As depicted by 19th and 20th century artists from the collections of Slovak National Gallery
Bratislava is a capital city where the river Danube meets the Carpathian mountains. Although the Castle sits atop the city centre, there are even higher places from which almost the whole city can be viewed.
Maximilian Schurmann created several pictures of Bratislava, focusing mainly on street activities (marketplace, construction work). This view is probably his most majestic and was imitated more than once.
Pavol Poljak was a prolific photographer of old Bratislava and his shots preserved many parts of the city that are now lost in time.
Extramural settlements Vydrica, Zuckermandel and Water Hill were located under the Bratislava Castle and contained mostly pauper houses huddled together without any urbanistic plan. This lent a specific charm to the neighborhood, which was mostly demolished after World War II. and during the construction of the SNP Bridge.
Baštová street lies directly beneath the Michael's Gate landmark and it's medieval charm with wineries and inns is still preserved to this day.
Ivan Kozáček documented the street life of Bratislava in small details as well as large panoramas. He carefully watched ordinary citizens and the transformations of the city during the second half of 20th century.
Devin castle lies at the strategic confluence of Danube and Morava rivers and was a prominent seat of power during the short existence of Great Morava kingdom during the middle ages. Today it hosts historic festivals and there are two Iron Curtain monuments on the river shore, marking the border with Austria.
Further downstream, the Danube river creates a vast floodplain landscape. Most of the important rivers in Slovakia flow into the Danube trhough an arid flatland called Žitný Ostrov, which contains one of the largest underground drinking water reservoirs in Europe.
Július Koreszka focused on lyrical landscapes in the western regions of Slovakia. Partly inspired by his studies of post-impressionists in Paris, he infused his paintings with peaceful and idyllic atmosphere.
Karol Kállay was a world-renowned photographer, who created iconic character shots of people from all walks of life and in many countries, including Mexico, Italy, Japan, USA and the Soviet Union. His sense of light, composition and inherent humanism influenced generations of photographers, not only in Slovakia.
The old sugar refinery in Trnava once ranked amongst the most productive and technologically advanced refineries in Europe and contributed to the urbanistic and econimic development of the city. This industrial landmark now lies in disrepair, waiting for a respectable civic intervention.
Edita Ambrušová was a painter and illustrator who was able to find beauty in small everyday things and overlooked spectacles. Her humble still lives and sceneries emanate friendly, cozy charm.
There are many wine regions in Slovakia from east (Tokaj) to west (Záhorie), with viniculture being a key part of folklore. Nitra is a city with long winery tradition and collects grapes from wineyards under Zobor and elsewhere along the Carpathian ridge.
Karol Pongrácz combined in his work influences of Impressionism, Luminism and Barbizon school of painting. Pongrácz´s art has also important documentary value in preserving the important dominants and urban areas of Nitra and other Slovak towns.
Ernest Zmeták was an important painter, graphic artist and art collector, who gathered many influences, but his work maintained styllistic continuity. Zmeták's paintings are easily recognizable by their confident brush strokes, formal austerity and careful color balance. He often travelled to Italy and we can see in his art the similarities between Slovak landscape and that of Tuscany.
Myjava is a beautiful upland district with rolling hills, colorful fields and many dispersed small settlements (called kopanice), which are still named after the families of their inhabitants. Czech landscape artist Jiři Mandel aptly rendered the feel of the region that tries hard to retain it's folklore and traditional way of life.
Skalica, located near the Czech border, is the cultural centre of sandy lowland Záhorie region. Romanesque, Late Renaissance and Art Nouveau architecture can be found in its preserved city centre.
Photographer and traveller Juraj Jurkovič captured a series of Skalica interior stills, which show almost all of the traditional objects of Slovak domestic life, from kitchen accessories to living room decorations and bedroom memorabilia.
