Niklāvs Strunke (1894–1966) was not only a painter whose legacy includes conceptual works in the spirit of classical modernism, but also an outstanding graphic artist, book illustrator, and set designer, one of those artists who created a strikingly recognizable "Latvian style" in book design. At the same time, owing to his contacts with the Italian Futurists and his own attractive and creative personality, Strunke was an organic participant in the European international avant-garde.

Son of an army officer, Strunke acquired his first artistic education in the provincial town of Valmiera with the graphic artist Teodors Ūders, then moving to St Petersburg where he joined the sophisticated "Mir iskusstva" circle of graphic artists and set designers; among his teachers was the master illustrator of Russian fairy-tales Ivan Bilibin and the explorer of ancient cultures Nikolai Roerich.  

After serving in World War I as a volunteer, Strunke returned to the now independent Latvia and joined the Riga group of progressive artists. In the 1920s he visited Berlin where he collaborated with the November Group, participating in their exhibitions, and got acquainted with the ideas of Italian Futurists. Later he went to Italy to further pursue his contacts with Marinetti and artists in the Anton Julio Bragalia and casa d’arte circle as well as to study the 12th – 14th century Old Masters. Unlike most of his contemporaries who spent extended periods in Paris to soak up the spirit of its art scene, Strunke was inspired by Rome, Florence, and Capri.  

In fact, Italy became his second home where Strunke spent many months every year even after becoming a refugee in Sweden after World War II. Strunke was even buried in Rome’s Testaccio cemetery where his artist son, Laris Strunke, put up a marble cross with an inscription in Latvian: "Māksla ir mūžīga" ("Art is eternal.")

The 1927 painting "Person Entering the Room" is a striking result of the artistic search of its time, combining the cubist forms characteristic of the Latvian avant-garde with the Futurist penchant for bringing movement into the two-dimensional space and the surrealism of Italian metaphysicians, contemplating the mysterious existence of space.

Laima Slava

design: tundra