The National Gallery of Slovenia is commemorating its 100th anniversary with an exhibition of life and work of Ivana Kobilca, one of the most famous Slovenian artists of all time.
The formation of Ivana Kobilca as a painter took place in the last two decades of the 19th century, when realism in Europe became acceptable for the growing middle class which, through politics and ideology, controlled the entire art production. She spent most of her adult life in foreign capitals: after Vienna she studied in Munich, lived in Paris, Sarajevo and Berlin, from where she returned to Ljubljana only at the onset of the First World War. During her turbulent stay in Paris and the almost idyllic years in Sarajevo, she also painted outdoors, and later in Berlin and Ljubljana dedicated herself to still lifes.
In the fourty-six years of her creative life Ivana Kobilca worked in world art centres where she modelled her idiom on the greatest European naturalistic and symbolists painters. She was associate member of the French Société nationale des beaux-arts and was presented at their Salon three times. She exhibited all over Europe and was the only Slovenian artist to follow regularly and directly the exhibitions of three principal Secessions (Vienna, Munich, Berlin). She carried out prestigious commissions for Church and secular authorities in her homeland and in Bosnia, and, being skilled in establishing social contacts, she managed to portray people from all social strata and of all ages -- from Berlin millionaires, politicians, middle-class ladies and children to original rustic characters from Upper Carniola.
Lack of academic training, delicate health, touchiness about criticism, and occasional undue haste did not stop her. Kobilca put to the test everything she could: from Nietzschean bohemian lifestyle to vegetarianism and fencing and together with her female friends and acquaintances she belonged to the first women in modern era to succeed in winning recognition in the exclusively male profession.
The first retrospective of Ivana Kobilca in the last four decades features around 140 works of art from all periods and genres. Kobilca shared common art interests and places of training with other Slovenian realists of her generation and the exhibition features pivotal works of her contemporaries Jurij Šubic (1855–1890), Anton Ažbe (1862–1905), Jožef Petkovšek (1861–1898) and Ferdo Vesel (1861–1946).
The exhibition is made of twelve chapters, which explore the development of Kobilca’s motifs from Munich portrait studies and orientalism, child portraits and genre scenes, interior genre to nudes and middle class portrait. Besides the context of Kobilca’s plein air painting, the circumstances of the allegoric picture Slovenia Bows to Ljubljana are explained, also, as is the life and work of the artist in some of the cities she sojourned in: Ljubljana in the early and late periods, Paris, Sarajevo and Berlin.
Besides her popular works, such as Summer and Woman Drinking Coffee, the exhibition includes paintings from private collections that are almost unknown to the wider public. Together, the pictures reflect Kobilca’s creative force and varied influences of European artistic epicentres.