Cyprián Majerník was a moral authority in his time. He was able to aptly express the conflicting nature and ideologic grotesque of the violent 20th century. In the early works, Majerník often commented on obscurantism, ritualism, clergical demagogy, alcoholism and hypocricy. His parody however, was always respectful and good intentioned.
In this oil painting, Majerník shows the old pagan ritual of destroying Morena - the female figurine, symbolizing winter and death, which is burned or drowned during the festivities meant to welcome the spring.
Ladislav Guderna, an artist inspired by Surrealism, Cubism and Fauvism, worked a lot with geometric shapes and their potential of painterly abstraction. Somewhere between his more realistic and the completely imaginary landscapes lies this jovial picture of the riverside (probably river Váh). Objects and figures are neatly grouped and positioned as if to suit the almost flag-like distribution of vivid, complementary colors.
Imrich Weiner-Kráľ was an iconic representative of Slovak surrealism and expressionism. He fused the contemporary art trends from around the Europe with Slovak folklore motifs and produced many bizzare, dreamlike and metaphorical works.
In this more concrete painting, he contrasts the old architecture (Trenčín Castle) with invading modern technology, represented by the steel train bridge over the river Váh. The engineer construction in the painting almost resembles a rollercoaster.
Ján Halaša was not only a photographer, but also a very active organizer of tourism, mountain sports and various expeditions. He produced tourist and geography publications and his pictures eventually comprised a visual guide to the mountain parts of Turiec, Orava and Liptov. In photography, he created a specific synthesis of monumentalism and warm emotionality.
Irena Blühová was one of the first photographers in Czeckoslovakia to utilize photography as a means of documentary study and social commentary. She focused on daily lives of workers, poverty and health issues of the countryside, but also created nice pastoral portraits. This photograph has a subtitle that reads: Life and work of shepherds, herdsmen and cowboys.
The mysterious patterns caught the attention of idiosyncratic neoavantgarde artist Július Koller, who worked with concepts of communication, universal symbolism and cosmo-humanistic culture. He simulated the Čičmany ornaments with a raster of question marks - his typical sign, which represents perpetual questioning.
Váh is the longest river in Slovakia, flowing from Tatra mountains all the way to the Danube on the southern border. Probably the most dangerous section on the river were the two sharp and rocky meanders called Margita and Besná near the castle Strečno. Many rafters and boatmen found their deaths here, until the river transport of wood was made obsolete by the railway.
Orava is the northernmost and coldest region of the country. Its windswept hills, deep forests and hard-working pietous populace inspired writers as well as artists.
Martin Benka was the founder of the nationally oriented painting, also called “the alchemist of Slovak beauty” by his contemporaries. Benka's goal was to provide the unassuming nation with spiritual support through art. His craft invoked many followers, albeit with less utopian and idealistic attitude.
Benka's monumental landscapes are often rythmicized by horizontal stripes of fog and populated by people at work and rest, proudly resisting their destiny. In his building of the "homeland myth", he used aspects of Art Nouveau and Expressionism, but also channeled the pathos and nostalgia of Romanticism.
After clash with dogmatic state power in 1950's, he retreated to Orava, where his most poignant creative period started. Repeating motifs of lone houses, courtyards, farming tools, birds, cats, solitary figures and heavenly objects, the artist created an enigmatic world of solitude and passing from reality. Bazovský described the almost hallucinatory finale of his creation as – “half-surreal,” and “delirium colorans”.
Ľudovít Fulla was a harbinger of Slovak Modernism. Together with his colleague Mikuláš Galanda, he penned the first Slovak modernist manifesto, advocating for originality of expression, personal investment in the subject matter and simplicity of form.
Fulla created a unique blend of disparate influences - children's art, medieval iconographic, European avant-garde painting and folk art. He innovated in many fields, including book illustration and stage design.
The nature and inhabitants of Liptov were the subject matter for Martin Martinček, a very respected and versatile photograpger. He spent considerable time talking to the people he wanted to photograph, earning their trust and getting to know their life stories.
