Painting "After the Service (Leaving the Church)", 1894, by Artist Janis Rozentāls (1866–1916)
Janis Rozentāls’ painting “After the Service (a.k.a. Leaving the Church)” (Pēc dievkalpojuma (No baznīcas)) is widely considered the iconic Latvian painting and one that has retained its popularity among 21st century Latvians. Rozentāls created the painting as a diploma work at the St Petersburg Imperial Art Academy, and earned its author the highest artistic degree. In 1896 it gained much recognition at the first ever exhibition of Latvian art in Rīga.
In the 1890s Rozentāls, his likeminded artistic colleagues and Latvian society at large felt the need to recognize Latvians as a nation: a united yet multifaceted entity. His interpretation of this task was to depict a stream of parishioners as they are leaving the church in his native Saldus. As the stream flows down the stone steps, it becomes a dynamic gallery of the local people: there are people at the height of their physical strength, young people, children and old folks, farmhands, maids and well-to-do farmers, the successful and those down on their luck. The parishioners are returning to their everyday lives, on their way revealing themselves to us and branching into pairs and separate plot lines. An indirect affirmation to the importance of identity of a particular place is Rozentāls’ praise for his fellow student Johann Walter’s diploma work as a “fragment of real life in Jelgava”. In common with the social realism or Russian Wanderer or Itinerant group of artists who had achieved the lifting of academic restrictions, Rozentāls used the new-found freedom to depict real people but without accenting the negative characteristic of the Russians. Several of the same Saldus parishioners can be met in Rozentāls’ work from 1895 “From the Cemetery” (No kapsētas), but in the later painting, the author is more interested in the chiaroscuros than the depiction of the local society.
The art historian Jānis Siliņš recognized that Rozentāls “developed his own tradition in our peasant genre painting”, yet this was only one facet of the prolific and uneven contribution of the artist. Rozentāls oeuvre includes genre paintings, portraits, religious compositions, fantasies inspired by Latvian folklore and international symbolism; in addition to easel painting, he also worked in graphic art, design, and book illustrations, wrote on issues concerning art theory and criticism, taught, and left a whole archive of letters, which represent an interesting testimony of his time. His art contained elements of realism, national romanticism, impressionism, art nouveau, and neoclassicism, with their relative weight depending on what the artist set as his primary task at a particular moment in his career.
Rozentāls was born in the family of a blacksmith in the provinces, yet managed to get an academic education and become one of the founders of the national school of painting, and was among the modernizers of Baltic art. He has been the subject of academic research but also a protagonist of fictionalized biographies as the success story of a poor Latvian country boy making it to the upper crust of society. As of 1901, when Rozentāls settled in Rīga, he became one of the most active and influential Latvian cultural personalities. His marriage (1903) to the Finnish singer Elli Forsell fostered cultural relations between Latvia and Finland. Rozentāls died in Finland in 1916.
Conversation with the director of the Janis Rozentāls and Rūdolfs Blaumanis Museum Dace Vosa. Interviewer – Ilmārs Šlāpins, video – Ģirts Raģelis. Video series “Satori conversations”. Internet magazine “Satori”, 19 September 2018. (in Latvian)
Designer of the National Library of Latvia Tatjana Raičiņeca telling about the exhibition "One to Another" – a dedication to Janis Rozentāls and his wife Finish singer Elli Forssell. The exhibiton was in the National Library of Latvia from 2 July 2016 until 8 January 2017.
Janis Rozentāls. (2017). Rīga: Neputns.
Janis Rozentāls 1866-1916. (1925). No: Jānis Dombrovskis. Latvju māksla. Glezniecības, grafikas, tēlniecības un lietišķās mākslas attīstības vēsturisks apskats (41.-48. lpp.). Rīga: Valtera un Rapas akc. Sabiedrības izdevums.
Kļaviņš, Eduards. (2014). Janis Rozentāls un viņa gleznas. No: Eduards Kļaviņš (sast.). Latvijas mākslas vēsture. 4. sēj.: 1890-1915 (187.-190., 216.-225., 255.-267. lpp.). Rīga: Latvijas Mākslas akadēmijas Mākslas vēstures institūts; Mākslas vēstures pētījumu atbalsta fonds.