Bourgeois Art Commissions in Carniola and Styria in the 19th and the First Half of the 20th Century

Basic Info


The fact that in the last two decades, the amount of research into art patronage in Slovenia has increased significantly represents the scientific basis of the project titled Bourgeois Art Commissions in Carniola and Styria in the 19th and the First Half of the 20th Century. Initially, the focus was on the studies of ecclesiastical patrons, while in the last decade, the number of studies focusing on the noble patrons increased together with the research into the history of the Slovenian aristocracy, especially in the period of the Early Modern Period. However, the commissions of the bourgeoisie that had a crucial impact on the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, in particular, remained completely overlooked. 

The goal of the present project is therefore to research bourgeois art commissions in the two central Slovenian provinces of Styria and Carniola. In this regard, various genres of visual arts (architecture, sculpture, painting, applied arts) as well as private and public commissions will be taken into account. Temporally, we will focus on the period between the Congress of Vienna or the beginning of the pre-March period (1815) and the onset of World War II (1941), during which the bourgeoisie was most active as an art commissioner. In the period under consideration, the end of World War I and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary (1918) represents a significant turning point that thoroughly changed the political and cultural reality in both provinces explored by this project. The affirmation of the bourgeoisie that gradually took over most political, economic, and cultural initiatives was characteristic of the period until 1918. As the social position of the bourgeoisie changed, its need for self-representation, also through visual arts, became more prominent as well (similarly as in the case of the nobility in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period). This need is obvious from the private commissions (villas and other types of private residences, the collection of older artworks, and commissions of paintings – portraits in particular) as well as the public ones (public buildings, especially related to culture, public monuments). As these provinces belonged to the Habsburg Monarchy for centuries, their close connections with the artistic and cultural developments in Vienna as well as in other art centres, for example in Graz and Prague (in the case of those citizens that identified as Slovenians or Slavs) are evident. Simultaneously, this was the period of the gradual emancipation of nations and the formation of political parties and parliamentary life in today’s meaning of the expression. In the last decades before World War I, these developments resulted in a significant politicisation of the public and private life, apparent especially from the Catholic-liberal and Slovenian-German conflicts. Visual arts were strongly influenced by the latter in particular.

After the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), the cultural situation in the former Styria and Carniola changed considerably. In Styria, the establishment of the new Yugoslav-Austrian border (the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 1919) was of crucial importance, as it severed the centuries-old cultural connections of the Styrian citizens with Graz. Consequently, the importance of Ljubljana, which finally acquired the role of the political, economic, and cultural centre of Slovenians, increased considerably. This was also evident from the rich cultural life in the city as well as the formation of new cultural institutions (the National Gallery in 1918, the Opera in 1918, the University in 1919, the Art History Society in 1920, the Academy of Sciences and Arts in 1938, the preparations for the establishment of the Modern Gallery, etc.) as well as from many new art commissions, especially public ones. While the beginning of the 1920s was characterised by the profound optimism regarding the new political entity, which also resulted in various attempts to define what was Slovenian in the new state and Europe in general (e.g. defining Slovenian arts, attempts to create a Slovenian national artistic style), the second half of the 1920s was once again defined by the considerable politicisation of life, caused by the increasing dissatisfaction with the first Yugoslav state. The 1930s were marked by the King’s Dictatorship that pursued the unitarianisation of Yugoslavia as its goal. From the political field, the struggle for the preservation of the Slovenian elements and (at least cultural) autonomy moved to the field of culture. Meanwhile, in the visual arts, we can note many attempts at emphasising Slovenianism instead of the Yugoslavism enforced by the state (Jože Plečnik’s unrealised plans for the Slovenian Pantheon; Gojmir Anton Kos’s fresco in the Ban’s Palace; etc.).

The bourgeoisie as the leading social stratum of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century had a crucial impact on the contemporaneous arts, as due to the decline of commissions from the ranks of the nobility and the church, artists had no choice but to adapt to the taste of the bourgeoisie in terms of the artworks’ style as well as contents (iconography). It needs to be underlined that in the second half and especially at the end of the 19th century, the cities in Carniola and Styria grew significantly as the transport infrastructure improved (the construction of the railway network) and intensive industrialisation was underway. Citizens as commissioners of public and private buildings (private citizens as well as the city authorities and various institutions and societies) thus decisively influenced the architectural and artistic image of the Carniolan and Styrian cities. They also had an impact on the development of visual arts in Slovenia (e.g. by adopting or rejecting the new artistic orientations and/or concrete artists).

As we have already mentioned, rich cultural life in the broadest sense of the word is characteristic of the period of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Therefore, the art patronage of the bourgeoisie in Carniola and Styria should be analysed in the context of the broader cultural developments as well as contemporaneous political and social events. Inquiries into the art commissions of the bourgeoisie in Slovenia therefore contribute significantly to understanding the public and private life of the bourgeoisie in the Slovenian cities in general. However, they are also vital as they expand on the previous research into the political and social history of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century in Slovenia.

The goal of the project is, therefore, to explore the various aspects of bourgeois art commissions in the two central Slovenian provinces of Carniola and Styria in the period of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century (in the case of the latter, Lower Styria, which is nowadays located in Slovenia, will be underlined, albeit the cases will be analysed in the context of the historical Styria). Due to the significant scope of the topic, we have selected several case studies while striving to ensure equal representation of both historical provinces, commissions from the time of the Habsburg Monarchy as well as Yugoslavia, various art genres, as well as public and private commissions. One of the emphases of the project also focuses on the national aspect, which is why the researched art commissioners will include members of the Slovenian as well as the German-speaking community. In this manner, we aim to shed light on as many different aspects of the bourgeois art patronage in the period under consideration as possible.

Project steps

1.    Introductory meeting of project group members; 
2.    Archival research using primary sources in Slovenia and abroad; 
3.    Fieldwork in Slovenia and abroad; 
4.    Research work in Slovenian and foreign libraries; 
5.    The first presentations of the research; 
6.    An internal workshop for the project group members. 

1.    Archival research using primary sources; 
2.    Research work in Slovenian and foreign libraries;
3.    Fieldwork in Slovenia and abroad;
4.    An internal workshop;
5.    Publication of the first final research results; 
6.    Participation in workshops and conferences, and presentation of the project’s research results; 
7.    Public lectures and presentations of the project’s research results;
8.    Ongoing inclusion of the research into the pedagogical process at the Department of Art History at the Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor.

1.    Publication of the case studies from the thematic fields of the entire project research by all project group members in scientific magazines and other publications; 
2.    Presentation of the results in the form of papers and lectures; 
3.    Organisation and realisation of an exhibition about the bourgeois villas in Slovenia in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century and their commissioners using digital humanities;
4.    An internal workshop;
5.    A final monograph containing the project group members’ contributions