By Slovak National Gallery
Slovak National Gallery
From painterly to abstract
This selection contains fifty visions of Slovak landscape, folklore and architecture, each by a different artist. Paintings, drawings, graphic works and photographs show places from various regions and time periods, divided into geographical sections. The exhibit attempts to display the variety of artistic expression as well as the multiple shades of 'Slovak' atmosphere. Artworks are selected from the collection of Slovak National Gallery. You can find all the artworks and authors in the online catalogue www.webumenia.sk
Regions: Bratislava, Žitný Ostrov, Záhorie, Považie, Ponitrie
Springtime in Bratislava (1932/1932) by Maximilián SchurmannSlovak National Gallery
Bratislava is a capital city where the Danube meets the Carpathian Mountains. Although the Castle sits atop the city centre, there are even higher places from where (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.
Neighborhood Under Water Hill in Bratislava (1930/1940) by Pavol PoljakSlovak National Gallery
Pavol Poljak was a prolific photographer of old Bratislava and his shots preserved many parts of the city that would be lost in time.
Extramural settlements Vydrica, Zuckermandel and Water Hill were located under the Bratislava Castle and held mostly pauper houses huddled together without any urban planning. This lent a specific charm to the neighbourhood, 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 its 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 observed ordinary citizens and the transformations of the city during the second half of 20th century.
Devin Castle lies at the strategic confluence of the Danube and the Morava rivers and was a prominent seat of power during the short existence of hte 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.
Fishermen on the Oxbow of the Danube (1928/1929) by Július KoreszkaSlovak National Gallery
Further downstream, the Danube 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.
Isle of Cormorants (1930/1935) by Štefan Prohászka-TallósSlovak National Gallery
Ostrov Kormoránov (The Isle of Cormorants) is a nature reserve on the Danube, named after its unique bird habitat, which was flooded during the construction of Gabčíkovo dam and reservoir. The river creates wide alluvial plains and small islands parallel to its regulated flow, with specific biotopes within.
Štefan Prohászka-Tallós was a Hungarian artist who often exhibited in Bratislava. He was known for expressive, almost grotesque depictions of public events, markets and feasts, sometimes commenting on the Slovak-Hungarian social tensions. This is one of his more peaceful and nature-oriented works.
From the Komárno Shipyard (1957/1957) by Karol KállaySlovak National Gallery
Komárno is Slovakia's principal port on the Danube and the former fortress against the expansion of the Ottoman Turks. The shipyard industrial district was the city's primary force of modern post-war economic development. Hundreds of river and seagoing cargo vessels were built here.
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.
Trnava Sugar Refinery (1949/1949) by Edita AmbrušováSlovak National Gallery
The old sugar refinery in Trnava once ranked amongst the most productive and technologically advanced refineries in Europe and contributed to the urban and economic 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 lifes and sceneries emanate friendly, cozy charm.
Sunset in Pezinok (1895/1915) by Gustav MallýSlovak National Gallery
Gustav Mallý was one of the founders of Slovak modern painting, an influential pedagogue and organiser of exhibition group activities. While part of his work is very thematic and observatory, many pieces just elude the joy of painting and the fascination with light and colour.
This street in the town Pezinok gets more hazy towards the vanishing point and nicely captures the nostalgia of daily dusk.
Wineyards at the foot of Zobor (1930/1940) by Karol PongráczSlovak National Gallery
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 vineyards under Zobor and elsewhere along the Carpathian ridge.
Karol Pongrácz combined in his work influences of Impressionism, Luminism and the 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.
Landscape near Červený kameň castle (1957/1957) by Ernest ZmetákSlovak National Gallery
Červený Kameň is one of the many bastions on the summits of Small Carpathians. They formed the chain of the Kingdom of Hungary’s frontier defence castles ranging from Pressburg (Bratislava) to Žilina. The surrounding landscape is a domain of dense forests, wide meadows and small lakes.
Ernest Zmeták was an important painter, graphic artist and art collector, who gathered many influences, but his work maintained stylistic continuity. Zmeták's paintings are easily recognisable by their confident brush strokes, formal austerity and careful colour balance. He often travelled to Italy and in his art we can see the similarities between Slovak landscape and that of Tuscany.
Landscape around Myjava (1915/1935) by Jiří MandelSlovak National Gallery
Myjava is a beautiful upland district with rolling hills, colourful 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 its 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, clerical demagogy, alcoholism and hypocrisy. His parody, however, was always respectful and well intentioned.
In this oil painting, Majerník shows the old pagan ritual of destroying Morena - the female figurine, symbolising winter and death, which is burned or drowned during the festivities meant to welcome the spring.
Vladimír Kompánek imbued sculptures, paintings and drawings with his unique and imaginative visual language. Observing the Slovak world, he harvested archetypes, symbols and genius loci to create an abstract, almost totemic and pristine version of reality.
