In the 1930s, Latvian art came under the influence of an affirmative, positive national school that emphasized rural scenes. Though it reflected the nationalism of  an authoritarian era, life on the farmstead was an intimately familiar wellspring for the inspiration of many artists in that period, memories of their boyhood swine-herding and the rich tapestry of the pastoral still fresh in the minds of countless painters, writers and musicians. The countryside was ripe for patriarchal idealization and provided rich material for stylistic exploration. In terms of atmosphere and an energy that retains the emotional power to transcend time, wedding painterly mastery to eternal themes and expressing an enduring conception of the Latvian mentality, the work of Ģederts Eliass (1897–1975) stands out.

Eliass hailed from a wealthy Semigallian farming family that was able to afford a western European education for four children, in Brussels and Paris. When participation in the 1905 Revolution forced many to flee the Baltic provinces, most roads led eastward whilst Eliass’s took him to the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels and studies under Jean-Paul Laurens in Paris. Eliass’ first works reflect an exploratory journey through nearly every "ism" transforming art in the early 20th century. Many of these works are classics of Latvian modernism, noted for their Fauvist intensity in color and contrasts.  By the mid-1920s, however, Eliass devoted himself to realism, remaining a committed realist until his death. He cast a dramatic, temperamental, painterly eye on the countryside he knew so well, focusing on rural life with an occasionally harsh gaze. From 1925 to 1953, Eliass was also an educator at the Academy of Arts in Riga. With his brother, the art historian Kristaps Eliass, he wrote a remarkable work on modern French painting that was published in 1940. Eliass was the recipient of numerous awards.

"Pie akas" ("By the Well") painted in 1935, presents a typical Semigallian rural scene. A woman in a farmstead courtyard prepares to take water to well-fed cows, their udders bursting with milk under a sky threatening a storm. The farmstead depicted is the one he was raised on. Eliass’ depiction is not idyllic; it is suffused with vitality, the intertwining of nature and human life presented with drama, the difficult physical labors of the farm is nearly tangible. The odor of lush grass, sweat, and the flanks of the cattle is almost palpable. The brushwork recalls the texture of the rich, heavy soil of the region. Coarse, strong brushstrokes accentuate the emerald green he often employed for foliage and grass, here in stark contrast the bright red of the woman’s blouse that is echoed on the rising angle of the tile roof.

Laima Slava

design: tundra