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ORIGINS OF THE RIGA GROUP OF ARTISTS (Rigas makslinieku grupas sakums)

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Both outstanding creative personalities and groups of like-minded contemporaries have had a lasting significance in art history. When in autumn 1919 the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited creative individuals to attend a meeting about culture propaganda abroad, artists started to form several groups to defend their interests. The radically minded young generation - Gederts Eliass, Jekabs Kazaks, Oto Skulme, Romans Suta, Niklavs Strunke, Valdemars Tone and Konrads Ubans - united In the Expressionists' Group. But as these 'Expressionists' knew very little about the essence of this German movement, they renamed themselves the Riga Group of Artists in early 1920. In 1919 Riga Commandant's Office permitted artists in service to stay in Jekabs' Barracks where the Riga Art School was housed until 1915. Possibly the memorable stay in the former school premises inspired to name the group. The first exhibition of the Riga Group of Artists was opened at the Riga City Art Museum on 7 March 1920. The catalogue introduction stated that all the last years had been really tragic for art, artists having to practise great endurance and self-sacrifice to fight poverty and public's indifferent attitude. The 'Rigans' confidently declared their credo: 'It is no the objective external nature that we wish to show in our works now, but our individual nature, our spiritual essence.' The exhibition dominated by search for formal synthesis marked a radical turn in Latvian painting, attesting to redefinition of historical values. Several artists of the older generation had antagonistic attitude towards the young artists' experiments they considered incomprehensible. On 22 October 1920, Janis Roberts Tillbergs and Rihards Zarins organised a lecture at the Riga Latvian Society, aiming to slander the 'Expressionists' in the public's eyes. The intention was to show how easy it is to create collectively after the latest fashion without inner confidence and to demonstrate these works' inner vacuity and lack of value. Members of the Riga Group of Artists took this scandal to heart; it turned out fatal to Jekabs Kazaks because his tuberculosis grew worse rapidly. The early years of the Riga Group of Artists turned out unexpectedly tragic because it lost two exceptional personalities in 1920 - the Paris-based artist Jazeps Grosvalds and Jekabs Kazaks. The creative work of the Riga Group was clearly remarkable against the general background of Realism.
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  • Dace Lamberga, Latvian National Museum of Art, Latvian National Museum of Art, Krisjana Valdemara iela 10, Riga LV-1010, Latvia
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