Landscape with a River (1948/1948) by Ladislav GudernaSlovak National Gallery
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 the River Váh). Objects and figures are neatly grouped and positioned as if to suit the almost flag-like distribution of vivid, complementary colors.
Trenčín (1961/1962) by Imrich Weiner-KráľSlovak National Gallery
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 bizarre, 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 organiser of hikes, mountain sports and various expeditions. He produced tourist and geography publications and his pictures eventually comprised a visual tourist 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 utilise 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.
Universal Folkloric Ornamentation (U.F.O.) - Čičmany (1978/1978) by Július KollerSlovak National Gallery
The village Čičmany is known as the first folk architecture reserve in the world. Timbered houses here have very specific white ornaments of unclear origins. Some of the houses burned down in the 20th century, but were recreated by an influential architect Dušan Jurkovič.
The mysterious patterns caught the attention of idiosyncratic Neo-Avantgarde 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.
Regions: Liptov, Turiec, Kysuce, Orava, Tatra Mountains, Pohronie, Gemer
Margita (1818/1826) by Wilhelm Friedrich SchlotterbeckSlovak National Gallery
The Váh is the longest river in Slovakia, flowing from the 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.
Graphic artists Josef Fischer and Wilhelm Friedrich Schlotterbeck created an epic aquatint, that presented the river and rocks in an almost fantastic fashion.
Orava motif (1934/1934) by Martin BenkaSlovak National Gallery
Orava is the northernmost and coldest region of the country. Its windswept hills, deep forests and hard-working pious 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 rythmicised 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 channelled the pathos and nostalgia of Romanticism.
Solitude (Birds taking flight) (1957/1957) by Miloš Alexander BazovskýSlovak National Gallery
The non-idealised, expressive and authentic visual style of Miloš Alexander Bazovský strived towards the spiritual core of the Slovak rural life. He examined the eternal principles behind life, work, home, struggle, humility, faith, memory and death.
After clash with dogmatic state power in the 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”.
Winter in the old Žilina (1965/1965) by Ľudovít FullaSlovak National Gallery
Ľudovít Fulla was a harbinger of Slovak Modernism. Together with his colleague Mikuláš Galanda, he penned the first manifesto of Slovak Modernism, advocating for the 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.
Fulla's largest paintings are often crowded, intensely colourful and full of small scenes, inviting the viewer for closer inspection. This winter vision of Žilina - the cultural and industrial hub of north-western Slovakia - is an exuberant celebration of snow and the communal life.
Haystacks in Liptov (1965/1970) by Martin MartinčekSlovak National Gallery
Liptov region lies below and to the west of the High Tatras and forms a spectacular collage of rounded hills, river canyons, plateaus and steep pastures.
The nature and inhabitants of Liptov were the subject matter for Martin Martinček, a very respected and versatile photographer. 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 (Reservoir) (1983/1983) by Ladislav ČemickýSlovak National Gallery
Liptovská Mara is a water reservoir on the Váh, created between 1969 and 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 watercolour 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.
Girl in White with Factory Chimneys and Flowers (1932/1932) by Zolo PalugyaySlovak National Gallery
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 watercoulour and oil 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 favourite symbol in Slovak modern art) and twisting factory chimneys. The background is formed by the misty silhouette of the Tatra peaks.
Dereše (1987/1987) by Rastislav BeroSlovak National Gallery
Dereše is one of the peaks of the Low Tatras, a part of the continuous ridge that can be traversed by foot in its entirety, offering views of river valleys in the Liptov region.
Photographer Rastislav Bero resisted capturing the panoramas and focused on the terrain itself and weather effects. The unusual colours in his shots and sparseness of the landscape create an impression of looking at some yet undiscovered planet.
Veľká Fatra IV. (1976/1976) by Rudolf MoškoSlovak National Gallery
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 colours, punctuated by some small object, such as the moon or a distant building. This cubist abstraction shifted the well-known mountain views into the realm of myths and metaphors.
The High Tatras in Winter (1900/1910) by Nándor KatonaSlovak National Gallery
Most of Nándor Katona's works depict scenes of nature from the land under the 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 his master's propensity to depict fleeting atmospheres and states of light, his painterly gesture and reverence for the subject matter.
This intimidating view of massive High Tatras peak uses trees to show the smallness of man compared to the unstoppable geologic forces.
Karel Plicka was an artist of many trades, considered a founder of the Slovak film education and filmmaking. His documentary photography was often of ethnographic nature, but he preferred stylisation (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 manifesto of Slovak Modernism. He also achieved distinctive results in drawing, graphics and brought Slovak fine art in step with Europe in the 1930s.
Galanda emphasised 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 the High Tatras village Ždiar shows his ability to easily create a winsome, almost fairy tale quality.
