The Kügelgens: The Story of one Baltic-German Family 25/05/2024 – 29/09/2024

Mikkel Museum
Adult: Mikkeli Museum
  • Family: Mikkeli Museum
  • Discount: Mikkel Museum
  • Adult ticket with donation: Art Museum of Estonia
Karl Otto Gerhard von Kügelgen. The Artist with His Family in Vinni Manor. 1835. Art Museum of Estonia

The Kügelgens: The Story of one Baltic-German Family

The exhibition introduces the best-known members of the Kügelgen family through their art and everyday items associated with the family. This journey began in 1789, when two brothers, both artists, travelled from Germany to Estonia, and stretches into the 1980s, when Bernt von Kügelgen (1914–2002) became known as a writer in the German Democratic Republic. The rather tranquil times of the 19th century were followed by a more turbulent period in the Kügelgen family history: in the disruptions of a revolution and two world wars, they lost their property, status and homeland, and had to rebuild their lives from scratch in Germany.

Six Kügelgens, whose works have been included in this exhibition, had a profound impact on Estonian art, their works reflecting the transition from classicism to symbolism: the forefathers of the Estonian branch of the Kügelgen family, the portraitist and painter of historical themes Gerhard Franz (1772–1820) and the landscape painter Karl Ferdinand (1772–1832), who laid the foundation for a new level of professional art in Estonia; their sons Wilhelm (1802–1867) and Constantin (1810–1880); and their grandchildren Sally (1860–1928) and Erich (1870–1945).

But there are other Kügelgens who made names for themselves mainly in Germany. One of them is the anthroposophic pedagogue Helmut von Kügelgen (1916–1998), who contributed to the development of the Waldorf method of teaching, and another is Dr. Constantin Franz (Kai) von Kügelgen (1880–1926), who researched vitamin deficiency. The psychiatrist Ernst von Kügelgen (1871–1948), the director of the Seewald mental institution, was the therapist and supporter of the Estonian painter Paul Burman. Two Kügelgens worked as journalists with the leading German-language newspaper published in St. Petersburg: Paul von Kügelgen (1843–1904) and his son and successor Siegwart (1875–1952).

Other members of the family also had a literary bent: Dr. Constantin Franz or Kai, who published a collection of poems, and the “socialist” writer Bernt von Kügelgen, mentioned above. The best-known writer was, however, Wilhelm, the artist, whose Young Age Memoirs of an Old Man provides a vivid and comprehensive overview of intellectual and private life in the early romanticist era. Because of these qualities, the book was a must in every proper German household at least until World War II.

The story of the Kügelgen family – and not just the artists among them – reflects the various facets of Baltic-German culture from the beginning of the 19th century to the 1980s.

Curators: Matthias Donath, Eike Eckert and Anne Untera
Exhibition design: Mari Kurismaa
Graphic design: Mari Kaljuste
Coordinator: Aleksandra Murre