Classics of Modernist Era. Andrus Johani and Kaarel Liimand

September 22, 2006 – May 27, 2007
Kumu Art Museum, 3rd floor, B-wing


When Andrus Johani and Kaarel Liimand, who were friends and shared a common fate, graduated from the Pallas Art School in 1933, they were both already recognized artists. Their identities matured unusually quickly. As customary with realists, the fundamental tenets of Johani and Liimand’s work included intimacy with the people and the equality of topics. Both artists seriously groped on the border between the beautiful and the ugly, dealing with ordinary people, whose stories, seen with a steely eye, they recounted.


Both geographically and artistically, Tartu and Paris became the significant outermost points in Johani and Liimand’s lives. As their cityscapes testify, they were thoroughly familiar with the topography and various aspects of the city and had seen the Apollonian face of Tartu University’s classicist architecture and the Dionysian face of its slums. A trip to Paris in 1937 brought the artists to the center of civilization. The metropolis of Paris caused the artists’ viewpoint to soar in every sense. In the views of Paris, they transmit the experience of anonymous big city life.


It can be assumed that both Liimand and Johani participated in the bohemian lifestyle of Tartu’s artists, which included, at one time or another, freezing in one’s studio, long discussions in cafés, excursions into nature, and sometimes boozing. In some of the works, we can see the idyllic side of bohemian life—leisure moments in nature, “alfresco meals”, which have a long artistic tradition. On the other hand, Johani also had a command of the subject of desperate and unbridled merriment. He was interested in taverns, as places where simple people can get rid of their worries, and in the metaphor of the slum milieu and tavern as an inferno, at least an emotional inferno.


During the 1930s, slogans rang out throughout Estonia called for a return to the simple world of country life, which was often joined with images of home and homeland. The peasant lifestyle, which was also traditionally rooted in Estonia, together with the steadfast rhythm of alternating work and harmonious life in the bosom of nature, was designated as the equivalent of a carefree, paradisal life. The interpretation of the topic of romanticized work that contains ethical beauty is also not foreign to Johani and Liimand.


In 1940, when Soviet rule was established in Estonia, new motifs and heroes amplified in the artists’ work, including the workers as an active political force. Both Johani and Liimand were planning monumental compositions, but they were not able to complete them, because both painters were killed in the maelstrom of World War II. Their short-lived but close ties to Soviet rule during its first year paradoxically later helped to keep alive the myth of the Pallas school of painting having a special culture of form.


The exhibition includes paintings and drawings from the collections of Estonian museums and private collections.

Curator of this exhibition is Tiina Abel and Tiit Pääsuke designed the exhibition.