Horse (1937/1937) by Arnold Peter Weisz-KubínčanSlovak National Gallery
Arnold Peter Weisz-Kubínčan was an expressionist, tormented by internal unrest and search for identity for his whole life, which ended tragically in a Nazi concentration camp. Unsettling colour tensions and fluttering lines are palpable in his works, which powerfully demonstrate the hidden drama and an unseen rhythm of the landscape.
Kubínčan persistently depicted the strife for unity with nature and the desire for freedom, symbolised in one of his greatest works by the running (or flying) horse. Horses in motion are a repeating motif in Kubínčan's paintings and drawings, often in restless or defiant poses.
Fujara (Shepherd's pipe) Players in Detva (1931/1931) by Janko AlexySlovak National Gallery
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 organised touring exhibitions promoting modern art. He created multiple pastel drawings with asymmetric composition and symbolic function of environments. To emphasise his ideas, he reduced the colour palette, used colder hues, simpler shapes and a soothing, fluent gesture.
One of his masterpieces is the image of fujara players in Detva, where he merged all token symbols of the iconic Slovak town - the local male skirt garments, shepherd's pipes and the characteristic funeral crosses.
Šumiac (1969/1974) by Markéta LuskačováSlovak National Gallery
Šumiac is a typical Central Slovakia village under the 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.
Reapers in Poniky (Zvolen) (1892/1913) by Pavol SocháňSlovak National Gallery
Pavol Socháň was probably the most important Slovak photo-ethnographer, who documented the contemporary look of many Slovak cities and villages, folk costumes, embroidery, work tools and countryside dwellings. His attitude to motif selection, styling and composition is nearly encyclopaedic.
People in Socháň's photos perform their daily activities or interact with each other, but are shot from angles that emphasise their clothing, homes and surrounding landscape.
Banská Štiavnica (1800/1900) by Hugo LöschingerSlovak National Gallery
Banská Štiavnica is a well-preserved medieval town and a World Heritage Site. It lies in an ancient caldera created by a collapsed volcano. The town was a centre 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.
An old litograph by an obscure Austro-Hungarian artist Hugo Löschinger shows many of the historical landmarks of Banská Štiavnica, including the Jesuit Calvary on the hill and the Klopačka Bell Tower, which was used to call miners for the mass.
The twisting medieval streets and various activities of citizens are also visible on Löschinger's veduta.
Revúca (1972/1972) by Michal StudenýSlovak National Gallery
Michal Studený was a part of the generation of artists, who sought to keep the Slovak art scene in touch with the emerging progressive avant-garde movements in the world during the 1960s. 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.
Regions: Spiš, Šariš, Zemplín, Abov
Spiš Landscape in Winter (1879/1879) by Ladislav MednyánszkySlovak National Gallery
Ladislav Mednyánszky was the most iconic Impressionist working on Slovak territory. He lived for some time in Strážky mansion, within sight of the High Tatras and visually explored the surrounding countryside, especially the bends in the Poprad River nearby.
The melancholic qualities of this place were well-suited suited to his solitary character; 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.
Spišská Kapitula (1966/1966) by Tibor HontySlovak National Gallery
Documentary and surrealist photographer Tibor Honty also shot pictures of sculptures for galleries and art societies. His professional skills allowed him to capture conventional scenes in unusual compositions and juxtapositions.
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.
Before Harvest (1969/1969) by Dezider MillySlovak National Gallery
Dezider Milly represented the art of the 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 colours and a sort of psychedelic vibe. There is a notion of infinity lying beyond the wide horizons in his paintings.
Prešov Square (1934/1934) by Karel VikSlovak National Gallery
Karel Vik was a Czech painter and printmaker whose woodcut prints show in multiple versions the production process of applying individual colour 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 recognisable 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 the Slovak National Museum and in the Department of Ethnology in the Slovak Academy of Sciences. She popularised the folklore arts and crafts (especially pottery) through exhibitions and writing, and complemented her research with beautiful photographs.
In her monograph, called The Beauty of Clay, she documents the various regional patterns, the potters themselves and their home environments.
Landscape from Košice (1937/1937) by Július JakobySlovak National Gallery
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 characterised by their spontaneous character, barbarian sense of colour and an existential grotesque, caricaturing and ironising 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.
Moonlit Landscape with Castle Slanec (1896/1896) by Ľudovít ČordákSlovak National Gallery
Ľudovít Čordák was born in Košice, but he 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.
The new luministic attitude of Ľudovít Čordák's Slovak period is exemplified by the Moonlit Landscape with Castle Slanec, which despite being a traditional plen-air painting, feels somewhat enigmatic and out of time.
Bankov (1945/1955) by Anton JasuschSlovak National Gallery
Anton Jasusch is best known for his set of giant apocalyptic canvasses, which contemplated the fate of humanity and channelled his traumas from the eastern front in the First World War. In addition to existential works, he also created many enchanting and inherently dynamic landscapes.
Deep woods in Bankov near Košice are a favourite 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.