“Wild souls” or symbolism in the Baltics

Aleksandrs Romans, Landscape with rider, 1910, Riga, National Museum of Latvia ©  Normunds Brasliņš

It is rare to walk into an exhibition in a famous museum like Musée d’Orsay and see 130 works whose authors you have never heard of before. This is the miracle of the show, “Wild souls, symbolism in the Baltic States”, which was inaugurated last week by President Emmanuel Macron and the heads of states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It is part of the celebrations of the 100 th anniversary of their independence. 

Johann Walter Young peasant, ca 1904, Riga, National museum of art of Latvia, © Photo Normunds Brasliņš

The show is a mix of fabulous countrysides and portraits, agricultural scenes and sophisticated domestic life. Myths and legends collected by writers and musicians who inspired painters to create national romanticism. In the second part, the soul, its anxieties and torments inspired more artists. Nature is the theme of the third part of the show.

The Baltic countries became independent at the end of the first world war

The most famous of all artists present here is Lithuanian painter and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. Most of them studied in St Petersburg like Ferdinand Ruszczyc who also travelled to Poland. Some also went as far as Germany but few travelled to Paris even though they had studied Odilon Redon’s art from his etchings.

The first painting in the show is very striking: “Sacrifice” by Kristjan Raud, from Estonia was painted in 1935. It shows three characters in front of a fire and immediately gives an originality of style.

In France, Gustave Moreau, Debussy, Huysmans characterize Symbolism.In these three small countries, the variety of colors and themes is immense. While Konrad Mägi  from Estonia paints vivid blue and orange landscapes in Norway (1909) and a fabulous portrait of a young Norwegian, Ciurlionis is more phantasmagoric and dark. Kristjan Raud is very romantic in his ink and gouaches  “Under the stars”, Peteris Krasins is almost abstract in his “Clouds over the forest”.

Kristjan Raud, Sacrifice, 1935

I was totally seduced by the show where we have so much to discover. Some of the artists are obviously more to our liking than others but the portraits in general are fabulous and the light so different from anything we see in France.

Peteris Kalve, Landscape, 1907

All of these works have been kept secret except for a presence of the three countries at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1937. This is a fabulous come back with great discoveries.

Konrad Magie, Forest, 1913

Until July 15, Musée d’Orsay.

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