The Exhibition "Meetings",  July - September 2015
The Exhibition "Meetings",  July - September 2015

The Exhibition "Meetings", July - September 2015

“Meetings” is a unique exhibition at the Memorial Museum of Antanas Žmuidzinavičius. For the first time in the history of the museum, works from a private collection related to the story of the museum (artist’s home) are shown. The concept of the exhibition is made up of two components. It may seem at first glance that the combination of the two genres – portrait and landscape – is artificial and that they do not have much in common. Yet in this case, from a semantics point of view, the perception gravitates in the opposite direction. Connections between the two genres extend to the period of time, the biographies of contemporaries, trends in art research, and cultural historical layers. In many cases the connection is manifest through the clear interaction with a specific city, namely Kaunas.

Part One of the exhibition contains the portraits of prominent figures by Lithuanian classical artists. This is a rare opportunity to see works in which both the artist and the person depicted are bound in an uninterrupted paradigmatic chain of classics. Through the representative portrait painting we get a glimpse of the fundamentals of Lithuanian modern art.

The self-portrait of Antanas Samuolis (1899–1942) executed in an expressive manner and vibrant colours was painted when the author studied at the Kaunas Art Studio of Justinas Vienožinskis. It is a frank look of the twenty-six-year-old painter at himself. The 1925 self-portrait depicts Samuolis as a strong person with a fiery look. His colleague and fellow artist, Neemija Arbit Blatas, later said of Samuolis: ‘There was truth, dignity, and … loneliness about Samuolis.’[1]

The radically different energy of Samuolis’ works is still characteristic of his paintings even today. His short creative path was purposeful and mature. All known self-portraits of Samuolis convey certainty and naked exposure before himself and the viewer. In this case, it is the fiery look of the young man which conveys his psychological condition. Prof. Antanas Andrijauskas, who explored Samuolis’ creative oeuvre in detail, wrote: ‘Apart from Čiurlionis, he was the first of our artists, prior to the arrival of abstraction trends, to avoid clutter with irrelevant details and shapes typical to the tradition of folk art, and this trait was rare among artists. The fear of empty space nearly pathological in the case of many artists of the time, is alien to him; on the contrary, his art manifests what is broadly known in art criticism as the non-finito principle of omission, aesthetic implication typical only of intellectual artists.’[2]

Samuolis, a student of painter Justinas Vienožinskis, built the foundation for the national school of painting. In many cases one can speak about the unique influence of Samuolis on many painters effecting a radical change in the perception of Lithuanian aesthetics in art. 

A drawing by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875–1957) portraying Vladas Eidukevičius (1934) is executed in pencil in the Mannerist style. The portrait is an important testimony to the cultural life of 1930s Kaunas. The painter and the person portrayed with their different paths in life meet and remain in the face of artistic eternity. 

In 1929, Dobuzhinsky returned to Kaunas. In 1929–1930, he was the head of graphics and decorative painting studies of Kaunas School of Art. In 1930, he opened his private art studio on Maironis Street, which ran until 1933. He started working as an artistic director at the State Theatre in 1931. In 1933, he participated in the design of the Lithuanian coat of arms, flag, state orders, and postage stamps, and was involved in the protection and restoration of old monuments. In 1939, Dobuzhinsky left for London to prepare his solo exhibition. He was in London when WWII broke out. He lived in Paris for some time and subsequently in the USA, and never returned to Lithuania. Dobuzhinsky died in New York in 1957 and was buried in Paris. His biography reveals an exceptional, cosmopolitan artist who understood exactly how he wanted to develop his creative path. 

The person portrayed here, Eidukevičius, took a different path. For twenty years he moved across Europe: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Munich, Berlin, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Madrid, Rome, Corsica, etc. He endured poor living conditions, loneliness and lack of food, but was profoundly creative and had an insatiable passion for art. ‘With his knowledge of Russian, French, English, Italian, German, and Latvian, he could read Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Blok, Janis Rainis, François Villon, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, and early William Blake works in the original,’ <...> ‘He loved music. He knew the pieces of many composers by heart and hummed them. Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Modest Mussorgsky, and Ludwig van Beethoven were his favourites. He was particularly fond of the music and paintings of Konstantinas Čiurlionis.’[3] In 1932, Eidukevičius returned to Lithuania. This period marked the height of his creative maturity: ‘While in Lithuania, the aim of my work crystallised, my technique matured, combining of paint equilibrated, and generally, my art improved.’[3] The portrait of Eidukevičius was painted by Dobužinskis seven years before the fateful day of 22 June 1941 when the bullet of a Nazi soldier cut short Eidukevičius’ life. His creative heritage was scattered. Art pieces of the last years of his life are presented by art researchers without signatures, creation dates, and with just the inscription – ‘Vladas.’

