Estonian art

Holocaust Remembrance Day: the Nazis murdered, among others, a promising Estonian painter

Among the 7,000 Estonians murdered by the Nazis was a promising Fauvist painter Karl Pärsimägi.

Education is lacking in some compartments in Estonia. While there’s plenty of information about the Soviet crimes committed during the occupation of Estonia – and justifiably so – there are sadly still many people who consider the Holocaust a “hoax”.

I’m not making this up – I’m shocked each time I meet presumably intelligent and educated people who are in denial about the Holocaust and its true horrors. I put this down to lack of education on the matter and one can only hope the younger generations of Estonians will not be left ignorant about the totalitarian regimes of the past – let it be the Soviets or the Nazis.

From 1941-1944, during the Second World War, when Nazi Germany pushed eastwards as part of its Generalplan Ost, the occupying Soviet Union was forced to retreat from Estonia. Initially, the Germans were perceived by many Estonians as “liberators”, but the reality bit soon. The Germans pillaged the country for their war effort and together with their collaborators, murdered tens of thousands of people – including 7,000 ethnic Estonians.

Removal of 50% of Estonians

Under the Nazi plan, Estonia would have not become an independent state again. Worse still, after the war, under the “Big Plan”, Generalplan Ost foresaw the removal of 50% of Estonians as non-Germanisable people. The remaining ones were to be treated as slaves. If implemented, that plan would have had even graver consequences than the Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1949.

Of course, it wasn’t only Estonians who suffered under the Nazis. During the German occupation of Estonia, the Nazis murdered approximately 1,000 Jews who hadn’t managed to flee Estonia (most had escaped to the Soviet Union or elsewhere before the Nazi occupation) or whom the Soviets hadn’t deported during the first Soviet occupation between 1940-1941. In addition, about 10,000 Jews were transported to the Nazi concentration camps in Estonia from other parts of Europe. Only handful of them survived.

Executed in Auschwitz

The painter, Karl Pärsimägi, was one of the Estonians who died in the hands of Nazis – not in Estonia, but in the Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland. Pärsimägi was one of the 1.1 million people, around 90 per cent of them Jews, who died at the camp.

Pärsimägi was the son of a wealthy farmer. In 1919, he participated in the Estonian War of Independence and was awarded a medal. After that, against his father’s wishes, he went to Tartu to enrol at the Pallas, at the time a pre-eminent modern art school in Estonia.

In addition to the newer styles, such as Fauvism, he found himself influenced by Estonian folk art and by Konrad Mägi, another Estonian painter who was a teacher there. He also studied with Nikolai Triik, an Estonian modernist painter, and, in 1923, made a study trip to Germany. That same year, he held his first exhibition.

In 1937, he moved to Paris, with the financial support of his father, who had finally become reconciled with his son’s career choice. While there, he studied at the Académie Colarossi and came under the influence of Paul Cézanne. In Paris, Pärsimägi became known as the “Estonian Matisse”.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he refused to return to Estonia, which was now occupied by the Soviet Union.

If he had thought that Paris would provide him with a safe haven, then sadly, it wasn’t the case. In 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo – the Nazi secret police – and taken to Auschwitz by way of Drancy internment camp.

The reasons for Pärsimägi’s arrest remain still unclear. One theory is that he had been trying to help a Jewish friend. Another is that he was active in the French resistance movement. A third theory is that he was gay – an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 gays were incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. In 1942, Pärsimägi was executed in Auschwitz.

Holocaust, or the Shoah, as it’s known in Hebrew, is not a “hoax” – Pärsimägi was one of the up to 17 million victims, including six million Jews, who died in the genocide initiated by the Nazi Germany.

Pärsimägi is still relatively unknown in Estonia. Because of his support for Estonian independence, his works were denied official recognition by the Soviet Union. Since Estonia regained independence in 1991, interest was renewed. The 100th anniversary of his birth was celebrated with an exhibition and many of his works are now at the Tartu Art Museum and few are also on display at the Kumu Art Museum.

Remembering all the victims

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, is a worldwide memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of six million Jews, two million Gypsies, 15,000 gays and millions of others by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The date marks the day in 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by the Soviet troops.

Estonia has been officially observing the International Holocaust Remembrance Day since 2003 and the main remembrance ceremony usually takes place at the site of former concentration camp in Klooga near Tallinn, where 2,000 people were murdered.

