A member-state of former Yugoslavia, Slovenia became independent in 1991. The country was still a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when it began to open up to modernity in the late 1880s. This was also a period of affirmation of a national identity which its painters, sculptors, writers and artists were striving to formulate.
The emergence of an original painting movement was contemporaneous with the Secessions in Munich (1892) and Vienna (1897). It was the academy opened in Munich in 1891 by Slovenian painter Anton Ažbe that brought together the four artists whose passion for plein-air painting earned them the label «Impressionists».
Their style, however, drew less on the original Impressionism born in France in 1860–1870 than on the form it was given by Monet in his Haystacks and Rouen Cathedral series, Van Gogh and his gestural Expressionism, and Giovanni Segantini, whose symbolism-inflected landscapes were a potent influence in this part of Europe. Their ambition was to transcend landscape painting’s anecdotal realism in favour of an emotional power some of them strove for in compositions verging on the abstract.
Of the four, Ivan Grohar was the one closest to Symbolism in his spiritual conception of landscape. His Sower (1907) was immediately taken up as the emblem of the emerging Slovenian nation. Matija Jama set out to capture the intense luminosity of tranquil landscapes, while Matej Sternen focused more on the human figure. Rihard Jakopič was the driving force behind the art scene in Ljubljana, where in 1909 he built, at his own expense, a pavilion that became an avant-garde exhibition venue. His bold, ardent paintings cover a wide range of themes, including spirited images of figures merging with the natural setting.
In addition to this group of artists, the exhibition will include an overview of the creative arena in Ljubljana between 1890 and 1920: six excellent sculptors of whom the most notable are Franc Berneker, Lojze Dolinar and Ivan Zajec; marvellous Art Nouveau/Jugendstil illustrations for books by contemporary writers like Ivan Cankar and Oton Župančič; Pictorialist-style photographs by August Berthold, who worked from the same motifs as his Impressionist painter friends; and the verve of cartoonist Hinko Smrekar, whose drawings offer a satirical chronicle of artistic and political life.
Not to be ignored are the handsome offerings from architects Jože Plečnik, Maks Fabiani and Ivan Vurnik, who turned Ljubljana into a modern city after the earthquake that partially destroyed it in 1895.
This exhibition is realized with the Narodna Galerija
Barbara Jaki, directrice de la galerie nationale de Slovénie
Sylvain Lecombre, Conservateur en chef du patrimoine
REPUBLIC OF SLOVENIA
MINISTRY OF CULTURE