The “Portrait of a Young Man with a Hat” (1932) by Adolfas Valeška (1905–1994) continues the thread of cultural figures depicted by artists. One such figure, Juozas Keliuotis, is the young man depicted in the painting. At the time both the artist and Keliuotis took an active part in the cultural life of Lithuania, were close friends and thought alike. At the time, modern art was gaining momentum and was closely interacted with the avant-garde press. In the 1930s, pupils of Kaunas School of Art were influenced by local movements of avant-garde artists such as “Keturvėjininkai” (a group of Lithuanian avant-garde writers) and “Trečiafrontininkai” (a group of Lithuanian writers and critics), yet only the publications of “Naujoji Romuva” (culture, literature and art magazine) made a real contribution to the cultural scene of Lithuania. Valeška actively participated in art exhibitions at that time and in 1934 staged a solo exhibition in Kaunas. He combined his creative and cultural activities with administrative work. Valeška was the initiator of the Ecclesiastical Art Museum and was the head of the museum in 1935–1940.

At the time when the portrait was painted, Keliuotis was the publisher and editor of “Naujoji Romuva”. ‘The publication was closely related to the activities of the Association of Independent Artists. Valeška, who was the chairman of the Association, and Keliuotis were friends, they shared their world views and had common perceptions on the aim of art.’[4] Although the portrait has the features of a representative genre, there is no feeling that the painter is restricted by the artist-client relationship typical of such commissioned work and which is often reflected in the work. The painting is full of warmth, sensitivity, and exhibits a free and unrestricted manner of painting. Keliuotis is immortalised as an intellectual thinker who firmly believes in the ideas of inter-war European art ideology.

The artist Neemija Arbit Blatas (1909–1999) was born in Kaunas. He studied at Kaunas School of Art. He is an exceptional Litvak painter with an international creative path. Arbit Blatas studied at the art school in Paris. ‘The student of Jacob Mesenblum and Justinas Vienožinskis was strongly affected by his encounter with modern art and the friendships in the capital of arts with living masters of modernism – Maurice Utrillo, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Maurice de Vlaminck, and others. In Paris, the recognisable, expressive and spontaneous style of the painter matured and was revealed.’[5] 

The portrait of Juozas Vaičkus (1930), a theatre director, painted by Blatas marks the period in Blatas’ oeuvre when he used restraint and monochrome colours. Ilona Mažeikienė, a researcher of Blatas’ creative work, wrote: ‘In 1926–1939, although living in Paris, Blatas stayed in touch with Lithuania. Each year he visited his parents. His efforts to open a private art gallery on Independence Square in Kaunas were crowned with success in autumn 1932. This was the first such gallery and both local and foreign artists were exhibited in the gallery”. [6] Under these circumstances it does not come as a surprise that Blatas painted the theatre director and the well-known nurturer of theatre culture in Kaunas. “The greatest and most valuable achievement of Vaičkus was the establishment of the State Theatre in Kaunas in 1920 together with the pupils and stage director Kastantas Glinskis. The theatre continues to this day. It can be said that the establishment of the State Theatre is the end of one stage in the history of Lithuanian folk (amateur) theatre (Petras Bielskis) and the arrival of the professional theatre.’ [7] The portrait by Blatas captures a psychological image of the theatre director. Contemporaries remember Vaičkus as a proud, always stylish person and an exceptionally talented teacher, who revived the Lithuanian theatre. It is no coincidence that back in 1940 Stasys Šilingas wrote the following about Vaičkus’ contribution to Lithuanian culture: ‘He was a man of broad spirit, standing next to Žemkalnis – Vydūnas – Tadas Daugirdas – Rucevičius – Strazdas along with numerous, already forgotten, unknown theatre “soldiers” who sowed the seeds of their own – Lithuanian – art across Lithuania, and everywhere – in America, Germany, Russia – where there was a Lithuanian.’ [8]

