MK Čiurlionis at Dulwich Image Gallery: a highlight on a Lithuanian artist-hero

MK Čiurlionis, “Angels (Paradise)” (1909) © Courtesy of the MK Čiurlionis Nationwide Artwork Museum

Each day for six frantic years between 1903 and 1909, the younger Lithuanian composer and painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis bought up and did nothing however compose music or paint. By the top, he had produced 300 artworks and 400 musical compositions.

Burnt out by his feverish creativity, he fell right into a deep melancholy and was dedicated to a psychiatric hospital, the place he died of pneumonia on the age of 35. Though comparatively unknown exterior Lithuania, Čiurlionis is taken into account a nationwide hero at residence. Now his work are being offered to the British public in his first London present, Dulwich Image Gallery’s MK Čiurlionis: Between Worlds.

Greater than 100 works had been loaned by the MK Čiurlionis Nationwide Artwork Museum of Lithuania. Positioned within the nation’s second metropolis, Kaunas, the museum is a big, white modernist constructing the place the artist’s small, extremely detailed photos appeared misplaced once I visited earlier this 12 months. They’re much stronger within the intimate, virtually home setting of Dulwich. The partitions had been painted a deep purple and blue-green particularly for this present, and the daring use of coloration offers a wonderful backdrop to the brilliant pastels of his work.

Though Čiurlionis’ compositions are carried out by orchestras around the globe, his work not often go away Lithuania, partly due to their fragility. Čiurlionis couldn’t afford oil work or giant canvases, so most of his footage are tempera, or pastels on paper or cardboard, transporting the viewer to different worlds: fantasy lands stuffed with forests, mythological cities, anthropomorphic mountains and clouds in an excellent array. of colours.

Symbolist painting of Earth in space

MK Čiurlionis, “The Creation of the World III”, from the cycle of 13 work (1905-06) © Courtesy of the MK Čiurlionis Nationwide Artwork Museum

The primary corridor of the exhibition is devoted to a few of them: the 13 photos that make up Čiurlionis’ unfinished cycle “The Creation of the World”. He supposed there to be 100 works, explaining that “it isn’t our world in keeping with the Bible, however one other fantasy world”. It’s a fertile world, wealthy in rivers, flowers, forests, fish, mushrooms and animals. There’s a bearded man with a crown that seems incessantly in his iconography, however he’s extra of a fairy king than a Christian god. Čiurlionis’ reverence for Lithuania’s pagan previous – earlier than he transformed to Christianity in 1387, he revered the pure world – as his nation struggled to keep up its cultural identification below Russian imperialism, made him a hero to Lithuanian nationalists. The legacy of those beliefs nonetheless runs via Lithuanian folklore and tradition.

Nonetheless, the fashion of Čiurlionis’ work is summary. He was a musical prodigy who studied composition lengthy earlier than he picked up a brush. He imagined “the entire world as one enormous symphony”. Like Van Gogh and Kandinsky, he had synesthesia, a neurological situation that allowed him to see sound in coloration and pictures. A few of the works within the second a part of the “Creation” collection appear to be sheet music with musical notes that may very well be long-stemmed flowers or ectoplasmic clouds floating within the air. He additionally painted seven sonata cycles. “Folks speak about Kandinsky being the primary summary artist, however Čiurlionis was the primary,” says curator Kathleen Soriano. “We all know that Kandinsky was conscious of his work as a result of he wished him to take part in an exhibition in Munich. Sadly, the invitation arrived too late.”

Symbolist painting of mountain reflected in water
MK Čiurlionis, ‘Serenity’ (1904-05) © Courtesy of the MK Čiurlionis Nationwide Artwork Museum

Symbolist painting of a king

MK Čiurlionis, “Rex” (1909) © Courtesy of the MK Čiurlionis Nationwide Artwork Museum

Sepia photograph of Lithuanian composer and painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

MK Čiurlionis in 1908 © Photograph by S Fleury. Courtesy of MK Čiurlionis Nationwide Artwork Museum

Photographs of decaying structure and darkish cityscapes are distinguished in Čiurlionis’ work, contrasting with sunlit wildflower fields and magical winter landscapes. However there’s extra mild than darkness. “He is typically in comparison with William Blake,” says Soriano, “however whereas Blake was all hearth and brimstone, Čiurlionis is all about pleasure. Not like Van Gogh, he by no means painted when he was depressed.”

Having studied in Warsaw and Leipzig and visited museums in Munich, Čiurlionis was additionally conscious of symbolist artwork that rejected realism in favor of spirituality, creativeness and goals. He was portray in a time of speedy technological and social change. Electrification had simply arrived, faith was in query; folks had been transferring from the countryside to town, and the symbolists had been deeply suspicious of this new urbanization.

Symbolist painting of two kings in a forest holding a city in their hands

MK Čiurlionis, “Fairy Story (Fairy Story of Kings)” (1909) © Courtesy of the MK Čiurlionis Nationwide Artwork Museum

The “Fairy Tales” triptych painted in 1907 exhibits Rex, a king-like determine with a crown and a protracted white beard guarding the land. Within the heart is a huge fowl pouncing on a unadorned child taking part in with an enormous dandelion; on the left is a citadel on the hill. The pictures recall to mind A the dream of a summer time evening or Lord of the Rings, whereas the incredible cityscapes remind me of the structure of Sport of Thrones or Fritz Lang’s 1927 movie Metropolis. I predict this shall be a well-liked present with gamers, fantasy followers and households.

Place additionally has relevance. Dulwich Image Gallery was based by two London artwork sellers who had been commissioned in 1790 by the king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to assemble a nationwide assortment. However earlier than he may end, the nation was carved up by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, they usually had been left with the images. The founders are buried in a mausoleum within the heart of the gallery, the place a recording of Čiurlionis’ symphonies shall be performed all through the exhibition. It is a fantastic piece of historic circularity.

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