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JĀZEPS GROSVALDS. RIFLEMEN SERIES (1916–1917)

The most extensive and artistically impressive depiction of Latvian riflemen in visual art. 

Jāzeps Grosvalds (1891–1920) was the artist who introduced Latvian art to classical modernism and was outstanding at depicting vitally important themes in the period of war and political change in the history of the Latvian nation.  Son of a lawyer, Grosvalds acquired his basic education in art in Riga, later honing his skills in Munich and Paris (1909-1914) and supplementing his knowledge at the museums and exhibitions all over Europe.

At the beginning of World War I, until the summer of 1915, Grosvalds remained in Riga and, along with several colleagues, founded the group "Zaļā puķe" ("Green Flower"). At this time he formulated the theoretical basis for his work, rooted in the "synthesis" of depiction and opposed to the tradition of impressionism. As the frontline moved closer to Riga, Grosvalds moved to Petrograd where he turned to the theme of Latvian refugees, interpreting it in his novel synthetic-expressive style.

In 1916 Grosvalds was drafted into the tsarist army, first serving among the Latvian riflemen at the Riga front and then in the artillery department in Petrograd. At this time he made a series of works (about 70) in a variety of techniques depicting the battles of the Latvian riflemen. Avoiding the traditional theatrical battle or triumphant victory scenes, Grosvalds put his emphasis on the everyday tragedy of war and the heroism of the riflemen, drawing on his own experiences. His large size oil paintings represent the culmination of his synthesizing style, with three of them adding to and closing the riflemen series ("Three Crosses", "Dying Soldier", "Rainbow").

In August of 1917 Grosvalds was dispatched to the Western front in France but at the beginning of 1918 he joined the English Expedition Corps that was going to Mesopotamia, Iraq, and Iran. Despite the hardships of the campaign, Grosvalds used his free moments to paint watercolors that form his quality "Persian Scenes" series. The end of the war found Grosvalds in the Caucasus from where he returned to London in 1919, then moving to Paris where he started to work as secretary at the newly established embassy of the Latvian Republic and continuing to paint. In 1920 Grosvalds died of the so-called Spanish influenza.

Grosvalds’s artistic ideas and works have inspired a number of important Latvian artists (Jēkabs Kazaks, Romans Suta, Niklāvs Strunke, Kārlis Baltgailis). His riflemen’s series lives on in the cultural consciousness of the Latvian nation as an authentic historical testimony and artistic treasure.

Eduards Kļaviņš

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