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National Gallery celebrates its 100th anniversary

This year's main exhibition will be dedicated to Ivana Kobilica

Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

The National Gallery of Slovenia is the country’s principal institution dedicated to fine art from earlier periods, housing the largest art collection in the country, dating from the High Middle Ages to the 20th century. This year, when the Gallery is celebrating its 100th anniversary, its main exhibition will be dedicated to the Slovenian painter Ivana Kobilica.

The Narodna Galerija (National Gallery) society was founded in 1918. However, endeavours to create a home ("acropolis" as the gallery was named upon its establishment) for Slovenian art were already underway at the end of the 19th century. Among those advocating the establishment of a gallery were the polymath and journalist aristocrat Peter von Radics (1836–1912), the Mayor of Ljubljana, banker and diplomat Dr Ivan Hribar (1851–1941), and the Društvo za krščansko umetnost (Christian Art Society), which in 1907 compiled a collection of old Slovenian art. For decades Slovenians nourished the desire to have their own art institution, and this desire, yearning even, was finally fulfilled in 1925.

And thus from the dreams of the founders and supported by the high cultural awareness of Slovenians the National Gallery developed into one of the most prominent institutions of art and culture. In 1933 the Gallery held an opening ceremony for the expanded permanent exhibition of Slovenian fine art.

Milestones

The beginnings are certainly the first milestone. They include the first monographic exhibitions of the painter Ivan Grohar and the Šubic brothers, which were followed by many others. A special milestone was the exhibition of Chinese painting in 1988. It was the National Gallery’s most visited exhibition up to that date. Standing out among the projects dedicated to Slovenian art is the great exhibition Gothic Art in Slovenia, which the National Gallery presented in 1995 in cooperation with the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana.
The relocation of the Robba Fountain also received a lot of attention. The fountain, also called the Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers (i.e. the Sava, Krka and Ljubljanica), with sculptures of white marble, was finished in 1751. It was designed by Francesco Robba and was installed in Mestni trg in front of Ljubljana Town Hall.

Another milestone in the National Gallery's exhibition and research activities was an extensive exhibition of Slovenian impressionists and their contemporaries put on in 2008. It launched the exhibition of Slovenian Impressionists in the Parisian Petit Palais in 2013.

Permanent exhibitions

The National Gallery owns artworks from several artists in permanent collections, arranged by period from the High Middle Ages to the modern day. In addition to these collections classified by periods, the Gallery also owns the Zoran Mušič collection. The authors of artworks dating from the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance period (1200–1600) are mostly unknown, and the majority of works from this period are paintings, frescos and sculptures of a religious nature, mostly altarpieces.

The main exhibition in the EYCH is dedicated to Ivana Kobilica

It is no coincidence that Slovenia opened the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) at the National Gallery, which houses many great works of art by Slovenian artists. Here we can admire works from such figures as the 15th century painter Janez Ljubljanski, to the greatest Slovenian painters, sculptors, architects and other artists of the modern era.

The main exhibition in the celebratory year is dedicated to the Slovenian painter Ivana Kobilica (1861–1926), who is considered the most successful Slovenian female artist. Even her contemporaries acknowledged that she achieved what her male colleagues could not. She had many exhibitions at the renowned Salon in Paris, and became an honorary member of the French Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (National Society of Fine Arts).

For most of her life she lived and worked in European capitals, such as Vienna, Munich, Paris, Sarajevo and Berlin. She only returned to Ljubljana at the start of World War I. After her Munich phase, when her paintings were predominantly produced in darkish brown colours, the paintings she made in Paris were in violet, blue and green tones, and her later paintings made during her stay in Berlin made greater use of white tones.

Her oeuvre is marked by images of her family members and children, portraits of members of middle-class society, particularly in Ljubljana, genre scenes and especially flowers. The most popular painting among visitors to the National Gallery is hers, the one entitled Summer. She created the painting when she was 27 or 28. Later she remembered how children crowded around her when she was making it and commented: "She didn't do this right just now. You'll see, she will make it right." This painting was part of the first art exhibition in Ljubljana, held in 1900.

Ivana Kobilica Photo: National Gallery Archives

Knowledge is the foundation of respect for cultural heritage

National Gallery in the begining of 20th century. Photo: National Gallery Archives

Through play, conversation, and even organised birthday parties at the Gallery, children and adolescents can get to know the cultural riches of Slovenia and other nations. Members of Gal's Club discover and experience the exhibited artwork, which then become the inspiration for their own creations in the gallery workshop.
The Gallery also offers many educational programmes for adults: trips with the National Gallery abroad, seminars and lectures. It also organises family activities, e.g. designing amulets for year-round luck, making seals, painting in impressionist style, graphics workshops, sculpting, and so on.

The National Gallery can thus be a schoolroom for the general public, the host of various ideas and a place that encourages us to strive for the same goals as the Gallery's founders, who dreamt about a Slovenian "acropolis". They dreamt that the Slovenian nation would have a treasury for spreading knowledge, change and experience. After a century we can say that their dreams have been realised, and will continue to be achieved in the future.

Text by Tanja Glogovčan