Justinas Vienožinskis (1886–1960) continues the theme of commissioned art in his portraits of the members of the Tūbelis family (1936). The portrait of Jadvyga Chodakauskaitė-Tūbelienė is subtle, filled with elegance and finesse. Romantic and soft hues attest to the warm relationship between the artist and the person portrayed. The painting is a reflection of feminine charm. Reminiscences of the contemporaries and historiography emphasise the mental prowess, diplomatic talent, and efficiency of this woman. Tūbelienė is known as the wife of Juozas Tūbelis, the Prime Minister of the first Republic of Lithuania for many years, and the chairman of the Lithuanian Nationalist Union. Tūbelienė was also a sister of Sofija Smetonienė, the wife of the Lithuanian President. Tūbelienė was a well-known public figure and an active member of the social and charity organisations of Lithuanian women. Ingrida Jakubavičienė, who took an active part in the political life of Lithuania, wrote: ‘Tūbelienė was a very prominent person. She was educated, ambitious, brave and even adventurous, but at the same time she was a fervent patriot, energetic public servant of the young Republic, and an active participant in political events. At all times she remained a faithful supporter of the political plans of her husband and her brother-in-law.’ [9]

The portrait of Prime Minister Juozas Tūbelis is subtle both in terms of colour and technique. In this case, the formal relationship between the artist and the person portrayed can be felt. On 1 September 1939, the Tūbelis family was shocked to hear that war had broken out in Europe. Tūbelis died a month later, on 30 September.

The portrait of Kazys Prapuolenis (1928), a canon, by Petras Kalpokas (1880–1945) is both ornate and formal. The time when the portrait was painted coincides with the active creative period in the artist’s life. In 1928, a large solo exhibition of Kalpokas was staged and the “Catalogue of Petras Kalpokas’ Survey Exhibition” was published by the Lithuanian Art Society. 

Prapuolenis is portrayed in a very representative manner. The canon, the first non-formal representative of Lithuania in the Vatican, researcher of Lithuanian history, publicist, and active public figure is painted wearing a cassock and state awards: the Cross of the Knight of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas and the Cross of Officer of the Order of Vytautas the Great. 

The most recently painted portrait in the exhibition is that of Lieutenant General Mykolas Velykis (1942) by Kazys Varnelis (1917–2010). 

Varnelis took a keen interest in history and collecting. At the time when the portrait was painted he was the head of the Ecclesiastical Art Museum in Kaunas. In 1943, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna where in 1945 he acquired the diploma of an academic painter. In 1949, he moved to the USA and settled in Chicago. The portrait created by one of the world’s best known optic art (op art) artists conveys the stylistics of new objectivity. The representational genre is combined with a bold creative quest. 

Lieutenant General Velykis, builder of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and Minister of Defence in the First and Second cabinets, is portrayed standing at the window through which the view opens to the towers of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Kaunas. He is depicted without a military uniform. Velykis taught at the High Officers’ Courses and the Military School. He wrote for publications such as “Kariūnas” and “Lietuvos Žinios”, and was the chairman of the Economic Enterprise of Soldiers. In 1939, Velykis established a liqueur production factory and represented the Vikers company in Lithuania. In 1944, soon after his 60th birthday, he was arrested and imprisoned in Kaunas and then in Vilnius. In 1946, he was deported to Siberia. In 1951, Velykis was sentenced to 25 years in labour camps in Archangelsk Region.

Part Two of the exhibition offers viewers a unique encounter. One of the most famous landscape paintings, “The Village of Dzūkija II” (1910), by Antanas Žmuidzinavičius will be exhibited for the first time at his Memorial Museum. For many years the history of this painting was unknown. The painting recorded as No. 133 in the register of Žmuidzinavičius’ works was exhibited in the Fourth Exhibition of Lithuanian Art. When this exhibition was moved to Riga, the painting was sold to the writer, Pranas Mašiotas. Celebrating his 60th birthday and 35th anniversary of his career, the artist summed up his work: ‘I consider my most prominent works to be as follows: “Consonance” (at Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, PA. USA, and its replica – at V.D. museum), “Morning Song” (Sisters of St. Casimir, Chicago, Ill.), “Portrait of my Wife”, “Injured Commander of Riflemen”, “Samogitian Cemetery”, “The Village of Dzūkija”, etc.’ [10] The story of the latter took a new turn in 2013, when at Vilnius Auction XXVIII, it was the most expensive piece of art sold in the Lithuanian art market. The unique history of the painting is back on the Lithuanian cultural map. This is a rare and a unique opportunity to see Kurciniškės Village in the authentic environment of the early twentieth century. Looking at the painting, the word ‘noblemen’ in the title of the painting sounds ironic. The painting depicts thatched roof cottages on a hill, against a light reddish sky. The important focus of the painting is an ornate cross and a lonely pine tree. It is a painfully familiar image of a modest village in Dzūkija ethnographic area. It is delicate, true, and unadorned. Looking at the painting one is trying not to disturb the idyllic peace and quiet emanating from it. 

