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PAINTINGS FROM UNDER HIGH TATRA MOUNTAINS

An art exhibit during Vychodna folk festival

UNKNOWN PAINTINGS BY ENGLISH PAINTERS

By: Jan Botik

During our study stay in the USA we came across a travel book called "Hungary" published in London, 1909, and written by English painters Adrian and Marianna Stokes. We were impressed by the 75 color full-page illustrations almost half of which were pictures of Slovakia of High Tatra region. The landscapes and portraits of the Tatra villages of Vazec, Mengusovce and Zdiar with their familiar countryside, folk architecture and costumes addressed us intimately. As the illustrations are unknown in Slovakia, we decided to make photographs of them and bring them home for those interested in seeing them too.

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Adrian and Marianne Stokes arrived in Slovakia in 1905. The High Tatras were their destination where they stayed about half a year. When they got to know the extraordinary beauty of the mountains they also visited neighboring towns and villages. They were most attracted to three villages: Vazec, Mengusovce and Zdiar-in which they spent majority of their time.

During their stay in High Tatras, Adrian and Marianne Stokes painted 32 pictures. Four show the countryside of the Tatras, sixteen were painted in Vazec, five in Mengusovce and seven in Zdiar. Twenty pictures were painted by Marianne and twelve by Adrian Stokes.

All paintings by Adrian Stokes are landscapes. Strbske Pleso, the Mount Krivan, and the monumental beauty of the central mountain range and some forest seclusion's enchanted him. This group also includes the landscapes of hay-harvesting. Most impressive and precious are the paintings showing the wooden cottages of Vazec, Mengusovce and Zdiar with their picturesque type of settlements. These pictures have become valuable documents of various objects of folk architecture that either didn't survive the great Vazec fire in 1931 or had to give way to modern building materials and architectural designs.

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In all her pictures, with the exception of two, Marianne Stokes favored portrait paintings. Thus there are about twenty faces talking to us from her pictures. The painter chose them as typical representatives of Vazec, Mengusovce and Zdiar folks. Together with their portraits she also recorded both their everyday and Sunday clothes. With exceptional documentary precision she emphasized a variety of the details of their garments and their decorative shaping. In this way the pictures by Marianne Stokes became valuable icono-graphic documents of the traditional clothes of the region of the High Tatras in the period almost a century ago. What Adrian and Marianne Stokes painted during their stay in the high Tatras manifests their concerted interest in the so-called "folk genre," i.e. in common people with their village environment and its traditional culture. Both artists portrayed the exceptional character of the country and the unique cultural adjustment of the inhabitants to it. At the turn of the 20th century this kind of attitude was seen as a progressive ideological program, the aim of which was to strengthen the national-revival tendencies in European arts. The Munich academy was the center that radiated these tendencies to many European countries. Marianne stokes also received her training there and her interest in figurative and portrait painting might have been shaped there as well. It is certainly not by accident that many of our national-Revival painters such as Jozef Hanula, Miroslav Augusta, Pavel Sochan, Milan Mitrovsky and Peter Kern studied in Munich.

Adrian and Marianne stokes not only joined the artistic trend purposefully oriented toward the rustic environment, but during their visit to Slovakia they chose the regions which our painters found inspiring too. These are the three regions in the Tatras in which the Stokes painted and particularly that of Vazec where they painted most of the pictures. Vazec has become one of the most famous Slovak villages due to the painters who made it a symbol of both a traditional village life and of the specific Slovak cultural and national identity. Adrian and Marianne Stokes can be ranked with such Slovak artists as Peter Bohun, Pavel Sochan, Jaroslav Kern, Gustav Maly, Jan Hala, Martin Benka and Karol Plicka whose pictures have become part of the national heritage. As the pictures of Adrian and Marianne Stokes are unknown in Slovakia, we are taking this opportunity to familiarize the public with their existence. They are a proof of the artistís interest in the High Tatras region and the famous Vazec in particular. This interest produced not only period pictures of strikingly charming country and its people, but also pictures synthesizing a strong social and human message together with a strong social and cultural one. With regard to the cultural and national values of the works of art by these so far unknown English painters it is our duty to make them accessible to our people so that they might assume their place and fulfill their due role in our cultural heritage.

The High Tatras pictures by A. and M. Stokes were published in their travel book about Hungary. Adrian Stokes is the author of the narrative. As the travel book contains also larger passages describing their six months stay in the High Tatras. They provide more information on the circumstances and situations of their stay in the High Tatras and also contribute to better understanding of the individual characteristics of both of these artists. Their travel observations, impressions, experiences and memories are interesting to us because they give a testimony about us. They testify how and with what the high Tatras, their villages and people impressed them. We can appreciate especially the information on the people they met, on the village communities and environments these people lived in, the ethnic groups they belonged to, the culture and traditions they observed, their behavior, their perception of foreigners, etc. After a century the Stokes' travel book remains a valuable resource for making our picture of High Tatras and its people more complete.

Translated by: Maria Huttova

I have seen the exhibit twice in Vychodna and must tell you that I was quite impressed and would like to thank Ph Dr. Jan Botik doc. CSc, for bringing it to Slovakia and making it available to public

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Published in the Slovak Heritage Live newsletter Volume 5, No. 3, Fall 1997
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1997 
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without the express written permission of Vladimir Linder. All rights reserved.