Painted Landscapes "Spring Waters (Maestoso)", ca. 1910, "Winter", ca. 1910, and "In the Spring (Springtide)", 1933–1934, by Painter Vilhelms Purvītis (1872–1945)
The nature featured in Vilhelms Purvītis’ paintings “Spring Waters (Maestoso)” (Pavasara ūdeņi (Maestoso)), “Winter” (Ziema), and “In the Spring (Springtide)” (Pavasarī (Ziedonis)) is a typical Latvian landscape at different times of the year. With these paintings, Purvītis laid the foundation for Latvian landscape painting.
The landscapes in Purvītis’ works reveal his approach to the change of seasons in his homeland: the flooding rivers and lakes, ice floes along the riverbanks, thaws in early spring, snowdrifts, rapid streams, orchards in blossom, and the colours of autumn are depicted with an unmistakeable sensitivity and fondness. A special touch was reserved for the snowy landscapes – some even called him the “philosopher of snow”. The tiniest shadow or footprint in his paintings is a well thought out accent. In 1905, the British art magazine “The Studio” called Purvītis one of the most modern of painters, one who not only felt the poetry of nature but knew how to portray it.
With its rounded shapes, the lacy treatment of tree branches and shimmering water, the oil painting “Winter” is one of the most expressive Art Nouveau works in Latvian painting. In 2007, about 100 years after its completion, it was included in the exhibition “The Masterpieces of European Art”, which marked the 50th anniversary of the European Union.
The captured spring moment, when nature is just awakening from winter and snowdrifts begin to melt under the bright sun in Purvītis’ “Spring Waters (Maestoso)” has left such an indelible impression on generations of viewers that, upon seeing a certain type of Latvian landscape in March, many of them will exclaim: “A Purvītis landscape, isn’t it?”. In Purvītis’s career, this painting was a turning point toward Neo-Romanticism and traditional German painting with its strict compositional rules.
The vibrant painting “In the Spring (Springtide)” was painted much later and points to Purvītis’ interest in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism as well as his attention to his brushstroke, which here ranges from hundreds of dots to commas and lines in order to depict individual blooms and represent the triumphant joy of the spring.
Vilhelms Kārlis Purvītis was born in 1872 in a picturesque area of Latvia, in a miller’s family in Jaunpils (now Zaube) parish. From 1890 to 1897, he studied at the Imperial Art Academy in St Petersburg, from which he graduated with honours. The young painter was highly respected among St Petersburg artists and society: he was consulted on artistic matters both by the Academy and the Russian court, but, in 1899, Purvītis returned to Rīga. A prolific artist, he was among the founders of both the Latvian school of painting and international recognition of Latvian art. After Latvia gained independence, Purvītis became the rector of the Latvian Academy of Art (1919–1934) and the director of the National Museum of Art (1919–1944). Having lost most of his personal belongings and many of his paintings en route, Purvītis died as a refugee in Germany in 1945.
In 1998, work was begun to restore the house where Purvītis was born and turn it into an international cultural centre and museum. In 2008, a biannual Purvītis Prize was established to be awarded to a work that reflects contemporary reality while exhibiting spiritual ideals or absolute values.
In 2012, on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of Purvītis’ birth, the exhibition “Purvītis and Other Latvian Landscape Artists” was held at the gallery “Mūkusala Art Salon”. Juxtaposing Purvītis to artists from later generations, the curators aimed to establish how deeply the characteristic Purvītis motifs had penetrated the nation’s consciousness.
Purvītis’ landscapes that are part of the Canon are on display at the Latvian National Museum of Art. Other works are found in several Latvian museums and private collections.
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Kļaviņš, Eduards. (2014). Vilhelms Purvītis un viņa gleznas. No: Eduards Kļaviņš (sast.). Latvijas mākslas vēsture. 4. sēj.: 1890-1915 (208.-215., 247.-254. lpp.). Rīga: Latvijas Mākslas akadēmijas Mākslas vēstures institūts; Mākslas vēstures pētījumu atbalsta fonds.
Profesors Vilhelms Purvītis 1872. (1925). No: Jānis Dombrovskis. Latvju māksla. Glezniecības, grafikas, tēlniecības un lietišķās mākslas attīstības vēsturisks apskats (49.-55. lpp.). Rīga: Valtera un Rapas akc. Sabiedrības izdevums.
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