The Slovenia Times

Tribute paid to Renaissance man Ivan Tavčar


As Slovenia celebrates the Year of Ivan Tavčar in 2023 with a number of events dedicated to the Slovenian writer, lawyer and politician (1851-1923) and his legacy, experts note the many fields that captured his interest. Together with his wife, Franja Tavčar (1868-1938), he helped build a liberal stronghold and supported fellow artists.

Ivan Tavčar was born and raised in the Poljane Valley, north-west of Ljubljana. Most of the events will take place there, including at the Visoko Mansion, an impressive house he bought at the end of the 19th century to give him and his wife a place to unwind from the hustle and bustle of Ljubljana. The house is also their final resting place, with both of them buried in the family tomb near the building.

The writer loved returning to the place where he grew up, and today, the locals are happy to keep alive the memory of his and Franja Tavčar's achievements. It was the municipality of Gorenja vas - Poljane that spearheaded the Year of Ivan Tavčar campaign to mark this year's centenary of his death in a bid to reacquaint the general public with his work.

Visoko Mansion experience

At the renovated Visoko Mansion, which is also a popular venue for weddings, theatre shows and other events, visitors can hop into a time machine and go back to the times when the house was a cultural hub of the fin de siècle intelligentsia in Slovenian lands. There is a 19th century kitchen and the Tavčar couple's rich collection of artefacts and photographs. Conjuring up their life are also various anecdotes told by the tour guides.

The Tavčars were considered an unusual couple by the standards of their time, both of them being educated, involved in international affairs and wealthy, Simona Žvanut, one of the Škofja Loka museum curators, has told the STA.

They were generous patrons of up-and-coming artists, hosting painter Ivana Kobilca and authors Oton Župančič and Ivan Cankar, among others. The three are now part of Slovenia's cultural canon. One of the anecdotes tells the story of a quarrel between Tavčar and Cankar over the younger man's failure to return a borrowed copy of a literary magazine.

Tavčar's library to be open to the public

The Škofja Loka museum is in charge of preserving and showcasing Ivan Tavčar's legacy in what is one of its oldest permanent exhibitions whose highlights include a cradle that was a gift of the House of Karađorđević, now known as the deposed Serbian and former Yugoslav royal family.

Marking the centenary of Tavčar's death, the museum will make his Visoko Mansion library available to the public at the end of the year. The book collection features more than 600 titles in many languages, or over 1,000 books that date back to the 16th century, including cookbooks, fiction, and books on science, geography and astronomy.

A decade ago, the museum updated the collection to include Franja Tavčar, who was a successful and respected person in her own right. A political activist, humanitarian and one of the leaders of the Slovenian women's movement at the time, she took care of the mansion's upkeep in the 15 years after her husband's passing. On top of the artistic and political elite, she also hosted the local young people at the estate and taught them etiquette.

Celebrating the polymath in Tavčar

Her husband also made a name for himself in many fields. In addition to being a man of letters, he was also a politician and founder, president or active member of sports, cultural or legal professional organisations. Between 1911 and 1921 he served as mayor of Ljubljana and for nearly 40 years, until the day he died, he practised law. His law office was located in a street in Ljubljana centre that is now called after him.

He was considered a valued member of the community and a skilled orator. On the other hand, particularly as he got older, he was criticised by his opponents, including some of the liberals, for often seeking the easy way out or even advocating opportunism.

"He was a very progressive man and through his works and what he did in his life, he broke down certain taboos and pushed society forward," Culture Ministry State Secretary Matevž Čelik Vidmar said at a press conference in early March as the Year of Ivan Tavčar programme was unveiled.

A fascinating example of his freethinking and innovative mind is his long-forgotten novel 4000, which was reprinted earlier this year by the ZRC publisher. It was first published in monthly instalments in 1891, at the time of political tensions between the Slovenian conservatives and liberals in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The story is set in the year 4000 and takes place in a dystopian landscape reflecting the author's vision of what Slovenia could have become if all the ideas of his conservative political opponents at the time had become reality. The satire tells the story of forced marriages, the near extinction of the Slovenian language, and people being burnt at the stake.

His most famous works include Visoška Kronika (The Visoko Chronicle) and Cvetje v Jeseni (Blossoms in Autumn), a bittersweet love story that was adapted for film and musical theatre in major hits. Both of them take place in his beloved Poljane Valley, and the former was inspired by the archives of the Kalan family, the long-time owners of the Visoko Mansion before Tavčar bought the house.

His works, which can speak to the contemporary reader, will be at the heart of the events, said Urška Perenič, who is in charge of the Year of Ivan Tavčar programme.

The events will include writing and art competitions, lectures, a symposium on Tavčar's legacy, literary and film evenings, photo exhibitions, and guided tours of Tavčar's and his wife' collections at the Škofja Loka Museum and at the Visoko Mansion. The polymath will be also honoured at an event at the parliament in Vienna, where he served as an MP in the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Tavčar was also known for his penchant for novelties. He was a proud owner of the first grass tennis court in Slovenia. He had it laid out next to his country house in 1897.


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