Baltic German Modernist Erna Kreischmann: A Room of Her Own
Erna Elisabeth Kreischmann (neé Montiner, 1885–1929) was an innovative Baltic German artist who spent most of her life in the Estonian town of Pärnu. The exhibition introduces the oeuvre of this little-known woman artist, whose intimate interiors and portraits tell us about her life and reflect the artist’s own space.
Erna Kreischmann graduated in 1902 from the Pärnu Young Ladies’ Gymnasium. Three years later, she began her art studies under the Baltic German artists Marie Dücker and Meta Arneman (later Sprengholz), who were also Pärnu locals. In 1922, the artist moved to Tallinn, where she was instructed by founders of Estonian national art: August Jansen, Nikolai Root, Andrei Jegorov and Ants Laikmaa. She also took correspondence courses from the Press Art School in London. Kreischmann’s versatile art studies turned her into a unique artist, whose oeuvre stands out among all her Baltic German and Estonian contemporaries. While the Baltic German artists of the early 20th century mostly preferred a more conservative style of depiction, Kreischmann’s style makes it possible to call her a Baltic German modernist.
As subject matter, Kreischmann favoured the intimate motifs of domesticity and the scenery around Pärnu. Just as we can see in Johannes Pääsuke’s short film clip of early-20th century Pärnu, Kreischmann’s cityscapes show emptiness and wind-blown expanses. In her works we can perceive the painter’s romantic German spirit: one of the artist’s favourite motifs was the lone observer, facing the eternity of all-powerful nature. Often Erna’s husband Max Kreischmann was used as the observer with whom the artist shared the view of the open expanse. The paintings that depict her husband shed light on their relationship and the mixed emotions the artist felt for him. Besides fondness, Erna Kreischmann also depicted familial discord and her husband’s breakdowns, as in the image of a man sitting in a circle of lamplight in a living room.
Kreischmann’s portraits were as highly valued as her landscapes. Both critics and the public were captivated by her mastery in creating characteristic types and telling their stories. The painter’s self-portraits are particularly revealing, as in these she no longer observed the world over her husband’s shoulder or through a half-open door or window. Instead, the artist chose to depict herself as the centre of her own space, gazing directly at the viewer.
All of the works exhibited were created by Erna Kreischmann between 1914 and 1928, and belong to the collections of the Pärnu Museum. The artist’s rich heritage was donated to the museum by Max Kreischmann, Erna Kreischmann’s husband.
This exhibition is a part of the permanent exhibition “Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art 1700–1945”.
Curators: Eha Komissarov, Mari-Liis Krautmann
Exhibition design and graphic design: Liina Siib
Coordinator: Magdaleena Maasik
Kaarel Eelma, Johanna Lamp, Margit Pajupuu, Kristina Papstel
Pärnu Museum, Tallinn City Museum – Museum of Photography, Christoph Nacke, Õie Palu and Elnara Taidre