National Gallery puts Baroque painter, Slovenian illustration pioneer in focus

Ljubljana – The National Gallery will put in the spotlight of 2021 Baroque painter Fortunat Bergant and pioneer of Slovenian illustration Hinko Smrekar, two Slovenian artists who left an indelible mark on the art scene in the 18th and the first half of the 20th centuries, respectively.

Apart from Valentin Metzinger, Franc Jelovšek and Antona Cebej, Fortunat Bergant (1721-1769) is one of the main Slovenian Baroque artists.

The museum keeps more of his works than any other museum in the country, but the last comprehensive exhibition on Bergant was put on almost 70 years ago, in 1951.

Since then new findings about him have come to light, which will be displayed together with some restored works and presented in the context of the period in which the artist worked.

While originally planned for 2020, the show will now be held in the year when 300 years will have passed since Bergant’s birth, featuring around 40 of his works as well as works by his contemporaries and artists of the generation coming after them.

In 2016, Ptičar (Man with a Bird) and Prestar (Man with a Pretzel), two of his long-lost works were found, and made part of the Gallery’s collection.

Slovenians first became aware of Bergant in 1922 at the Historical Exhibition of Slovenian Painting, the curator of the new exhibition, Katra Meke, has told the STA.

It was then that painter Rihard Jakopič, a key figure behind a drive to make Slovenians aware of their artistic heritage, recognised him as the most Slovenian of all Baroque painters.

The last comprehensive exhibition on Hinko Smrekar (1883-1942) was meanwhile held in 1952.

Although he is well known in Slovenia and Europe, his work has never been presented or evaluated in its entirety, the museum’s director Barbara Jaki has said.

Its goal now is to put on a major exhibition as well as compile a full list of his works – drawings, paintings, sculptures, illustrations from public and private collections.

The exhibition will be divided into two parts.

The first will feature his early works, Slovenian folklore, magical and other motifs connected with superstition, his tarocchi cards, caricatures of his contemporaries and satire. The second will focus on the series Seven Deadly Sins and The Mirror of the World, illustration and self-portraits.

Smrekar created hundreds of caricatures criticising society and individuals, foremost their moral. He was extremely socially charged and uncompromising in the search of truth, always siding with common people.

His work provides a good insight into political, social, artistic and spiritual developments in Slovenian lands in the early decades of the 20th century.

In 1917, he illustrated the first Slovenian picture book – Martin Krpan, a tale about a Slovenian salt smuggler who saves the emperor in Vienna from a brutal warrior.

The Gallery has meanwhile extended the exhibition of the Prague Castle Picture Gallery masterpieces, which opened at the end of September, until the end of February.

Art lovers will be able to visit it again from tomorrow as museums in orange Covid-19 regions, including central Slovenia, can reopen.

The museum also continues featuring its treasures online, where an exhibition of donated works of sculptor Frančišek Smerdu (1908-1964) is available.

Since its establishment in 1918, the National Gallery has grown to keep the largest collection of art made on Slovenian territory between the Middle Ages and Modernism.