Hinko Smrekar, “Masquerade of the Slovenian Painters and Sculptors” (1913), ink, watercolor, paper, 450 x 660 cm (National Gallery of Slovenia, all images courtesy the National Gallery of Slovenia)
Hinko Smrekar’s illustrations and caricatures are some of the most scathing, critical portrayals of life and politics in 20th-century Eastern Europe. His bitingly grotesque images show leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin as bloated, insatiable monsters who prey mercilessly on emaciated, powerless commoners. The artist’s outspoken attacks on politicians, the clergy, foreign interests, and business leaders appeared across the newspapers, magazines, and books of his day, and his rebellious, unfiltered artwork repeatedly landed him in court, jail, and even an internment camp.
Though little-known outside of his native Slovenia, Smrekar left a strong imprint on his nation’s art world and political thought. With an exhibition over at the National Gallery of Slovenia featuring over 300 of his artworks, I took the opportunity to reach out to the curator Alenka Simončič, who assembled Smrekar’s first retrospective in 70 years.