Let’s hope that the totalitarian times will never return to Europe.

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Cover: A fragment of the self-portrait of Karl Pärsimägi (1935/courtesy of Kumu Art Museum). Read also: Remembering the once vibrant Jewish community of Estonia.

Estonia’s street artist Edward von Lõngus awarded by the country’s foreign ministry

Estonia’s “Banksy”, Edward von Lõngus, was given the 2018 Culture Award of the country’s ministry of foreign affairs for his pan-European digital street art project, “(R)estart Reality”.

The “(R)estart Reality” tour, which took place as part of Estonia’s presidency of the European Union and the cultural programme for the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the republic, saw life-sized painted figures appear on walls in cities throughout Europe who told their stories via digital devices. The tour took in 11 capitals: Brussels, Rome, Berlin, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Vilnius, Rīga, Vienna and Budapest.

The anonymous artist was represented by Andra Orn at the ceremony hosted by the ministry of foreign affairs in Tallinn on 9 January. In a written statement, von Lõngus referred to Bernt Notke’s “Danse Macabre”, a medieval painting at Tallinn’s St Nicholas Church. The artist noted that, in addition to acting out the adventures of Estonians from 100 years ago in Europe, a second motive emerged through the project: a contemporary danse macabre.

“The reason why the European project was called ‘(R)estart Reality’ was that our reality desperately needs to restart. My work is driven by the hope of pressing ‘restart’ on as many minds as possible in order to create a new and better world,” the artist added in a statement.

Still on the walls in Berlin

According to Merit Kopli, the Estonian cultural attaché in Berlin, the street art is held in high regard in the German capital. “It was great to see how impressed the local street art community was with von Lõngus and that they invited him to do his thing in some of the most prime spots in the city. The fact that most of von Lõngus’ works are still on the walls says everything. Anything that’s even slightly less impressive gets graffitied over pretty much immediately,” she said.

“Some of his pieces are on display in the garden at the Estonian embassy here in Berlin, and just recently I overheard four young guys, who were admiring them, say that Estonia is a great country – a tiny little dot on the map but doing and making things with a twist that really stick in your head,” Kopli added.

Cultural diplomacy

Handing over the award to Orn, the Estonian foreign minister, Sven Mikser, emphasised the important role that cultural diplomacy plays in representing Estonia. “Edward von Lõngus’s street art, which bridges Estonia’s history and its image as an e-nation and seeks to make sense of the country today, is a perfect example of the special nature of our cultural diplomacy and its wealth of ideas,” he said. “There’s no doubt that von Lõngus’s work has helped put Estonia on the map for a much broader audience – one that you perhaps don’t encounter all that often in concert halls and theatres.”

The Culture Award was first awarded in January 2010. The recipients have included composer Arvo Pärt, the rock band Ewert and The Two Dragons, poet Kristiina Ehin and the team behind the Estonian-Georgian movie, “Tangerines” (“Mandariinid”).

Edward von Lõngus has been compared to Banksy because of the style of his works that often include political and social commentary, use of stencils and unknown identity.

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Cover: Edward von Lõngus’s street art.

An exhibition dedicated to Estonian artist Kaljo Põllu opens in Japan

An exhibition of graphic art by the Estonian artist, Kaljo Põllu, opened on 15 November at the Okuni Shrine in Japan.

The display, arranged jointly by the Art Museum of Estonia, the Okuni Shrine, the city of Saku and the Saku Municipal Museum of Modern Art in Japan, “gives a revealing glimpse of the ancient world of the Estonians’ ancestors, as well as the country’s legends, beliefs and relations with nature”, the organisers said in a statement.

Kaljo Põllu (1934–2010) is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding Estonian artists. In his works, he reflected the beliefs and ancient myths of the Finno-Ugric and Nordic peoples.

“As an art lecturer and a leader of scientific expeditions to investigate Estonian and Finno-Ugric national heritage, he deeply influenced the Estonian art scene,” the organisers said. “Using the suggestive mezzotint technique, the artist, with his strong characteristic style, created voluminous series of graphic sheets: ancient dwellers, Kali people, heaven and earth, Estonian landscapes and enlightenment.”

Mythological tales

A selection of works from this series forms the central part of the exhibition. In his art, Põllu told stories about his ancestors’ beliefs and legends, relations between gods and people, the creation of the world, mythical totem animals and natural powers.

