HENRI MATISSE AND LATVIAN ART (Anri Matiss un latviesu maksla)
In autumn 2005 the Foreign Art Museum in Riga exhibited an excellent collection of works by Matisse from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. Apart from the purely aesthetic pleasure it raised the question of his place in the history of Latvian art. Despite the fact that in Latvia there was no stable circle of followers, Latvian artists proved to have a surprisingly enduring interest in the ouevre of the French master. Some of his works were exhibited already in 1910 in Riga and the first promoter of Modernism in Latvia, Voldemars Matvejs, presented Matisse as one of its paradigms. The first Latvian painter whose early style was unmistakably dependent on Matisse's paintings seen in Moscow in 1916-1917 was Gederts Eliass. He not only constructed bright, colourful compositions with the same iconography (lazy figures of models, ornamental dresses, fragments of interior settings) but also used the bright colour ranges representing more random and ordinary motifs derived from his surroundings. In the course of the 1930s some young artists from the so-called Tukums Group tried to revive the concept of early Modernism related to the Fauves and Matisse. As a result, Karlis Neilis developed his individual intimate style uniting brilliant colour areas with some effects of plein-air light. Later, as an emigre in Austria, he took up more abstract style but preserved his commitment to the use of decorative colourfields. During the first decade of the Soviet occupation Matisse, as well as other French modernist artists, were seen by the guardians of the official ideology as formalists and products of bourgeois decadence. In the years of the so-called thaw and later, a second 'discovery' of Matisse was possible. A devotee of the Fauves was Leonids Arins, more ambitious, monumental and full of pathos was another Latvian 'Frenchman' - Rudolfs Pinnis who lived in Paris in the 1930s.
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