Major exhibition on Impressionist Matej Sternen opening at National Gallery

Ljubljana, 30 November - A major exhibition presenting the painter Matej Sternen (1870-1949), considered to be the most prolific artist among Slovenians Impressionists, is opening on Wednesday at the National Gallery. His best known painting is Rdeči Parazol, depicting a lady carrying a red parasol.

Preparations for Matej Sternen exhibition at the National Gallery.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

A selection of some 70 most prominent paintings by Sternen will be displayed alongside some of his photographs and works on paper, according to the author of the exhibition, Andrej Smrekar.

Unlike other major Slovenian Impressionists - Rihard Jakopič, Matija Jama and Ivan Grohar - Sternen actually finished his studies at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He also spent more time abroad than any of the other three artists.

He was inspired by both French painters as well as the great names of Central Europe. He built his identity on the heritage of the golden age of Venetian painting of Tiziano Vecelli and Paolo Veronese, the early Baroque of Rubens and Rembrandt, and French painters Jean Honoré Fragonard and Francois Boucher; among Modernists his favourites were Edgar Degas, Félicien Rops and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The last retrospective of Sternen's works was on show at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Moderna Galerija) in 1976. Some 380 of his paintings were recorded then. For the present exhibition, the National Gallery urged all owners of his works to help create as extensive list of his works as possible. So far, more than 450 paintings have been recorded and many of them have also been restored.

A number of his previously unknown works have been discovered. However, some of Sternen's important paintings have been found to be missing, including a series of 1920s nudes, which are considered the most important part of Sternen's oeuvre.

"Some works have been known only from documentation, but there have also been some thefts and so certain paintings that are extremely important have disappeared," Smrekar told the STA in the summer, during preparations for the exhibition.

All available series of his prints, aquarelles, and drawings have now been documented. The collections held by institutions, private owners and individual drawings and prints have all been photographed and catalogued, while only a selection of works is included in the exhibition.

The National Gallery's collection includes 103 paintings by Sternen and 1,231 works on paper, and a significant collection of photographs, which he used instead of sketches in his work.

The gallery mostly acquired his works from existing collections which were purchased by the provincial and city authorities at exhibitions before the First World War. Then it started purchasing the works itself.

The gallery acquired the painting Na Divanu (On a Divan), which Smrekar believes is likely Sternen's biggest masterpiece, from the artist himself. Other important paintings were added to the collection in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The drawings were left to the museum by the artist's widow.

The exhibition catalogue will also present Sternen's restoration work, for which he was best known during his life.

© STA, 2022