Eduard Wiiralt. Gift from the Estonian Committee

Kumu Art Museum (3rd floor)


In April 2005, the Estonian Committee in Stockholm presented the Art Museum of Estonia with a significant part of Eduard Wiiralt’s legacy – 323 engravings, 919 drawings and sketches, 84 engraving plates and, in addition, an archive of the artist’s diaries, correspondence, photos, documentation, books, exhibition catalogues and journalistic material reflecting the reception of his works. The ceremony took place in the Stockholm State Archive in the presence of Jüri Kahn, Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia, Jaan Vilval, Chairman of the Estonian Committee, Ivar Paljak, Vice-Chairman of the Estonian Committee and the organiser of the donation, and Mai Levin, Head Specialist in the Art Museum of Estonia.


The preservation of Eduard Wiiralt’s legacy and its donation to the Art Museum of Estonia is one of the greatest cultural acts by émigré Estonians, the importance of which cannot be overestimated. Wiiralt was a brilliant artist, whose abundant oeuvre consists of interesting and valuable details. This exhibition displays 95 prints, the same number of drawings, 110 sketches, plates, tools, writings about Wiiralt, and his books.


Eduard Wiiralt died on 8 January 1954 in the Paris Danncourt Hospital on Clichy Avenue, of stomach cancer, and was buried on 12 January in Père-Lachaise Cemetery. The artist’s last place of residence in Sceaux, on 61 rue Houdan, contained a few of his personal belongings and the above-mentioned valuable artistic and art historical material, the destiny of which was determined by the envoy Kaarel Robert Pusta. Hoping for the future restoration of Estonian independence, it was decided to store the material in Stockholm under the administration of the Estonian Committee. With the help of Sten Karling, a former art history professor of Tartu University and then professor of art history in Stockholm University, Wiiralt’s legacy was taken to Stockholm, where it was initially kept in the rooms of the Academy of Arts on Fredsgatan. In 1987, it became possible to deposit it in the Swedish State Archive on Mariaberget. In both of these locations, scholars could study the collection, carefully systematised by the painter Juhan Nõmmik, and borrow works of art for exhibitions.


Although the Art Museum of Estonia already had – primarily thanks to the great collector Alfred Rõude – a more than 3500-page Wiiralt collection, a considerable archive and 32 plates for 40 pieces from the artist’s earlier creative period, the gift by the Estonian Committee is a significant addition to the museum’s collection. Great value is attached to the artist’s preserved engraving plates from the years 1926–1953, as well as to his drawings and numerous sketches. Wiiralt was a masterful drawer, with an outstandingly unique style and lively imagination; even his smallest sketches could be considered masterpieces. His drawings not only show the value of preparation work but serve as wonderful independent examples of his craftmanship in drawing. The earliest prints in the gift collection are in a portfolio of linocuts from 1920, which contains 16 sheets instead of the usual 8.


The earliest work of art in the present exhibition is the 1925 wood engraving Oriental Motif – Wiiralt’s first engraving completed in Paris. There are some rare trial prints from the years 1925–1939 in Paris, prints from pieces whose plates were destroyed in Paris during the war years, as well as drawings and croquis drawings. An integral set is made up of works from Morocco, in the artist’s classical, crystallised style, from the years 1938–1939. The drawings for famous engravings created in Estonia during the war years – Monika, Estonian Girl (1942) and Virve (1943) – were kept private by the artist, which indicates how close to his heart the works were. His legacy also included numerous drawings of animals, which he took rather seriously, even though he was not a specialist in this field of art. Wiiralt generally did not adhere to the constricting limits of genres.


The gift from the Estonian Committee perfectly fills the gap in the art museum collection of Wiiralt’s works of art created after the war. Thanks to the donation, we are able to learn more about the pressure Wiiralt worked under, and the evolution of the content and style of his work in his last creative years, which were shadowed by illness.

Mai Levin, Exhibition Curator

The exhibition will be open until 4 October 2009.

The exhibition is accompanied by guided tours under the progamme Visit Art and lectures from the series Kumu Afternoons.

Guided tours begin at 1 p.m.
On 13 and14 June in Estonian
On 21 June in Russian

Kumu afternoons, beginning at 4 p.m.

April 26 Wiiralt’s Techniques. Mai Levin
May 3 Classic Wiiralt. Mai Levin
May 17 Paris after World War II. Mai Levin
May 24 Importance of Wiiralt for Me. Vive Tolli, Evi Tihemets, Avo Keerend