At the Intersection of Mobility and Social Networks: A Biographical Sketch of Ivana Kobilca
The author explores the biographical aspects of Ivana Kobilca’s life to explain how this native of Ljubljana, a parochial 19th century Habsburg town, managed to become a successful artist. Not a member of high society, she travelled abroad, studied art and lived in several major European cities. Kobilca’s story, with a special focus on her mobility and social network, reveals her ingenious strategies to overcome barriers that limited the artistic expression of women during the belle époque. The study is based on a variety of egodocuments, biographical studies and historiographical references that place aspects of Kobilca’s history into a broader socio-cultural context.
KEY WORDS: Ivana Kobilca, biography, painter, mobility, social network
The article focuses on the history of Slovenia’s most renowned female painter, Ivana Kobilca (1861–1926). Its main aim is to present the historical context of her era in order to explain how a woman who was a native of a parochial and rather conservative nineteenth-century town in Habsburg Austria managed to become a successful artist. The article also notes Kobilca’s rather extraordinary mobility for a woman of her time. It reveals some of her ingenious strategies for overcoming the barriers that limited the artistic activities of women in belle époque Europe. Though she could not eradicate the unjust forms of social hegemony, she undoubtedly influenced the existing power relations she was subjected to. In order to give herself more creative freedom, Kobilca dared to ignore certain institutionalized policies while cooperating with other ones. One of her strategies was to build a solid and large social network of friends, admirers and supporters who helped her when legal obstacles seemed inevitable or when she lacked sufficient financial resources. Without the help of her friends, acquaintances, and relatives, she would have had much greater difficulties in pursuing her academic studies, going on multiple trips abroad, applying for portrait commissions, living in various foreign cities, and weathering financial troubles, loneliness, and other difficulties in these places where she stayed for varying lengths of time. Her story illustrates the importance of interpersonal relationships and juxtaposes the strength of financial versus social capital.