The characteristic silence of Žmuidzinavičius’ landscapes is also present in many of his paintings. His landscape painting “Lake Vištytis” (1937) (R-927) reveals the creative principles of his landscapes. Trees (fir and pine trees) are in the foreground, and water which merges with the sky in the horizon is in the background. Colours of the painting are rich, tones are shaded and calm, and the brush strokes are light and sketchy. 

Žmuidzinavičius was a passionate traveller, who loved Lithuania unconditionally. Because he was a traveller and a painter, we are reminded of the character of Česlovas Janušas, the famous Lithuanian seascape painter, portrayed in Žmuidzinavičius’ painting “Artist in the Dunes” (1943). ‘Painter Česlovas Janušas (1907–1993) was one of the most popular Lithuanian seascape painters in pre-war Lithuania and among the Lithuanian diaspora. Larger or smaller water bodies accompanied him throughout his entire life. Charmed by water elements, he devoted most of his career to this attractive and, at first sight, simple yet technically quite complicated genre of painting. The artist maintained, “Why do I like seascapes, why do I continuously paint the sea? Someone will say that this is the easiest thing, but this is what I think: do you want to paint the sea? You must read many books, have some idea about the wind, water, movement, quivering, mechanical forces, and to know why the waves turn, and also to observe the sea, the moon, moonlight, and sunset.”’ (‘Realistas ar abstraktistas?’ [Realism or Abstraction?] “Draugas”, 1972 02 12).’[11]

Žmuidzinavičius’ landscapes convey the lyrical moods of nature, the impression of space, nuances of light, and play of textures in a most masterful way. The painter depicts nature realistically with elements of idealism, lyricism, and a romantic approach to the environment. Žmuidzinavičius is one of the most famous Lithuanian landscape artists. Lithuanian art researchers call him a unique virtuoso of Lithuanian lakes and Lithuanian sky.


Footnotes / literature:


1. Raimundas Samulevičius. Baltoji obelis. – Vilnius: Vaga, 1985, p.22;
2. Antanas Andrijauskas. Antano Samuolio tapybinė ekspresija // LOGOS. 2008, Nr. 54 (sausis kovas). P. 130–131;
3. Pranas Gudynas. Vladas Eidukevičius 1891-1941. Vilnius: Vaizdas, 1963, p. 14;
4. Jolita Mulevičiūtė. Modernizmo link. Dailės gyvenimas Lietuvos Respublikoje 1918-1940. Kaunas: Nacionalinis M. K. Čiurlionio dailės muziejus, 2001, p. 111-112;
5. Ilona Mažeikienė. Arbit Blato sugrįžimas // Lietuvos dailės muziejaus metraštis. 2011, Nr.15. P. 57;
6. Ibid., p. 59.
7. Aleksandras Guobys. Juozas Vaičkus – tautinės teatrinės kultūros kūrėjas // Lietuvos scena. 2006, Nr. 3, p. 5.
8. Ibid., p. 7.
9. Ingrida Jakubavičienė. Jadvygos Chodakauskaitės-Tūbelienės visuomeninė ir politinės veiklos epizodai (1918-1940 m.) // Istorija. 2013/14, Nr. 92. P. 32.
10. Braziulis. Dail. A. Žmuidzinavičius apie savo gyvenimą // Trimitas. 1936, Nr. 44, p. 1053.
11. Kristina Jakubavičienė. „Dailininko marinisto Česlovo Janušo (1907-1993, JAV) kūrinių ekspozicija „Prie Baltijos ir prie Atlanto“. www.ldm.lt