The Permanent Collection forms the foundation of the Gallery's work and mission. Around 550 works of art are presented roughly chronologically in 25 exhibition halls from a collection of more than 3500 paintings, 1100 sculptures, and 8400 works on paper.
Also included is the only permanent retrospective exhibition of works by Zoran Mušič, which was kindly made possible by the family of the artist's brother. The majority of the exhibited works come from the art collection of Ljuban, Milada and Vanda Mušič, donated or given on loan to the National Gallery of Slovenia.
In the High Middle Ages the prevailing religious art spread through the Slovenian lands, first from monasteries and then from major regional centres, Gorizia, Villach and Ljubljana in particular. Gothic art persisted even after the dawn of the Renaissance, but in the 16th century artistic production almost came to a standstill due to Ottoman invasions, peasant uprisings and Protestantism which was averse to the fine arts.
The leading position in Gothic painting belongs to frescoes. The collection presents a few examples of original fragments and several copies which illustrate the most frequent motifs, such as St Christopher, St George, the Procession and the Adoration of the Magi.
Surviving panel paintings are rare. The Knillenberg Tryptich, Madonna with Christ Child Blessing and Christ on the Mount of Olives are classical examples from the period.
Crucified Christ, Madonna and Child, and the Pietà rank among the characteristic sculpture motifs. Gothic sculpture in Slovenia reached its zenith in the works of the Ptujska gora sculpture workshop represented by The Beautiful Madonna and the Pietà from Podsreda.
Although imported early-Baroque works prevailed in this period and those by itinerant artists, the 17th century paved the way for the future. The political circumstances in the region were relatively stabilized in spite of the Thirty Year War and the patronage gradually grew stronger. The arrival of the Jesuits in Ljubljana, the activity of the polymath Johann Weichard Valvasor, particularly his graphic workshop at Bogenšperk/Wagensperg Castle, and the foundation of the Academia operosorum at the end of the century were the key events of the time.
Noteworthy among the newcomers who settled in Carniola with their workshops were the painter and gilder Hans Georg Geiger von Geigerfeld in the mid-century, who had moved to Carniola from the region of the Central Alps, and the Fleming Almanach in the third quarter of the 17th century, known only by his nickname, who worked here only for a few years. The extraordinary productivity and skills of the latter are evidenced by his rare surviving works, mentions in Valvasor’s books and in aristocratic probate inventories.
The era of the High Baroque represents the second zenith of art in the Slovenian lands after the Gothic period. Supported by benevolent church and aristocratic patrons, art production flourished in a stable political environment and favourable economic situation.
Being the diocesan and administrative centre of the province, Ljubljana became the undisputable hub of art. As the new Baroque church replaced the old Gothic cathedral and the monastery basilica of the Knights of the Teutonic Order yielded its place to Domenico Rossi's architecture based on the centralized design, Ljubljana in a relatively short time changed its look from a Central European hamlet to a town of the Mediterranean character. Commercial advantages stimulated a rapid formation of a trilingual culture, where Slovenian, German and Italian languages were used indiscriminately.
Baroque painting expressed the principles of the vehement Catholic Revival. A powerful expression or dramatic emotions can be observed in illusionistic visions and apotheoses of saints, which glorified the victorious Catholic Church, while full-length portraits in grand manner and historical scenes extolled famous historical personages.
Franc Kavčič/Caucig was an important representative of European Neo-classicist painting. Even though he depicted stories from Greco-Roman antiquity, his ethical message was fully contemporary and mirrors the time of great social changes.
Kavčič's paintings are characteristic for their compositional monumentality and clarity, impeccable modelling by means of sharp drawing, thin polished paint layers, underlined role of female protagonists in his scenes, and academic reserve. He relied for his motifs on the rich treasury of classical history and mythology as well as biblical stories. The Old-Testament Judgement of Solomon as a narrative of the ruler’s wisdom was thus a very suitable subject matter for the prestigious commission from Emperor Francis I. As to literary sources, Kavčič was inspired by the Idylls of Salomon Gessner. The painter’s landscapes are of the Arcadian type, they are ideal and thoughtfully composed in accord with classical rules and his travel memories. They contain architectural vestiges of the glorious past and are animated by means of tiny pastoral scenes.
