Baltic art classics exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris

An exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France, will feature symbolist art from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania dating from the late 19th century to the 1930s.

The exhibition, “Wild Souls. Symbolism in the Baltic States” (“Âmes sauvages. Le symbolisme dans les pays baltes”), is due to be opened on 10 April and marks the celebration of the centenaries of the Baltic states. Its importance is underlined by the fact that the presidents of France, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are the patrons of the exhibition.

A total of 150 works will be brought to Paris, representing iconic artists in the art history of the Baltic countries: Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Janis Rozentāls, Konrad Mägi, Kristjan Raud, Nikolai Triik and others.

“It has not been very often that we have been able to introduce our art classics in the international arena. We were simply not included among the European countries when the great art histories of the 20th century were written after World War II,” Sirje Helme, the director of the Art Museum of Estonia, said in a statement. “Now the time and opportunity for our inclusion is here. I am sure the work of our artists can add a new and interesting viewpoint to the classics of European modernism.”

A unique artistic phenomenon

Four Baltic museums collaborated to show the historical art works in Paris: the Art Museum of Estonia; the Latvian National Museum of Art; the Lithuanian Art Museum, and the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum. The main curator is Rodolphe Rapetti, a distinguished researcher of symbolism.

The exhibition demonstrates the dynamic interaction between various foreign influences and the local cultural field, which formed the basis for the artists’ personal creative idioms. According to Rapetti, by using elements related to agriculture, folklore and landscape, the artists of the Baltic countries were able to create a totally unique artistic phenomenon. The three main themes – “Myths and Legends”, “Soul” and “Landscape” – express the artists’ enthusiasm for romantic stories, the individual inner worlds of people, and the mystery of nature.

On 3 May, the Musée d’Orsay will also organise a seminar day dedicated to Baltic symbolism. The exhibition, “Wild Souls. Symbolism in the Baltic States”, will be open at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris from 10 April to 15 July 2018, and at the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn from 12 October 2018 to 3 February 2019.


Cover: “Young peasant” (circa 1904) by Johann Walter and “Portrait of Malvine Vīgnere. Evening” (1898) by Janis Rozentāls (both Latvian artists/images courtesy of Musée d’Orsay/Eric Jouvenaux).

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About the author: Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. He has previously studied journalism at the University of Tartu, and politics and society at the Birkbeck College, University of London. Silver has been the editor at the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s news service in English, as well as contributing for the Business Sense magazine in the UK, Deutsche Welle and Radio New Zealand. You can also follow him on Twitter and like his page on Facebook. You can write to Silver at