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Permanent Collection


Ivan Zajec

(Ljubljana, 1869−1952)

Bacchante with Cymbals
(1894−1896), bronze, 46,5, x 23,5 x 21 cm
signed lower left: Ivan Zajec

NG P 967, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

Dionysus’ female companions, the maenads and bacchantes, left their homes in a mystical frenzy of wild worship, dressed in animal skins, adorned with wreaths and carrying knives and snakes, wandering through forests and gorges, cavorting wildly by torchlight. They knew no human fear, possessing a fierce irrational power which they used, at the peak of their ecstasy, to uproot whole trees and tear to pieces captured animals and even children and devour the bloody flesh.

“That Classical mythological material is the main means of expression for such a pronounced material storyteller, and not just an external form of narration, is self-evident,” wrote Fran Šijanec on the occasion of Ivan Zajec’s 80th anniversary, marked by an exhibition of his works (Fran Šijanec, Ivan Zajec, National Gallery, Ljubljana 1949, p. 18). The mythological motifs of satyrs and bacchantes fascinated Zajec throughout his career, from his academic sculpture Startled Satyr (1894) to the scores of small, relaxed and intimate terracotta sculptures from the 1920s.

Bacchante with Cymbals is one such lively sculpture of a figure rejoicing, dancing, moving and playing an instrument. The varied motifs of the pastoral idyll, the nudes, fauns and bacchantes illustrate ecstasy, an escape from everyday life and fusion with a primal abandonment, where one descends into the unknown and surrenders to instincts, passions and senses.

The long-haired, wreathed bacchante is shown dancing; her right leg raised, she revels in the sound of the cymbals – kymbala – attached to her raised hand. The Bacchante with Cymbals is related to the Startled Satyr not only in content, but also in the elements of its academic style, and could therefore have been created during Zajec’s specialisation at the Vienna Academy (1894–1896).

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.