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Permanent Collection


Jurij Šubic

(Poljane nad Škofjo Loko, 1855 – Leipzig, 1890)

The Penitent Magdalene (Study of a Head with Curls for the Magdalene)
(1882?), oil, canvas, 54 x 45 cm

NG S 3503, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana

In December 1880 the 25-year-old Jurij Šubic left Athens for Paris at the invitation of the Czech painter Vojtěch Hynais, a friend from his student days in Vienna. Overwhelmed by private and public commissions from Prague and preoccupied in particular with designs for the painted decoration of the city’s newly built National Theatre, Hynais hoped that Šubic could help him with his work. 

This painting of Mary Magdalene is, despite its fragmentary nature, an artistically attractive whole. The picture shows a female figure lying on her side. The upper part of her torso, from the small of the back to the elbows, is drawn schematically with the brush. The background is indistinct but the head, tilted towards the viewer and framed by tumbling hair, seems complete, despite the rapid yet skilful brushstrokes. The painting was included in an exhibition of works by the Šubic brothers at the National Gallery in 1937, where it was given the title Study of a Head with Curls for the Magdalene. Although the figure’s luxuriant red curls suggest the penitent Mary Magdalene, the subject of the work could be another, perhaps influenced by the ideal of beauty characteristic of the Venetian baroque. Where, then, does the title come from?
Hynais’s close collaborator Šubic was copying – or perhaps even initiated – an image that the Czech artist completed in 1882, with an atmosphere that recalls the works of the Old Masters. In Hynais’s painting, a full-length female figure is depicted in a landscape with a skull and a book – familiar attributes of the penitent Magdalene – but the emphatic sensuality of the curve of the back and the gleaming curls reveal that this is not a devotional painting. Four years later, he painted a replica for a family friend, the physician Emile Waltat, which he inscribed in the bottom right-hand corner with the following words: “A mon cher ami Emile Waltat, V Hynais, 21 mai 1886.” 

The narrow face with full lips and dainty chin, the copper-red hair tumbling over the shoulders, and the thick curls framing the face reveal the identity of the subject of the painting: she is the circus acrobat and popular model Suzanne Valadon, who later established herself as a painter in her own right and was the first woman to be admitted to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She was also the mother of the painter Maurice Utrillo. Valadon also posed for Hynais for his depiction of the genius of Fame for the main stage curtain of the National Theatre in Prague, on which several of the painter’s friends and colleagues are depicted, among them Jurij Šubic. 

In 1908 a reproduction of Hynais’s painting, engraved for printing by Jurij Šubic, appeared in the newspaper Slovan.


References: New Acquisitions 2011−2021, National Gallery, Ljubljana 2022

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.