Heavily censored public life between the Congress of Vienna and the Spring of Nations in 1848, weakened Church patronage, and the ascending middle class marked the era when life focused on the privacy of the family circle, individual dignity and the sense of belonging; this is expressed in Central European art as the style of Biedermeier which coexisted with a Romantic view of nature.
Portraiture was the genre of painting that saw its heyday in this era. The painters initially relied on formal characteristics of Neoclassicism. Individually formed portraitists demonstrated their self-confidence as artists also through their self-portraits.
Interest in landscape first appeared as the background of portraits; towards the mid-century first autonomous city vedute emerged. The Biedermaier landscape is idyllic, descriptive, and furnished with staffage figures. Painters were attracted by tourist destinations and locations that were related to homeland identity: Mt Triglav, Lake Bohinj, Bled.
Weak and unambitious local demand and the absence of academic centres meant that most Realist and academically trained artists spent a great deal of their creative lives in major art centres, first in Venice, Rome and Vienna, then also in Munich and Paris.
Slovenian painters of the Realist period can be divided into two generations. In the works by the older generation, which includes Janez Šubic and Jurij Šubic, detachment can be observed from the contents and formal language of traditional religious themes and tendencies towards a more exact observation of reality and ever more obvious dealing with painting issues.
Jožef Petkovšek relied on French realists and traditions of salon painting in his realist plein-air pictures. In contrast, his interiors are marked with dark, cool metallic colouring with sharp beams of light, which imbues the genre-like protagonists with anxious, frozen expression.
Ivana Kobilca, the most successful Slovenian painter of her time, established herself as a portraitist, but painted genre scenes and still lifes, too. She spent 35 year abroad and in the capitals of Bavaria, France, and Prussia incorporated contemporary colour palette and techniques into her Realist style.
The deep longing for independence encouraged Slovenian artists to look for a national artistic expression. During Slovenian Early Modernism they found it in idealized folk realism and in a native version of Impressionism.
Within the Slovenian artists’ group Vesna, to which Maksim Gaspari, Gvidon Birolla and sculptor Svetoslav Peruzzi belong, a popular variant of national motifs dominated which relied on direct examples of folk tradition and creativity.
The discussion about national art took a new direction after the exhibition of the Sava artists’ society in the Galerie Miethke in Vienna in 1904, when Viennese art critics recognized a new painting province of the Empire in the paintings of Slovenian artists. A series of paintings suggestive of plein-air thus established themselves in public as a gallery of symbolic images of the homeland. The period of impressionistically formulated landscapes lasted until Grohar’s The Sower of 1907, which is a programme-based image in which the earth and the man reach mythical identification through the handling of paint, and a Carniolan hayrack appears in the picture as a national attribute of the agricultural worker.
From 1918 onwards
The twentieth century was the third period in history that elevated Ljubljana to an active art centre on the Slovenian ethnic territory. This era is marked by artistic trends that originated in the world art centres, while only rarely symptoms of local tradition and continuity can be traced.
Artists from the 1930s, who with authority and teaching zeal settled in the core of the newly established Ljubljana academy after World War II, helped to spread modernist trends in the second half of the century, all of which were to the end of the 1970s still influenced by the authority of Paris as the principal art centre. Juxtaposition with representatives of Italian painting of the 1930s demonstrate that Slovenian art in this century surpassed the limits of regional ambitions as well as achievements.
Zoran Mušič (Bukovica, 1909 – Venice, 2005) is the first modernist Slovenian painter to have found recognition in the West. Master of painting, graphic arts and drawing, he spent most of his adult life between Venice and Paris. He painted landscapes, still lifes, portraits, Dalmatian donkeys and horses, trees, cityscapes of Venice, double portraits of himself and his wife Ida, and poignant self-portraits in his old age. However, he became world-famous with his series of paintings We Are Not the Last in which he re-experienced his own ordeal in the concentration camp of Dachau.