Thursday, June 12, 2014


It can be assumed that Estonian art goes back to antiquity when the early settlers to this area created carvings from bone and stone.  Folk art and handicrafts were the most common art forms and influences from the various occupations are evident in their art. Ethnographic materials (usually as geometric designs) are found on mittens, belts, other textiles, and art work.  Art historians have researched these for years to try to find a meaning behind these, but it’s not clear if there is a meaning. Any key for deciphering these symbols has been lost throughout history. Many of these symbols are incorporated into textiles and jewelry nowadays, and may have similar meanings to other Baltic ethnographic art. 

Many of the attractions on tourist’s lists fall in Estonia’s architecture. There are many  Medieval castles, forts, and churches still stand to this day.  Old town Tallinn, placed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great example of Gothic architecture, influenced by Germans who moved into this area. Later Baroque and Rococo architecture dominated the Russian regional government buildings. During the 19th century, Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau can be seen throughout the cities and countryside, especially in many of the manors.

The first person attributed as being the first professional artist is Johann Köler (1826-1899).  He is most widely known for pulling himself out of poverty to attend the Art Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia and making a name for himself as a portrait artist. He was lucky enough and talented enough to attract the attention of many of the who’s who in St. Petersburg.  Köler was also instrumental in promoting the art scene and local artists as well as art education.

Johann Köler's mother

Artist Ants Laikmaa, the 13th child of his family, studied art and gave exhibitions in several countries across Europe.  He was most known for his watercolor paintings, mostly landscapes and portraits. Although he never married, he did have one daughter. Laikmaa bought a farm where he worked until he died; after he died, it was turned into a museum in 1960. 

by Ants Laikmaa

I found I’m quite attracted to the landscape painting of Konrad Mägi.  His bright colors are a contrast to that of Laikmaa who tended to use more subdued color contrast.  While studying in Paris, he became influenced by the Impressionistic style of painting, one that I’m a fan of. After WWI, he began to delve into the Expressionist movement, and it could also be seen in his work at that time.  Several years later, he traveled to study in Italy and was influenced by the emerging Art Nouveau styles.

by Konrad Mägi

Founded in 1914 in Tallinn, the Estonian Academy of Arts is the only art school in Estonia. It provides studies in art, design, media, art history, conservation-restoration, and art education. During WWII and during the Russian occupation, classes and programs were modified and some were completely removed or untaught. However, after they regained independence, the school built itself back up as the premier school to study art in Estonia.

The earliest piece of literature written in the Estonian language was The Chronicles of Henry of Livonia. The earliest printed material is a translation of Martin Luther’s Catechism.  While the earliest form of Estonian poetry was produced in 1637, it wasn’t until almost two centuries later when Kristjan Jaak Peterson would be considered the founder of modern Estonian poetry.  Unfortunately, he died at the young age of 21; to accomplish such a title at such a young age is certainly a splendid feat (although much of his poetry was published posthumously). Many of Estonian writers were still writing poetry in both Estonian and German.

By the time the late 19th century rolled around, poetry was still the most popular writing style, but prose was making its entry as well. Different groups of writers were starting to emerge as well: one was the Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia), and another was made of writers of the Siuru movement. Literature magazines were also beginning to be established during the first decade of the 20th century. During the wars, prose took at turn towards realism, as a way of coping with the changes that war brings. Once Estonia became an entity of Russia again, many of the prominent writers went into exile in neighboring countries and some even further away.  Those who stayed were forced into a strict censorship.

Jaan Kross
Today, Jaan Kross and Jaan Kaplinski are among the most famous Estonian writers and have had their works translated the most.  Kross grew up in Tallinn and later studied at the University of Tartu.  After the Nazis invaded Estonia, he was locked up on charges of promoting Estonian nationalism.  When the Russians took over, he was arrested again; this time, eventually sending him to a forced labor camp in Russia for a total of eight years. Once he was finally free to return to Estonia, it was 1954, and he started writing. The Czar’s Madmen and Professor Martens’ Departure are two of his most well-known novels and most translated.  One novel, Excavations, is thought by some literary critics to be one of his best works; however, it has only been translated into German.

Jaan Kaplinski
Jaan Kaplinski is a writer, poet, philosopher, and translator. Influenced by Eastern thought (mainly Taoism and Buddhism), he’s translated a number of Chinese classical poems. During the Soviet occupation, Kaplinski was one of the authors of the “Letters from 40 Intellectuals,” an unpublished letter written regarding the behavior of authorities during that time. He has also been a member of the Estonian parliament since the mid-1990s. While he has switched parties a few times, he’s currently a member of the Estonial Social Democratic Party. And interestingly enough, he also has a main-belt asteroid named after him: 29528 Kaplinski was discovered in January 1998.

Up next: music and dance

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