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Barbizon artists and their wider impact

ONE OF the more extensive, attractive and popular exhibitions at the Bratislava City Gallery (GMB) so far this year has been Nebo nad hlavou - Umelci Barbizonu (Under the Open Sky - The Barbizon Painters).

ONE OF the more extensive, attractive and popular exhibitions at the Bratislava City Gallery (GMB) so far this year has been Nebo nad hlavou - Umelci Barbizonu (Under the Open Sky - The Barbizon Painters).

As well as the works of French artists who moved, from the mid nineteenth century onwards, to the small-town of Barbizon near Paris to paint landscapes, the show also presented the works of Czech (Eugen Jettel, Wilhelm Riedel) and Austrian artists (August von Pettenkofen, Emil Jakob Schindler) who were inspired by the location to change their artistic style. “The Barbizon School” is a term denoting a group who left behind urban life to enjoy nature, a calmer life in the countryside and the changing local landscape. One of the exhibition’s curators, Zuzana Štěpanovičová, explained that the Barbizon artists shifted the then-fashionable Romantic Movement to a new genre that emphasised “plain and ordinary” themes and elements of light as well as nature’s changing seasons. These same elements were later developed further in impressionism.

Alongside the exhibits in Under the Open Sky - The Barbizon Painters, which were borrowed from the Liberec Regional Art Gallery in the Czech Republic, was a second exhibition, closely connected in terms of style and genre: a collection of 25 works by Ladislav Mednyánszky. This native of Beckov (a village in Trenčín Region) can be considered a true citizen of Europe, as he later worked and lived in Budapest, Vienna and Paris, making shorter stays in Italy, while also returning to Beckov, and was much influenced by the Barbizon School, the style of which seemed to have been in tune with his inner world. According to the foreword to the exhibition guide, Mednyánszky raised landscape painting – in the manner of lyrical realism, employing an artist’s experience, his individual feelings and moods – to a masterful level. Though he later added some experience of impressionist painting, he often returned to the pictures of misty moods in dark shades, and the interiors of woods and swamplands typical of the Barbizon School. These two exhibitions in the GMB perfectly demonstrated the influence of the French school and artists united around Barbizon on other European painters, especially those from central Europe.

Guillaume Robert, counsellor for cooperation and cultural activities at the French Embassy and head of the French Institute in Slovakia, said at a press conference that he thought it was a good idea to support more classical and older visual art, as the French representation in Slovakia was rather focused on contemporary art and contemporary artists. “It is a big exhibition and when we were asked to participate, I thought it [would be in] 2013 or 2014. After I heard that the exhibition was to be opened very soon, my first idea was to say no, to be honest. But, finally, we found a way to support it, and I am glad – as it is a good balance to the more modern artistic forms,” he commented.

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