The Okuni Shrine, which was founded in the sixth century, is considered one of the pillars of the Japanese national identity. The shrine plays an important role in preserving national heritage, including traditional art, several classical performance arts and unique rituals.

Põllu’s exhibition, a part of the international programme to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonian, is open from 15 November 2018 to 17 February 2019 at the Okuni Shrine. The same exhibition will then be held at the Saku Municipal Museum of Modern Art from 8 March to 14 April 2019.

The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue in Japanese and in English.

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Cover: Kaljo Põllu – Sun Boat. Ancient Dwellers series, 1974 (photo by Aldo Luud). Images courtesy of the Art Museum of Estonia.

Empty spaces and infinite entities – Estonia through an artist’s eye

Triinu Soikmets interviews Vanya Balogh, a London-based Croatian artist and photographer who, in the summer of 2018, curated an extensive art exhibition at the Haus Gallery in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

“Kuidas sul läheb?” (“how are you?”) asked Vanya at the beginning of our acquaintance, about a half a year ago – and for a moment I felt like all those pop fans do when a visiting foreign music artist says “hello!” in the local language before giving a concert. You cannot help but smile when somebody tries to try to speak your mother tongue, especially when you are from a tiny, formerly repressed country – and the one descending to your level comes from a mighty kingdom. Or does he?

Vanya Balogh, an artist and independent curator, is based in London, but was born in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and now flies all over the world with a group of artists and their co-project, Empire II.

At the beginning of this incredibly beautiful summer, he landed in Tallinn to participate in the Tallinn Art Week and set up an exhibition at the city’s Haus Gallery. By the end of the summer, he was ready to look back and share his memories.

Tell me about your first impressions in Estonia. You are from Croatia, previously a part of Yugoslavia, so you should know what it means to live under a communist regime, just like Estonians do. Did you notice some signs of collective unconsciousness of a shared history here?

Well, yes, there are some similarities but also many differences. I felt at home in Estonia. It seems a beautiful, serene, calm place and my impressions were of the organised and disciplined way Tallinn is presented. Croatia is somewhat chaotic and noisy. But in a historical sense, both countries have had to assert themselves again in the post-communist world after many years, and similarly assume this identity now as independent countries. We are all aware of our past, but also look forward to the future – a common, shared, European future.

I hope to come back again and explore more. The architecture is interesting, and the old city is beautifully preserved. The food is fantastic, too! The Tallinn Art Week was fascinating, to say the least, and visiting the local dockyards was the highlight of my trip. On my last visit to Tallinn, I stayed at the northern tip of the city on the beach front and the sunset had that dreamy quality. I even had a swim! Estonia is a small but a very intriguing place.

The exhibition you curated for the Haus Gallery was about “imaginary movies that have not been made, will never be made or exist just as ideas”. If you were to make a movie about Estonia, what kind would it be?

I would make a film that is silent, slow, meditative and somewhat reflective of its people and life. I would shoot it in monochrome and I guess it would be of a documentary nature. If I could make it as artwork, I would.

This exhibition consisted of 82 photographic film stills, all by different artists. Which of them relates best to your impressions, feelings and thoughts about Estonia? Why?

Ray Gange’s photo, “The Thirst”. Because of the emptiness there. The space.

Your aim was to show those stills in a row to make it look an old analogue filmstrip. In an art scene there is a well-known opposition between digital and traditional art – on which side are you? When and where does art end?

I take no sides. In my practice I use both. When I curate, I equally consider all media. It is not so much about the medium itself but more about the message. Technology has changed the way we create art, but it has also partly changed how we look at it. Now it can be more direct, immediate or active – even aggressive – but stay ephemeral at the same time. It is exciting because the possibilities are endless.

One should never forget our shared history and collective inheritance we have been gifted aesthetically from those artists who have come before us. But we move forward, and some critique is necessary to keep that technological movement in check. The way we use or abuse artificial intelligence will determine if we get the best out of it.

As to the finiteness of art? I think art itself is an infinite entity.

You are curating projects for a group of more than 100 artists from different areas. What does it give you that being a solo-artist doesn’t give?

