5 must-see artworks in Ljubljana’s National Gallery

by Peter Kamien

Art is an international language that hardly has need of words. So, when you travel to a foreign country, it’s a good idea to make friends with its art and artists – then, you’ll understand the place so much better. The Slovenian National Gallery in Ljubljana is the perfect place to make such friends…

The National Gallery is Slovenia’s museum of historical art, holding the country’s largest collection of fine art from the High Middle Ages to the 20th century.

I love this magnificent building, which was originally built in 1896 and fitted with its elegant glass façade in 2001. I’m often there because it’s good for my soul (although in the Cafe Gallery, you can find a lot that’s good for your body, too!)

Take a walk through Ljubljana and, in front of the Town Hall, you’ll see the Fountain of the Three Krainer Rivers, created by Venetian artist Francesco Robba in 1743-51. But that’s just a copy – you’ll find the magnificent original in the National Gallery.

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It’s a very popular exhibit, but it’s just one among many reasons for a visit:

More than 600 works of art in a permanent exhibition

The permanent collection is divided into sections according to historical periods and comprises nearly 600 works by Slovenian and European artists. Works range from medieval sacred art, Baroque work by Gregorio Lazzarini and Giulio Quaglio, Biedermeier portraits by Jožef Tominc, neoclassical paintings by Kranc Kavčič, Realist works by Janez Šubic and Jurij Šubic, works by Ivana Koblica -Slovenia’s most popular artist - and the world-famous masterpieces of Slovenian Impressionism created by Ivan Grohar, Rihard Jakopič and Matija Jama. It also houses a permanent exhibition of works by Zoran Mušič (1909 – 2005), one of Europe’s leading modernist painters.

It’s a dazzling selection from which to make your new friends.

Now, here are my five personal favourites:

Ivana Kobilca: Woman Drinking Coffee, 1888

Ivana Kobilca lived from 1861 to 1926 and is considered Slovenia’s most successful artist. She was also the femme fatale of the Slovenian art world!

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Ferdo Vesel: Head of an Old Man with White Hair, 1870

Vesel worked in the period of change from Romanticism to Realism, and it’s fascinating to see how closely he comes to Impressionism. (Please don’t confuse me and the model – the masterpiece is on the left!)

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Matija Jama: Willows, 1900

Jama (1872-1947) is, for me, the most significant representative of the Slovenian Expressionists.

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Rihard Jakopič: By Lamplight, 1908

This atmospheric work is by another of the highly-respected Slovene Expressionists, Rihard Jakopič (1869-1943).

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Zoran Mušič: Self-portrait, 1998

Last but not least is Zoran Mušič (1909-2005). The most famous of all the Slovenian modern artists, he rightly has his own permanent exhibition.

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These five are my personal choice – now, it’s up to you. Plan your stay in Ljubljana to include an early visit to the National Gallery, and get to know Slovenia in a whole new way.

Peter Kamien

Peter Kamien is a doctor of psychology and was East European director of an international advertising agency.

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