Symbolist Art and the Baltic Sea Region, 1880–1930

Conference at Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, Estonia

31 January – 2 February 2019

Organised by Art Museum of Estonia – Kumu Art Museum
and Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators

Symbolist art, with its mystical landscapes of the soul, otherworldly visions of the afterlife and pathological degenerations of the self, has witnessed a meteoric rise in scholarly interest and exhibition programming in the past decade. In critique of the field’s francocentric origins, touring shows have become ever more international in their representation, yet, with rare exceptions, artists from the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have remained conspicuously absent from these narratives. The pioneering 2018 exhibition “Wild Souls: Symbolism in the Baltic States” curated by Rodolphe Rapetti at the Musée d’Orsay was a pivotal step in addressing this omission, introducing the sensuous musings of turn-of-the-century Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian modernists to an international public eager to learn more about this cadre of fascinating artists. Despite this well-deserved and overdue international acclaim, the works of even the most iconic and beloved artists—Janis Rozentāls, Konrad Mägi, and even Mikalojus Čiurlionis—remain largely unknown among neighboring countries across the Baltic Sea. This enduring unfamiliarity is especially puzzling given the fact that their creative endeavors, including their most distinctive National Romantic artworks, mediated the multiethnic, multilingual, and multiconfessional reality of the Baltic Sea Region and its colonial history. What role has historiography and the writing of art history played in making these artists simultaneously so visible at home, yet practically invisible abroad? How might we transcend national narratives to create more holistic accounts of the region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century? What are the new approaches to Baltic art of the period? In which ways can new research paradigms open up a dialogue between Baltic materials and global discussions on art and art history?

In collaboration with the exhibition “Wild. Souls. Symbolism in the Art of the Baltic States” (12 October 2018 – 3 February 2019 Kumu Art Museum), the Kumu Art Museum and the Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators seek to address this lacuna with an international conference highlighting the transcultural networks of Symbolist art across the Baltic Sea Region between 1880 and 1930. As we strive to overcome the enduring national boundaries of art history, we envision the conference as a seminal opportunity specifically to bring Baltic Symbolism to an unprecedented level of international scholarly inquiry as well as an inimitable opportunity to foster a transnational, yet distinctly regional network of Symbolist scholars, curators, and specialists.


The working language at the conference is English.

THURSDAY, 31 JANUARY

17:30               Registration

18:00–18:10  Opening Remarks
Sirje Helme (Art Museum of Estonia)
Kadi Polli (Kumu Art Museum)
Tiina-Mall Kreem (Kadriorg Art Museum / Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators)

18:10–18:30   The History of the Project “Symbolism in the Art of the Baltic States”
Ginta Gerharde-Upeniece (Latvian National Museum of Art)
Liis Pählapuu (Kumu Art Museum)

18:45– 20:00 Visit to the exhibition “Wild Souls. Symbolism in the Art of the Baltic States” with the curator Liis Pählapuu (Kumu Art Museum) and art historian Bart Pushaw (University of Maryland)

FRIDAY, 1 FEBRUARY

10:15                   Registration

10:45                   Introduction
Bart Pushaw (University of Maryland)

11:00–12:30     KEYNOTE
Kristiāna Ābele (Latvian Academy of Art)
The Nordic Horizon of the Emerging Baltic Art: A View from Riga at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Moderator: Patricia Berman (Wellesley College)

12:30–13:30     Lunch

13:30–14:30     I DECADENCE AND DEGENERATION
Moderator: Bart Pushaw (University of Maryland)
Aija Brasliņa (Latvian National Museum of Art)
Janis Rozentāls: Vision of Arcadia
Kesia Eidesen (KODE Art Museums / University of Oslo)
Nikolai Astrup and the Child as a Keeper of Secrets

14:30–14:45    Coffee

14:45–16:15    I DECADENCE AND DEGENERATION
Lola Annabel Kass (Tallinn University)
The Aesthetics of Melancholy: Exploring the Depiction of Low Moods in Estonian Visual Art
Irena Kossowska (Nicolaus Copernicus University Toruń)
Dolls: Eroticism and Madness in the Work of Witold Wojtkiewicz
Inessa Kouteinikova (Independent Scholar, Amsterdam)
Natalie Mei’s Vie Quotidienne: Representing Prostitution in the Estonian Art of Neue Sachlichkeit

16:15–16:45    Coffee

16:45–18:15    II DISSEMINATING SYMBOLISM: CRITICISM, DESIGN, MUSIC
Moderator: Krista Kodres (Estonian Academy of Arts)
Pille Veljataga (Lithuanian Culture Research Institute)
The Concept of the Symbol in Lithuanian Art Criticism during the First Decades of the Twentieth Century
Jānis Krēsliņš (National Library of Sweden)
Bookish and Promotional: Symbolist Aesthetics and Cover Design in the Baltic Region
Kristel Pappel (Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre)
Musical Modernism in Estonia around 1910 

SATURDAY, 2 FEBRUARY

9:15                   Registration

9:30–10:45     KEYNOTE
Joep Leerssen (University of Amsterdam)
Neo-Romanticism at the Fin de Siècle: Symbolism and National Identity
Moderator: Linda Kaljundi (Tallinn University)

10:45–11:15     Coffee

11:15–13:15     III LANDSCAPES OF THE SOUL
Moderator: Liis Pählapuu (Kumu Art Museum)
Thor J. Mednick (University of Toledo)
Intuition and Autonomy in the Works of Ejnar Nielsen and Paul Raud
Vibeke Waallann Hansen (National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo)
A Walk in the Forest with Edvard Munch: Symbolist Landscape
Phyllis G. Connors (Independent Scholar, London)
British Aestheticism and the Symbolist Art of the Baltic Littoral, 1880–1930

13:15–14:15    Lunch

14:15–15:45    IV PARADIGM SHIFTS
Moderator: Kristiāna Ābele (Latvian Academy of Art)
Marja Lahelma (University of Helsinki)
Beyond National Romanticism: Unravelling the Myths of Nordic Art
Bart Pushaw (University of Maryland)
Scientists and Spiritualists: Painting Élan vital in the Baltic Provinces
Linda Kaljundi (Tallinn University)
Scientific Romanticist: Art and research in the early twentieth-century Estonian visual culture

15:45–16:15    Coffee

16:15–17:15    ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION
Respondent: Patricia Berman (Wellesley College)

Conference programme



There is no participation fee, but participants are expected to cover their transportation and accommodation costs, as well as lunches and dinners.

Prior registration is required of all participants.

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Additional information:
Tiiu Parbus
tiiu.parbus@ekm.ee
Tel +372 59129805
Kumu kunstimuuseum / Kumu Art Museum
Weizenbergi 34 / Valge 1
10127 Tallinn

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