My interest in curation developed over time. I feel it is an integral part of my work. I would curate the show in the same way as I produce a piece of work. It is all about ideas. However, curation is a massive undertaking when you work with large groups. It is psychological as much as material. I am interested in an event, a community working together to make the world a more interesting place. Personally, I think a lot more dialogue happens in the group shows. Solo exhibitions are a necessity, but group shows are like medicine. You compare with others, critique each other, learn new ways of creating, get inspired, find your own identity, create movements and much more.

If we look at the history of art, groups are crucial and commonplace: futurists, dadaists, cubists, impressionists, vorticists etc. Many artists have restarted their careers or recovered their practice by presenting in groups. In a way, this has also sharpened my own practice as I learn and figure out what not to do by looking at others’ work. It is an important undertaking overall and I think that in a group setting art, being a highly egocentric activity, gives us a chance to temporarily get out of ourselves and see the world around us, our friends who are also in the same struggle of making art and surviving in the contemporary chaos we currently inhabit.

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Images courtesy of Vanya Balogh. “Thirst” by Ray Gange.

Eight highlights of the Estonian art graduates’ exhibition

Estonian World went to see an annual exhibition by the graduate students of the Estonian Academy of Arts and brings you some of the highlights.

The Estonian Academy of Arts, established in 1914, is the country’s preeminent art school – a public university that provides higher education on different art forms. At its annual exhibition, TASE (could be translated from Estonian as “level” or “mark”), the university’s master’s students from the faculties of fine arts, architecture, design, art and culture show their graduating works. In addition, the bachelor students of the fine arts degree also show their final works.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s exhibition.

Triin Simson – “The Deadlock in the Absurd Theatre Play ‘Toilet, This Way Please’” (scenography, MA)

This piece was the most outstanding among the other scenography works by this year’s graduates. It was the most detailed and worked through, ready to be used on theatre stages. Built up by using two-way mirrors and different objects placed behind and front of them, it created a surreal feeling.

I found myself standing in a room full on mirrors, with a reflecting image of myself. Finding myself in a different reality I shared a room with a regular street light and an empty bench. The experience was all made more surreal by the reflective bench with a sitting child and a mirror with the street light that had a rope tied onto it, creating a feeling that someone was going to commit a suicide.

That room reminded me Lars von Trier’s (the Danish moviemaker) explanation of the parallel universe, after the screening of his film, “Antichrist” – a viewer could decide on what they believed in.

“The theme of the my master’s thesis arised from the interest in ambiguity and illusory nature of space and focused on the contradiction between fiction and apparent reality, based on the play ‘Toilet This Way Please’ by the Japanese playwright, Minoru Betsuyaku,” Simson said. “The aim of the thesis was to construct a space, which, based on the analysis of the play, visualised a dead-end situation of a woman in an installation form, in which the boundary between reality and illusory disappeared.”

The artist added that this all resulted in the symbiosis of scenography and installation. “The woman’s self-image and perception of surroundings becomes audible and visible through fragmental recordings and absurd reflections, where the border between reality and illusion becomes as questionable as the existence of oneself in space.”

Hedi Jaansoo – “Fears, Frailties, Beauties, Knots and Almost Nothing” (photography, MA)

Even though Jaansoo acquired her master’s in photography, her final work was more like an installation. Being in the vicinity was a pleasant experience, due to the carefully installed objects in the room – some large and some so small and fragile, scattered about by a certain algorithm. It felt like one was walking on a spider net or in a 3D photo.

Among other objects there was a stepping chair with a little booklet, in which the artist was discussing about fragility and strength – advising that fragility made shyness and courage look the same for a bystander.

Helena Tuudelepp –  “The Wall” (ceramics, MA)

“The Wall” was a large sculpture that was built up by multiple layers and attached to the wall. It was placed in a dark room and illuminated from one side, casting mysterious shadows. One could have interpreted it in many ways – it might have been an erotic piece or just a very old and crumbled wall.

“In my work I discuss relationships between objects and people – what role objects play in our lives, how objects influence us in room and space and how they create the experience of space,” Tuudelepp, who used paper clay and porcelain as a material for “The Wall”, explained.

Noga Rachel Harel – “Phantom Plants” (jewellery and blacksmithing, MA)

Harel conserved plants and modified them into jewellery. There were some nice wearable pieces, but more than others I was stunned by one that was made of seaweed and named “Seaweed Inferno”. Despite the name, it looked elegant and somewhat passively threatening.