Martinček searched for beauty in the people's faces, habitats, landscape structures and small random details of the natural order. His emotional panoramas of Liptov betray the deep affection for the land and its inhabitants.
Liptovská Mara is a water reservoir on river Váh, created in 1969 - 1975 to prevent floods and generate electricity. 13 villages were inundated during its creation and 940 families had to be resettled. Today, the dam is used as a recreational site. The reconstructed Celtic oppidum Havránok is situated on a hill above the dam.
Ladislav Čemický, sometimes called a father of Slovak watercolor painting, created many sentimental views of Liptov country throughout his long career, as they provided a relaxing retreat from more socially engaged and darker works. They ranged from timid mundane etudes to more impressionistic vistas.
Zolo Palugyay was a very talented artist, who tragically died in young age while hiking in search for inspiration. His love for Slovak nature found its expression in numerous aquarels and paintings, many of them with symbolic or esoteric meanings.
In this late painting, the invasion of industrial society into the archaic Slovak world is represented by juxtaposition of the female figure with a jug (a favorite symbol in Slovak modern art) and twisting factory chimneys. The background is formed by the misty silhouette of Tatra peaks.
Dereše is one of the peaks of Low Tatras, a part of the continuous ridge that can be traversed by foot in its entirety, offering views of Liptov river valleys.
Photographer Rastislav Bero resisted capturing the panoramas and focused on the terrain itself and weather effects. The unusual colors in his shots and sparseness of the landscape create an impression of looking at some yet undiscovered planet.
Rudolf Moško's signature works were the minimalistic, almost sculptural paintings of Slovakia's hills and canyons. He reduced the landscape to its basic masses with few colors, punctuated by some small object, such as moon or a distant building. This cubist abstraction shifted the well known mountain views into the realm of myths and metaphors.
Most of Nándor Katona's works depict scenes of nature from the land under High Tatras, which he considered his home despite having spent much of his life in Budapest. He was influenced strongly by Ladislav Mednyánszky and adopted the master's propensity to depict fleeting atmospheres and states of light, his painterly gesture and reverence for the subject matter.
Karel Plicka was an artist of many trades, considered a founder of Slovak film education and filmmaking. His documentary photography was often of etnographic nature, but he prefered stylization (sometimes using figures to show scope) and precise composition instead of absolute verity. Plicka's archive contains thousands of photographs and shows the seven decades of changes in folklore, work habits, architecture and natural environment.
Mikuláš Galanda was the co-author of the first Slovak manifesto of modern painting. He also achieved distinctive results in drawing, graphics and brought Slovak fine art in step with Europe in the 1930s.
Galanda emphasized the precision of line, coupled with tasteful lyricism and intimacy. Many of his formally simple pictures of madonnas, nudes, brigands and other modest motifs became iconic masterpieces. Galanda's small view of High Tatras village Ždiar shows his ability to easily create a winsome, almost fairy tale quality.
Arnold Peter Weisz-Kubínčan was an expressionist, tormented by internal unrest and search for identity for his whole life, which ended tragically in Nazi concentration camp. Unsettling color tensions and fluttering lines are palpable in his works, which powerfully demonstrate the hidden drama and an unseen rhytm of the landscape.
Janko Alexy was a socially active artist and culture essayist. His creative peak was in the 1930s, when he travelled with colleagues Bazovský and Palugyay through the uphill regions of Slovakia in search for subject matter and organized touring exhibitions promoting modern art. He created multiple pastel drawings with asymmetric composition and symbolic function of environments. To emphasize his ideas, he reduced the color palette, used colder hues, simpler shapes and a soothing, fluent gesture.
Šumiac is a typical middle Slovakia village under Low Tatras. It lies below Kráľová Hoľa mountain, one of the informal national symbols in folk ballads and Romantic poetry. Portraits of people from Šumiac are amongst the most well-known pieces by Czech social photographer Markéta Luskáčová. She was inspired by old Christian rites and surviving traditions, focused on children and family elders, depicting their ties to each other and to the native land.
