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Permanent Collection


Matej Sternen

(Verd, 1870 – Ljubljana, 1949)

Girl Tying a Shoelace
1899, oil, panel, 24,3 x 19,5 cm
signed and dated upper right: M Sternen 99

Private collection

This painting has been present in Sternen’s oeuvre since its first public showing at the first exhibition of the Slovene Art Society in 1900 and its positive reception has continued undimmed to the present day. Art historian Jure Mikuž characterises it as an “early” work because of its simulation of sunlight and, above all, its convincing execution. Thick applications of paint in drawn-out brushstrokes model the volume of the body in colours ranging from black, via shades of purple and blue, to various degrees of white. Warmer, ochre-like shades mark the girl’s complexion, give a pinkish tinge to the sunlit road and close the scene in the top left-hand corner with the suggestion of a shaded wall. The surprising element of this work, which really does call to mind Impressionism, is the immediacy of the scene. The suddenly halted movement, the forward bend of the figure, the short shadow and the girl busying herself with her shoelace are effectively supported by the dynamic and perhaps slightly coarse structure of the painting. The sense of movement and the weather conditions construct a successful plein air image. With its hasty, long lines, the preparatory drawing for this work appears somewhat unusual in its proportions, although it emphasises the idea of the dynamic shape of the billowing skirt.

The problem of daylight had, however, been present in the works of the Munich-trained Slovene artists since at least the early 1890s, when Ivana Kobilca exhibited Summerand Ferdo Vesel grappled with the problem of contre-jour in his graduation work Blind Man’s Buff. By the end of the century, the function of drawing as an organisational element of a painting had faded. Softened contours began to move the expression of the whole from a controlled rendering of spatial relationships to the perceptual experience of a moment, consisting of patches of colour – something we can find in particular in the landscape paintings of Rihard Jakopič and Matija Jama in Stranska Vas in 1901. Studies for the figure in this work are kept in the National Gallery and the Zala Gallery Collection.

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.