The Slovenia Times

Two newly discovered masterpieces on show on Culture Day

A recently discovered painting by Ivana Kobilca (1861-1926). Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Recently discovered works by two major Slovenian artists will go on public display for the first time on 8 January as the country celebrates Culture Day. One is a painting by the popular Realist artist Ivana Kobilca (1861-1926) and the other a sculpture by Modernist sculptor Ivan Zajec (1869-1952).

The painting of a nude woman, believed to be from the 1920s, has been discovered by chance after the current owner saw it at the place of a fellow gallerist, who had bought it at an online market place from a cleaning service.

Leon Pogelšek, who runs Kos Gallery in Ljubljana, told reporters earlier this week that his colleague bought the painting at a ridiculously low price. Unlike the seller, he thought there might be something to it.

When he asked his opinion, Pogelšek thought it might be by Kobilca, Slovenia's most important woman painter, best known for works such as Kofetarica (Coffeemadam) and Poletje (Summer).

Kofetarica (Coffeemadam) by Ivana Kobilca. Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

The painting was rather neglected and dirty, and had to be cleaned by a restorer. It was found folded in a folder and had to be straightened, which Pogelšek said was the hardest part. As the paint layers were very thin, the paint fortunately did not crack. It had a few small retouches, but in insignificant places.

The painting was authenticated by Ferdinand Šerbelj, a court-certified expert and appraiser for fine arts. A former curator at the National Gallery, he agreed it could be a Kobilca as soon as he saw it. After comparing it with the artist's other works, he concluded that it was indeed made by Kobilca.

"The nude of the seated girl with her hands raised to the nape of her neck first attracts attention because of its professional execution," Šerbelj wrote it his expert report. It "is not a finished work, but a study, and the painter had no ambition to complete it".

Pogelšek said that the style of painting was identical to that of Kobilca's works kept at the National Gallery and other collections. And the letter x can be seen in the lower part of the painting, similar to several of Kobilca's other works, which he believes to be a hastily made signature or letter k.

It is not known who the woman on the painting is, but Pogelšek assumes it could be one of the artist's friends. The woman's position is reminiscent of pin-up girls that were common in the US after the First World War, the gallerist added.

The painting has not yet been appraised, but he would put its value at between 30,000 and 60,000 euros. The gallery is considering putting it up for auction on 8 March to coincide with International Women's Day, being that it is a portrait of a woman by a woman.

The painting will be on display at Kos Gallery on 8 February between 1pm and 7pm.

The Kiss, believed to be the last sculpture by Ivan Zajec (1869-1952). Photo: Novak Gallery

Meanwhile, Gallery Novak, also in Ljubljana, will put on show The Kiss, presumably the last sculpture created by Zajec before his death 1952. This will be the first time for the public to get a chance to see the sculpture after it was discovered in a private collection in January.

The sculpture "expresses intimacy, sensuality, passion and eroticism and conveys love and attentiveness," Gallery Novak wrote about the artwork, which depicts an embrace between a man and a woman.

Zajec was depicting the motif of a kiss in his works throughout his life and it was also featured in his last, unfinished work, wrote Mateja Breščak in a catalogue of Zajec's works.

"In 1952 in January he could not finish the sculpture The Kiss, in the middle of his work he put his modelling tool into the clay of the unfinished sculpture," Zajec's wife wrote in her diary, which is part of the National Gallery's collection. "Sickness left him bed-bound," she wrote.

Three more sculptures of The Kiss are known, as well as a sketch of the work. The recently discovered Kiss is the largest of them, measuring 52 cm in height.

Zajec was part of the first generation of early Modernist Slovenian sculptors and in 1950 became the first sculptor to receive the prestigious Prešeren Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

Working in mostly realistic style with elements of Art Nouveau, Zajec made a number of public monuments, tomb sculptures, busts and other small-scale pieces. His most notable work is the sculpture of Slovenian Romantic poet France Prešeren (1800-1849) in Prešeren Square in Ljubljana.

The square is one of the focal points of Culture Day festivities, along with the poet's birth house in the village of Vrba and the city of Kranj in NW, where Prešeren served as a lawyer and died. However, Culture Day is celebrated throughout the country and among Slovenian communities around the world.

Coinciding with the anniversary of Prešeren's death, 8 February was designated as Culture Day in 1945 and has been observed as a work-free day since 1991. It is a day spent visiting museums, galleries and other cultural institutions, and events involving the reading of Prešeren's poetry.

On the eve of the holiday, each year two artists are honoured with the Prešeren Prizes for lifetime achievement and up to six win Prešeren Fund Prizes for accomplishments in the past three years. This year the main prizes went to poet Erika Vouk and ballet dancer, choreographer and director Henrik Neubauer.


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