Banská Štiavnica is a completely preserved medieval town and a World Heritage Site. It lies in an ancient caldera created by a collapsed volcano. The town was a center of silver ore mining and pioneered many innovations in the field (gunpowder blasts; water drain reservoirs, known as tajchy; world's first technical university). After the decline of mining in the 19th century, Štiavnica stayed a university town and today is a popular tourist destination, thanks to its rich cultural heritage and interesting mine excursions.
Michal Studený was a part of the generation of artists, who in the 1960s sought to keep the Slovak art scene in touch with the emerging progressive avantgarde movements in the world. Working a lot with collage and illustration, he sometimes deliberately approached "grand" art concepts from an intuitive, almost naive point of view. His trademark was putting paint on canvas straight from the tube.
Studený's artistic "exile" (and self-searching experience) after temporarily moving with family to the town Revúca is recorded in this simple, but gracious landscape piece.
The melancholic qualities of this place suited his solitary nature; he could wander for hours and study the changeability of nature, then bring it to life through hundreds of subtle brush strokes and color hues. Mednyánszky's intimate landscapes in lyrical realist style reflected each of his particular moods and feelings
In this panorama of Spiš country, we can see the three-plane sequence from old to recent - Spiš castle from the 12th century in the background (one of the largest castles in Europe by area), the ecclesiastical town Spišská kapitula in the middle and fields with packs of hay in the front. The nobility, the clergy, and the peasantry.
Dezider Milly represented the art of Rusyn minority of eastern Slovakia and brought in original themes and cultural features of Ukrainian enclaves. Milly depicted his home country around Kyjov in minimallistic fashion with rich contrasting colors and a sort of psychedellic vibe. There is a notion of infinity lying beyond the wide horizons in his paintings.
Karel Vik was a Czech painter and printmaker whose woodcut prints show in multiple versions the production process of applying individual color layers from the basic monochromatic outline to the finished product. His marketplace panorama of the Main street in Prešov diligently reproduces the Rennaissance houses that are still recognizable today.
Pavol Breier is a documentary and experimental photographer who observes the unvarnished aspects of daily life in Slovak regions. The Roma communities have a distinct culture and very photogenic, joyful temperament.
Despite struggling with unemployment and segregation, they are an inseparable (but still underestimated) part of Slovak world. Other photographers, such as Ján Cifra, Michal Suchý or Tibor Huszár captured the life specifics of Roma people as well.
Ester Plicková worked in Slovak National Museum and in the Department of Ethnology in the Slovak Academy of Sciences. She popularized the folklore arts and crafts (especially pottery) through exhibitions and writing, and complemented her research with beautiful photographs. In her monography, called The Beauty of Clay, she documents the various regional patterns, the potters themselves and their home environments.
Július Jakoby was a non-conformist "hermit" painter, who independently anticipated artistic solutions close to new figuration, art brut and wild painting. His paintings were characterized by their spontaneous character, barbarian sense of color and an existential grotesque, caricaturing and ironizing of the human world. Even his non-figural works and landscapes are often swirling spectacles of temperamental brush strokes with a strange sense of ominous foreboding.
Ľudovít Čordák was born in Košice, but lived in Munich and later in Prague, where he was following the traditional realism and romanticism trends of contemporary landscape painting. After returning to eastern Slovakia and settling in Slanec, his art started to lighten up and incorporate more personal expression.
Deep woods in Bankov near Košice are a favorite local holiday destination, thanks to the "healing" waters and pristine nature close to the city. Jasusch painted the serpentine forest railroad in a gentle, relaxing manner, while still invoking feelings of mystery and a mild vertigo. The painting also seems to be saying farewell to the viewer.
All artworks selected from the collections of Slovak National Gallery.
Artworks, artists and other collections can be found in the online catalogue - www.webumenia.sk
Curation and texts by Lab.SNG
Thanks for viewing.