Beginner's guide to Latvia's favorite painter

Today marks the 150th birthday of the great Latvian painter Janis Rozentāls (1866-1916), one of the founding figures of Latvian national art. 

LSM offers an abridged version of Latvian Radio's column dedicated to ten important paintings of the artist. The works reflect the variety of styles prevalent in the late 19th and the early 20th century. 

The Painter’s Studio (1896)

Māra Lāce, director of the Latvian National Art Museum, told Latvian Radio that the work, featuring the back of a naked woman and the author himself lighting the stove, is first and foremost recognizable for its beauty and second of all that Rozentāls could achieve a sense of fragility using the colors of the flesh.

The Princess and the Monkey (1913)

Art expert Edvarda Šmite said that Rozentāls found his model for the painting in a carnival, while he got the idea about the monkey from his son Miķelis, and a gypsy brought a monkey to Rozentāls' studio, posing for the artist for a ruble a day. 

The model, with the peculiar, German-sounding name of "Goto Fon Zeka", wrote in her notes that the painter was extremely considerate - kiss her arm by the elbow is all he did, and at that for the sake of art, he said.

Small Village, or Saldus (1912)

Sandra Leitholde, an employee at the Janis Rozentāls' museum at the tiny city of Saldus where the painter was born says that when she asks visitors whether they can recognize Saldus from the painting, everyone without fail says that they recognize the city from the church.

Cheering Children (c. 1900)

Kristiāna Ābele, an art historian at the Latvian Academy of Art, said that the painting is one of Rozentāls' most recognizable and had been featured in school textbooks previously, thus entering the memory of a whole generation.

"It's wonderful, and it makes my very happy, that modern children who are partially growing up in different conditions think that this painting is their own," said Ābele.

Mother and Child (1904)

Rozentāls' grandson Alvils Rozentāls says that the artist painted this work with his wife, the Finnish singer Elli Forssell, and firstborn Laila in mind.

Temptation (1913)

There are three known works of Rozentāls with the title Temptation, plus one lost in World War One, perhaps somewhere in England now. This is the most recent version of the work featuring Eve and the serpent. 

Art historian Inta Pujāte says that the composition of the painting shows how Eve is close to falling to sin as the serpent's tail is almost around the figure of the woman.

Capri (1912), and Swimmers on the Capri Island (1913)

These two paintings are located at the Mūkusala Art Salon. Curator Līga Lindenbauma says both of the works were inspired by the painter's 1912 travels to Italy.  

The second painting reminds Lindenbauma that sunbathing came into fashion in the early 20th century, and prior to that pale was the preferred skin tone.

 

Easter Morning (1912)

This painting was commissioned for the Dundaga Lutheran Church. Art historian Ojārs Spārītis describes the painting, surprisingly placing the scene within the Latvian countryside.

"On the back there's the Latvian scenery, the scenery of Kurzeme with fields still covered in snow," he said.

Arcadia (various)

The 1.3 x 2.3m painting, finished in 1910, is one of the versions of a motif that preoccupied the painter. The idyllic world of women and children notably excludes the painter.

"As a man and as the creator of this scene and the romantic dream about the land of happiness, he has been left outside, by the easel," art historian Aija Brasliņa told Latvian Radio.

While the second Arcadia (1916) is the last, unfinished work by the painter. 

After Church (1894)

This is Rozentāls' most famous work.

Art student Liene Rumpe told Latvian Radio that "The colors are very Latvian. Even though Rozentāls studied in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century, you can somehow see the Latvian mentality and the grey variations in tones."

See some of the paintings described here, plus some more in high detail at the Google Cultural Institute

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