“My work finds its nourishment in a compassionate contemplation of the natural world. Organic shapes undergo a metamorphic process that transforms them into imaginative habitants of an uncanny forest,” the artist described her work. “Through my artistic process, I protect them from their destiny to wither and disappear. I aspire to maintain the fragility and sensitivity of the existing nature, while using durable materials. It’s an act of remembrance and preservation – the ephemeral becomes eternal. Phantom plants, disconnected from their natural environment, still reverberate the aura of the place they belong to, transcending into a poetic emotional landscape.”

Cloe Jancis – “Metamorphosis” (photography, BA) 

The artist explained that “Metamorphosis” was a photo series inspired by personal experience of motherhood. “It depicts mental and physical changes that I went through within the process of adjusting with the new role. The continual sharing of one’s own body and forced physical presence created an altered sense of self – an alienation from my own physical body. The altered sense of self follows with hazed self-depiction that needs existential interpretation,” Jancis said.

The artist added that in her photo series, cognitive states were given a physical form, one of these was the fear of becoming an object and losing one’s self. “The manifestation of mental stages gives solace and helps adjust with the new role of motherhood.”

Margus Kontus – “An Act of Violence in One Act” (graphic arts, BA)

This was an art form where two black circles collided on a white paper. Kontus’s final work was installed in a black room with a dramatical lightning on the piece.

Despite the title that referred to violence, the artwork’s minimalistic nature reminded me a zen art – two simple circles provoke an aesthetical feeling and made me to pause for a moment.

Annabel Janke – “Free Your Inner Disco Princess” (painting, BA)

The artist claimed her favourite colour was pink and she liked pop art – but during her studies, the academics had always been warning that her art might seem superficial, not to say just a cliché or a poster-like.

Her work was placed at the end of a long corridor, but before one arrived there, the artwork became audible with a cheerful disco music, and sensible by the sweet scent. Behind the large-scaled pink painting was a colour music set that was casting colourful dost around the room, and some fluffy clouds – just to add some extra sweetness.

This piece was an artist’s manifestation for her authentic self, while questioning: “Is kitsch definitely a sign of bad taste? Does work of art has to have always a deep meaning to be titled as a good art?” Secondly, Janke asked whether an artist creates art that stays within the borders of good taste or should one always stay true to oneself? “My painting is an experiment to see whether the sugary sweetness can become a meaningful piece of art that can be taken seriously,” she said.

Tiiu Lausmaa – “Life on Earth” (painting, BA)

“Life on Earth” was a series of paintings, placed in a neon yellow room that represented hunger and yearning for more.

“My paintings represent hunger and desire for something that you cannot even name. Random thoughts in a random order. Symbols appearing and disappearing, as if referring to a truth underneath, but in the end it’s all too much and it becomes impossible to understand, know or believe,” the artist explained. “It’s probably just a silly game. In my paintings, fantasy and reality collide, accidental decisiouns meet conscious moves. This creates countless stories, which everyone can put together and take apart as they wish.”

 

Cover: Annabel Janke – “Free Your Inner Disco Princess”. Photos by Martin Buschmann and Birgit Drenkhan.

Estonia’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale examines architecture’s capacity to be political

The Estonian exhibition, the “Weak Monument”, at the Estonian pavilion at the 16th Venice Biennale, the international architecture exhibition, examines architecture’s capacity to be political.

The Estonian Centre of Architecture said in a press release that the Estonian pavilion curators, Laura Linsi, Roland Reemaa and Tadeáš Říha, “explore the spectrum between the explicit representation of the monument and the implicit politics of everyday architectures: from the triumphal column to the pavement beneath it, through all that is in between”.

The exhibition’s title – the “Weak Monument” – is an oxymoron, a rhetorical device that offers fresh perspectives on how to recognise politics in any built form. “The Weak Monument examines architecture’s capacity to be political, by juxtaposing two antithetical notions – weakness and monumentality,” the centre said.

“In Estonia, the notion of a monument appears as a foreign intruder. Its presence is marginal, its tradition non-existent and its form tormented by an apparent cultural displacement. Underscaled, skewed and displanted, half demolished and neglected, monuments stand in their oblivious surroundings as uncanny souvenirs brought from distant lands,” the curators said. “The Estonian cultural specificity has been increasingly accordant with a wider contemporary distrust of the monument as a device of oppressive authority.”

