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Romantic and Progressive. Stalinist Impressionism in Painting of the Baltic States in the 1940s−1950s

Romantic and Progressive. Stalinist Impressionism in Painting of the Baltic States in the 1940s−1950s

Time: 22.01.16–01.05.16  11:00–18:00
Location: Kumu exhibition spaces

4th floor, B-wing
The exhibition introduces the central concept of Soviet-era art, the developments in thematic painting in the Baltic States and searches for the reasons for the popularity of this art form.

Thematic painting appeared in the Baltic countries as the emissary of Socialist Realism. The purpose of the picture was to tell a story, depict events and mediate ideological messages through themes depicting Soviet life.

Socialist Realism recognised binding forces in traditional art and, keeping the taste of the mass audience in mind, revived ties from various eras that had crumbled. All the themes typical of the style used adaptations of 19th-century art, from which the images of a bright future that did not actually exist were developed with the help of new artistic hyperbole. Thematic paintings were executed according to the mise-en-scène principle, in which the details of the picture were staged as in a play. Reality was displayed through falsified events, which resulted in art that was optimistic, reassuring and unifying. The life-asserting pathos of thematic painting often included colours borrowed from Impressionism and adapted to the new requirements. This positive depiction of a sunny life has been called Stalinist Impressionism by Western art researchers. This involved more than a similarity, because Impressionism was employed in pre-war Soviet painting for kolkhoz themes and urban scenes; at the same time, Impressionism with its rich shades of colour, was accused of being soft and lacking social effectiveness.

Despite the fact that Impressionism was banned in the Soviet Union in 1948, the pre-war tradition continued to be developed. Stalinist Impressionism is a compromise between emphatic themes and paintings filled with shades of tonality.

The spread of Socialist Realism in the Baltic countries in the 1940s and 1950s was accompanied by the redefinition of Stalinist Impressionism: its initial idea shifted along with changes in execution. Soviet life provided plenty of topics that enabled ideological messages to be interpreted from various viewpoints. The pre-war art traditions of the Baltic countries also found a place in new commemorative practices; for instance, the most successful synthesis of a socialist theme and impressionist presentation is the ceiling painting in the Estonia Theatre in Tallinn, which was completed in 1947 by Elmar Kits, Evald Okas and Richard Sagrits.

The selection of works is based on themes describing Soviet life. In the examples of art from the Baltic states we repeatedly find artists’ patterns and attempts to distinguish themselves based on ethnicity, just like in the early 20th century, when nationalist themes were also popular.

Curator: Eha Komissarov
Exhibition designer: Anna Škodenko
Graphic designer: Kätlin Tischler

Exhibited works from:
Art Museum of Estonia
Tartu Art Museum
Estonian Theatre and Music Museum
Museums of the Virumaa Foundation
Latvian National Art Museum
Lithuanian Art Museum

We thank:
Kultuuriministeerium

Richard Uutmaa. On Cape Puise. 1955. Oil. Art Museum of Estonia