(Ljubljana, 1861 – Ljubljana, 1946)
An Old Man from Gorenjska, s.a.
oil on canvas, 47x41, 2cm
Ferdo Vesel is one of those Slovenian painters who have long been preoccupied with an impressionist manner of painting, a style that represented an anachronistic phenomenon in the history of European painting at that time.
Vesel started his education in Vienna, which he later continued in Munich. He was friends with Ivana Kobilca, Rihard Jakopič and Anton Ažbe. As a graduate student (1897 – 1890) he had a studio at the Munich Academy with prof. Wagner. In 1891, he participated, together with Jakopič, in the founding of Anton Ažbe’s private school. In 1897, he was invited to participate in the second Venice Biennale, where he was also the first Slovenian artist to receive an award. He exhibited regularly with the generation of Impressionists of his time. In the period between the two wars, he retreated to a life of seclusion, and during World War II he actively participated in the National Liberation Struggle. He travelled extensively during his lifetime.
Ferdo Vesel’s painting ranges from the early realist works under the influence of his education in Munich to the impressionist conception, which was by then already a largely anachronistic expression. During the 1890s, influenced by Jakopič with whom he painted landscapes in Schwabing, he developed the so-called studio pleinairism, meaning he transferred the plein air style into the interior. He was interested in the study of light both in the exterior and the interior.
In the early Munich period, Vesel often painted bust-length portraits, heads and nudes on a dark background in studio brown hues without descriptive details, that is, reducing the image to basic visual expressive means. He gradually reduces light while occasionally emphasising contrasting light effects. In these works, there is an evident similarity with Anton Ažbe’s works, who is important as a representative of Munich Realism for Croatian artists as well. The museum painting An Old Man from Gorenjska shows all the aforementioned characteristics of Vesel’s education in Munich – the figure of an elderly man is shown from behind in half-profile, depicted with an almost monochrome warm range of dark brown hues interrupted by a thin white line of the collar, while the light on the right strongly illuminates the old man’s high forehead, possibly indicating an artistic emphasis of the proverbial wisdom of the elderly.
Text: Dajana Vlaisavljević, museum counsellor © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb, 2023