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VILHELMS PURVĪTIS. LATVIAN LANDSCAPE

Vilhelms Purvītis (1872–1945) is widely considered one of the most important late 19th and early 20th century artists and founder of art institutions in Latvia. His most outstanding contribution was a neo-Romantic, strictly structured, multiform in terms of the color palette image of the national landscape.    

After graduating, with high honors, from the St Petersburg Academy of Art in 1897, Purvītis, who was well-versed in the traditions of the Western European Old Masters, Russian lyrically realistic landscape, and the latest in Scandinavian, German, Scottish, and French art alike, settled in Riga. An accomplished master, he actively participated in the local arts scene as well as exhibited his works in St Petersburg and a number of big cities in France and Germany, gaining international recognition.  

At the turn of the century Purvītis created his typical landscape: usually he painted birch groves or pine stands, snow drifts and ice floes in early spring, blooming trees of May or the colorful foliages of autumn. He contemplated the eternity of nature and its diurnal and seasonal changes, the dynamics, of water, wind, and light. The selection and arrangement of the motifs allowed for a characteristic and at the same time majestic composite image of the national landscape.  The variations in the color palette, the softened contours and the technique of the brushwork render Purvītis’s landscapes freely painterly, yet the compositional structure is strictly maintained.

After a sojourn in Tallinn between 1906 to 1909, Purvītis became director of the Riga Art School, activating the local art education. Having spent the war years in Petrograd and Norway, Purvītis returned to Riga to become the president of the newly established Academy of Art and director of the Art Museum. At the Academy, he chaired the Landscape Workshop whose graduates, in Latvian art history, are called Purvītis’s disciples. He organized many exhibitions of Latvian art in European cities and, during the interwar period of independence, was considered a living classic and indisputable authority in art.  

In the later part of his artistic life, Purvītis experimented with new motifs and colors whose drama or idyllic vibration was achieved by masterly brushwork. Purvītis is considered the central artist in the first half of 20th century Latvian art whose popularity has not diminished in the decades after his death as a refugee in Germany in 1945.

Eduards Kļaviņš

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