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Vilhelms Purvītis was born on a farm where patriarchal and long-lasting traditions held firm sway. His grandfather was a strict adherent to the Hernhutian religious movement. Vilhelms, like all rural boys, tended the livestock and did other farm work. His individuality began to express itself quite early, as demonstrated by his decision when he given a piece of land to play on, to set up his own dendrarium. Life on the farm could be boring in its everyday routine, and things such as art were seen as alien. The community didn't talk about such matters. At the same time the environment of the farm, which we might now call the 'ethnographic heritage' gave peole an innate sense of what is beautiful.



The well-built log houses in which people lived, the folk costumes, the tonally rich homespun blankets, the clay pitcher for milk, the wooden scoop for water, the mug for the beer, the table and the chair - everything was not simply functional, but also proportional in form and harmonised in colour. From early childhood Vilhelms Purvītis gained a powerful impression of the things that were going on around him in the natural world. The endless cycle of colour changes in forest, meadow and water surely contributed to the fact that later in life he produced landscapes which magnificently portrayed nature in all its glorious variety.

From the very beginning Vilhelms Purvītis found his own way of depicting nature, especially snow, and the spring of the North, when the sun melts the snow cover and when everything in nature sparkles, melts and changes. In his early years Purvītis tended to paint bare trees, standing far apart, with melting floodwaters around their trunks. The paintings show realistic relationships between light and shadow, as well as distinctive contrasts among form and fields of colour. The unity of his compositions increased.



The development of professional art in Latvia suffered from lack of the centuries of tradition that had developed in Western Europe, but the life of the emerging nation in the early twentieth century was driven by an enormous sense of mission and responsibility. For this reason the development of the arts from a rural, patriarchal world view to a European sense of the world occurred at a relatively rapid tempo. Latvians had not only to seek professional and creative equality with the rest of Europe but they also had to think very seriously about the expression and preservation of a national identity.

Purvītis' art from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries merges a realistic view of nature with the contemporary movements of Symbolism and the Art Nouveau. During his stay in Revel (1907) Purvītis began to paint with tiny and short brushstrokes. However, similarity with the French pointillist movement existed only in texture, because Purvītis did not use its main principles - the contrast of points of pure, local colour. After the lyrical and greyish paintings of dusky scenes and moonlight, which he produced in Tallinn, Purvītis turned to bright, sunny scenes. And to the foggy transparency of early morning the character of his work became more and more impressionistic, but Purvītis never wanted to belong to the 'ismes' and continued to resolve artistic problems in his own manner. He was especially interested in Paul Cezanne but also studied the work of Van Gogh, Monet and Seurat. Nevertheless, despite his broad interest and his many contacts in Europe and Russia, and the many artists he studied, he developed his own particular style which, in turn, became recognised as part of a characteristic Latvian identity.

 

 

Foto’s afkomstig uit het Letse Nationale Kunstmuseum in Riga.

 

 

 

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