the Salon in Paris. Jointly with his brother Janez he received a prestigious commission to paint frescoes in the Provincial (now National) Museum in Ljubljana. 

Jožef Petkovšek, too, relied on French realists and traditions of salon painting in his realist plein-air picture Washerwomen by the Ljubljanica. In his Landscape by a River he already dealt with a purely artistic issue of light and reflections, which brought him close to the Impressionist search. In contrast, his interiors are marked with dark, cool metallic colouring with sharp beams of light, which imbues the genre-like protagonists with anxious, frozen expression. 

Ferdo Vesel was inclined to experiment extensively with figure, colour, and technique, which brought him close to the Impressionist search.