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2023-10-04 05:26:36

Visual Art in Latvia -

By Anita Kaze. 05.11.2008

Eclecticism, Art Nouveau, Symbolism, Impressionism

The richness of Latvian art is a great source of inspiration and an interesting way to learn about local history. Here’s the second of our two part series, to give you a little background information before your visit to the local galleries, buildings and art installations.

ART IN THE LATTER HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY The numbers of educated Latvians had swelled by this time. The 19th century saw a new era of national pride.

Educational opportunities spread to the less wealthy, including art training. Artists became inspired to form societies with the main purpose of creating a national art.

Eclecticism (1860s-80s) was the earliest stage of modern art development, which initially appeared in Latvian architecture. It combines elements of various earlier styles of art.

Painting - New genres included portraiture, historical representation and landscapes. Jānis Staņislavs Roze created restrained, photographically precise portraits of wealthy German and Russian aristocrats, but he also painted Latvians. Carl Huhn was most recognized for his romantically treated historical works, and Jūlijs Feders for landscape painting.

Sculpture - The most notable artist was the German August Volz. His masters created sculptural decorations for most buildings, and also parks.

Art Nouveau's (1890s-1910s) basic idea was the integration of art. Its influence is particularly noticeable in architecture and applied arts, as well as in painting. Artists were inspired by flora and fauna, and the dynamics between the organic and inorganic in nature. Art works are characteristically asymmetrical, and often depict mythical fantasy worlds.

Impressionism, which had peaked earlier in France, arrived in Latvia almost simultaneously with Art Nouveau.

At the end of the 19th century, Riga had become a European city. Exhibitions were frequently held, including those of foreign artists. This contact encouraged local artists to keep up with other European nations while retaining their individuality. Art education was enhanced with the opening of places like the Riga City Art School (1906), and the City Art Museum (1905).

Painting - The most influential painters were Jānis Rozentāls, Vilhelms Purvītis and Jānis Valters, who elevated Latvian art to European levels by setting high quality standards. Rozentāls and Purvītis became the first art critics, describing local and European art development. This laid the foundation for well-informed art appreciation amongst Latvians.

The search for individual style and the use of impressionist brush strokes are seen in Rozentāls’ portraits (e.g. “Zem pīlādža” (Under the Rowan) 1905), reflecting emotional and spiritually rich people. He employed curvaceous line rhythms, and borrowed Eastern decorative themes (“Princese un pērtiķis” (The Princess and the Monkey) 1913). Most typical examples of monumental Art Nouveau painting are the Rozentāls' frescoes of 1910 on the facade of the Riga Latvian Society house. The scene depicts mythological Latvian images.

Purvītis pioneered the nation’s landscape painting tradition. The works of Valters are examples of perfection in their use of color. The artist was fascinated by lighting effects. Often Art Nouveau lines are discernable (“Pīles” (Ducks) 1898).

Sculpture - Art Nouveau was widely employed in the decoration of building interiors and facades. The artists encoded a symbolic content within sculptural decorations, depicting the properties of water and tree motifs that represent life and fertility.