Located at the edge of Via Garibaldi, between the biennale venues of Giardini and Arsenale, the Estonian exhibition transforms the rooms of the former baroque church of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice (Fondamenta San Gioacchin) that offer remnants of a monumental yet decadent spatial symmetry and hierarchy.

A national pavilion since year 2000

Since 2000, Estonia has featured in the official selection of the Venice Biennale with its national pavilion, enabling it to critically interact with the main topic of the international exhibition each year and to bring the best of the Estonian architectural research to Venice.

The Estonian Centre of Architecture was established in 2008 by the Estonian Academy of Arts and the Union of Estonian Architects, to develop the architectural culture in Estonia and to foster contemporary Estonian architecture abroad.

The Venice Biennale is an arts organisation that holds international art exhibitions in Venice, Italy, every two years. The first exhibition took place in 1895 and the architecture section of the Venice Biennale was established in 1980, although architecture had been a part of the art biennale since 1968.

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Cover: The Estonian exhibition, the “Weak Monument”, at the 16th Venice Biennale. All images by Tõnu Tunnel.

The works of two Estonian diaspora sculptors exhibited in Tallinn

A new exhibition called “Lost Estonian Sculptors: Linda Sõber and Endel Kübarsepp” will open in the Kumu Art Museum on 16 May.

The exhibition tells the story of two sculptors who graduated from the Pallas Art School – a former art school in Tartu, known for its distinguished alumni – and whose works are among Estonia’s sculptural classics of the 1930s.

Linda Sõber (1911-2004) and Endel Kübarsepp (1913-1972) became two of the most acclaimed and promising young sculptors in Estonia at the very start of their professional careers in the second half of the 1930s.

Sculptural classics

Their fame at home was short-lived, however, as the Second World War changed their lives. The sculptors, who were also a couple, left Estonia as refugees in 1944 and, until recently, information about their subsequent lives and activities had been fragmentary.

It is known that Kübarsepp also participated actively in exhibitions organised by exile artists during the post-war years in Germany.

At the end of the 1940s, the two sculptors went their separate ways – Sõber continued her life in Italy and Kübarsepp in the US. During the decades of the Soviet occupation, the work of both sculptors was ignored in Estonia, primarily for ideological reasons. But according to the Kumu Art Museum, their works are now considered to be among the Estonian sculptural classics of the 1930s.

In 2014, the exhibition organisers contacted the artists’ son, Toomas Kübarsepp, who confirmed his parents’ archives were preserved in San Remo, Italy. Subsequently, the organisers were able to digitise the photos, documents and correspondence that reflect the sculptors’ lives.

The exhibition includes 14 sculptures and a photo and video installation. In addition to the works by Sõber and Kübarsepp, the exhibition also includes portrait sculptures of both artists made by their teacher, Anton Starkopf, during their time at the Pallas Art School.

The exhibition will remain open until 9 December 2018.

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Cover: Anton Starkopf’s sculpture studio at Pallas Art School. From left: Endel Kübarsepp, Linda Sõber, Eduard Kutsar, Lydia Laas and Anton Starkopf (courtesy of the Art Museum of Estonia).

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.

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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).

An exhibition in the US celebrates Estonia’s renaissance artist Michel Sittow

A new exhibition opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, is to celebrate Michel Sittow, an Estonian master of the early Netherlandish art.

Considered Estonia’s greatest renaissance artist, Sittow (c. 1469–1525) was sought after by the renowned European courts of his day, including those of King Ferdinand of Aragón and Queen Isabella of Castile, Philip the Handsome, Margaret of Austria and Christian II of Denmark.

In celebration of the centennial of the establishment of the Republic of Estonia, an exhibition of Sittow’s works will be held at the National Gallery of Art from 28 January to 13 May.

“Michel Sittow: Estonian Painter at the Courts of Renaissance Europe” provides an exceptional opportunity to examine the rare and masterful works attributed to Sittow. The exhibition explores the artist’s possible collaboration with Juan de Flandes (1460–1519), his relationship with his Netherlandish contemporaries, and the influence of his likely teacher, Hans Memling (active c. 1465–1494).

Highlights

The exhibition includes some 20 paintings from American and European collections, including 13 paintings by Sittow, as well as works by de Flandes, Memling, and Jan Gossaert that provide a context for understanding Sittow’s achievement. “The first monographic exhibition of Sittow’s work offers an opportunity to celebrate one of the masters of Early Netherlandish art,” Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art, said in a statement.

Among the highlights are The Assumption of the Virgin (c. 1500/1504, National Gallery of Art) and The Ascension of Christ (c. 1500/1504, private collection), the only two securely documented works by Sittow. Other highlights include the Portrait of the Danish King Christian II (1514/1515, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), Portrait of a Man (c. 1510, Mauritshuis, The Hague), as well as two portraits linked to the Tudor court in England: Catherine of Aragon as the Magdalene (c. 1515, Detroit Institute of Arts), and Mary Rose Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England (c. 1514, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

Who was Michel Sittow?

Sittow was born in the Hanseatic port city of Reval, now Tallinn, in Estonia and probably received his earliest training from his father, also a painter and sculptor. Sittow moved to Bruges (a city in the Flemish region of Belgium) in 1484 where he presumably apprenticed under Hans Memling, that city’s leading painter. Memling’s influence can be seen in Sittow’s Madonnas and portraits.

Sittow did not register as a master with the Bruges guild and his whereabouts are unknown before 1492 when he entered the service of Queen Isabella of Castile, where he was prized as a portrait painter. He is known to have collaborated with Juan de Flandes on the series of small panels depicting the lives of Christ and the Virgin for Queen Isabella.

He remained in Isabella’s service until her death in 1504, but was apparently absent from Spain after late 1502. Suggestions that he visited the courts of Margaret of Austria and Henry VII of England shortly after 1502 remain unsubstantiated, although he was certainly in Brabant at the end of 1505 or early in 1506, working for Duke Philip the Handsome.

Sittow returned to Reval in 1506 to settle his inheritance and remained there, receiving membership in the artists’ guild late in 1507 and marrying in 1509. He was called away from Reval in 1514 to paint the portrait of Christian II of Denmark, the future husband of Margaret of Austria’s niece, Isabella.

He then began a second, shorter period of service at the court of Margaret of Austria and her nephew, the future Emperor Charles V, in the Netherlands. This was interrupted by a brief trip to Spain to negotiate the salary still owed him. By 13 July 1518, when he married again, Sittow was back in Reval. He lived there, a prosperous and respected citizen, until his death in late December 1525.

The National Gallery of Art is at all times free to the public. The exhibition will be on view from 28 January through 13 May 2018 in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and from 8 June through 16 September at the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn.

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Read also: The Ascension – Room 63’s best kept secret. Cover: Mary Rose Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England (c. 1514, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

Estonian artist Kaido Ole to open an exhibit in Russia

Estonian artist Kaido Ole is to open an exhibit in Moscow, Russia, that will feature his paintings from the 2011-2017 time period.

The exhibition will take place from 6-24 September at the Triumph Gallery that focuses on contemporary art and works with major Russian and international artists.

The 54-year-old Ole lives and works in Tallinn, Estonia. His work has been shown both in the country and internationally since 1989. He is a graduate of the Estonian Academy of the Arts, where he studied design and painting.

Following the earliest, more formalist experiments with painting, there appeared to be a significant shift in 1996, when Ole directly addressed his blood relation to a prominent Estonian artist Eduard Ole (20 May 1898 – 24 November 1995) in his work table.

Almost immediately after what Kaido Ole saw as a turn inwards – “an exhibition of personal games” – his work turned into a more social satire expressed through paintings of invented characters, the kind of ball-headed men that are familiar to followers of the artist’s work.

Yet he never abandoned the realisation of himself as a participant in a wider historical setting; instead, it soon reappeared in a more direct way, when starting from the early 2000s the artist started to include himself in his paintings – first just the hands and later in full height. This emergence of the artist himself in the painting not only defined Ole as a participant of the social scenarios that he invented, but also reversed what he had thought to be merely “private games”.

Ole has participated in various group shows in Estonia as well as in Europe, America, Scandinavia and Russia. He represented Estonia at the 2003 Venice Biennial together with Marko Mäetamm. His works are in several public collections, he was recently (2014) included in Thames & Hudson mega-book “100 Painters of Tomorrow” being selected out of over 4,000 portfolios.

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Cover: Kaido Ole – Still Life with a Rainbow (2011.) Images courtesy of Kaido Ole.

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