Biography (full)

Konrad Mägi (1878-1925) was one of the first modernist painters in Estonia and the Nordic countries



Konrad Mägi was born on 1 November 1878 as the youngest son of an estate manager of medium wealth. His parents were already in their forties at the time of his birth, and Mägi developed close ties with neither his parent nor his elder brothers (the only person with whom he kept in touch throughout his life was his fifteen years older sister). Mägi spent his childhood in southern Estonia. Despite the fact that he never returned to his childhood home as a grownup, the impressions he received from its natural surroundings must have influenced him significantly. The scenery of southern Estonia, scattered with small hills and innumerable lakes between them, differs from the flat landscapes of northern Estonia. In addition, Mägi’s childhood home was surrounded by vast primeval forests. South Estonian landscapes are often described as archaic and mysterious, and South Estonian culture is referred to as being expressive, anarchic and irrational. “It seems as though natural variations in landscape have given birth to two separate races with completely different artistic inclinations,” wrote a close friend of Mägi’s, the writer Friedebert Tuglas, who grew up just a few kilometres from Mägi’s childhood home. According to Tuglas, realistically minded people came from North Estonia and lyrically minded from South Estonia.

Practically nothing is known about Konrad Mägi’s childhood, yet it is quite certain that the roots of his emotional connection with the forces of nature lay in the impact of the immediate contact with wilderness on his receptive personality. “I am a son of the North, and everything I am is but a fraction of its population and wilderness. Wherever I am, the North will always be my homeland (in a broader sense). I like the sombre, rough Nordic wilderness and the bright flashes of sunlight often conveyed by Nordic artists,” wrote Mägi several years later in Paris.

Mainly due to economic circumstances Konrad Mägi received almost no academic education and started working as a handicraftsman already in his teens. Soon the family moved to Tartu, the scenic university town of South Estonia, where he spent the majority of his life. At first, nothing hinted at the possibility of Mägi becoming an artist: he was marginalised socially, politically (it was a period of intense Russification) as well as culturally. Konrad Mägi, and in fact his whole generation, had practically no access to visual arts. Exhibitions were few and far between, reproductions of works of art were published seldom, and only the well-off Baltic Germans could afford to purchase art. Therefore, Mägi grew up in a cultural environment void of pictures. “I first saw an art exhibition in Tallinn when I was about seventeen or eighteen,” one of Mägi’s contemporaries wrote, and added: “I have no idea how that exhibition ended up in Tallinn, because at that time art exhibitions were unheard of in our country.”


Cultural circles

At the end of the 19th century, however, various youth circles became active in Tartu. Konrad Mägi was actively involved in a circle of about ten simple workers who did sports together (Mägi was particularly keen on heavy athletics, although he was conspicuously small in size), read books, and organised theatrical performances (before long, Mägi was cast in leading roles). Cultural involvement became intertwined with political views: Mägi shared the anti-establishment attitude of young people all over Russia and became a supporter of radical left-wing politics already in his early youth, with a certain affinity even to anarchy. Such a frame of mind developed due to the politically hectic circumstances as well as Mägi’s restless and nervous character. These factors amounted to an overall dissatisfaction by the beginning of the 20th century: Mägi could no longer put up with the provincial atmosphere of Tartu or with his routine work at the furniture factory. He was 24 at the time, and life seemed to hold only a narrow pathway in store for him, along which he would unfalteringly pace towards a predictable future. But at that point, Mägi made a decisive leap, the first in a row, and chose to become an artist.


Living and studying in St Petersburg

Mägi decision to “become an artist” came before he actually began to make art. It is true that his employer had sent him to a training course where he studied technical drawing, and where the teacher gave him a few private lessons in painting, but this could not be regarded as systematic art studies. Art education could not be received in Estonia in those years at all, and Mägi enrolled in the nearest art school he could afford: in the metropolis of St. Petersburg. He arrived in St. Petersburg at the beginning of 1903; he studied, lived and worked there for more than three years. During the years spent in St. Petersburg he came into contact with visual arts for the first time: he was an ardent visitor of museums and exhibitions, hurriedly filling the gap in his cultural background. However, St. Petersburg did not turn him into an artist yet. He studied technical drawing at the Stieglitz Art School, although he preferred to participate in the work of the sculpture studio. Despite good study results he never finished his sculpture studies, because the professor of the studio was fired and the whole department was closed down. From that moment on Mägi was no longer interested in studying. He became actively involved in the revolutionary movement of 1905 (he is said to have assisted revolutionaries in hiding their guns) and did various odd jobs. An unstable life and lack of prospects brought Mägi further into the doldrums. He had decided to make a breakthrough as an artist, but appeared to have no means for doing that. “I have met a few art students who have studied in Paris, and according to them Paris is the only city where you can achieve perfection in art,” wrote Mägi to a friend in April 1906. Paris as the world art centre attracted artists from the peripheries, from different parts of Europe, and its lure reached Estonians, too. But Mägi did not have the resources needed to travel to Paris. By the spring of 1906, Mägi was suffering from a serious emotional crisis. He left the metropolis where he had experienced so much in the sphere of culture, and ended up on the quiet Åland Islands.


First paintings

The summer of 1906 in Åland was a turning point in Mägi’s life and art. Here, in this archipelago, he felt very strongly drawn to wilderness again, and made his first attempts at painting. Together with his friends, members of the small colony of Estonians, Mägi made long walks along the islands. He lived alone in the attic apartment of a farmhouse, and quickly became depoliticized. Henceforth he only expressed his contempt towards state and society, particularly the petit bourgeoisie; he never took an active part in political life again, although the 1910s were a period of upheaval in Estonian history. Human beings and the world created by them no longer interested Mägi, and that tendency was reflected in his art, too.

The whereabouts of only one realist-decorative painting made in Åland are known today. It is possible that Mägi did not paint actively during that period yet, one of the reasons may have been a shortage of material. In the autumn of 1906 Mägi left Åland for Helsinki, and stayed there for a year. He did various odd jobs in order to save up for a trip to Paris. Paris was still the city of dreams for Mägi and his friends, but it was only at the end of 1907 that he finally got to Paris for the first time.



Konrad Mägi’s first Paris period was filled with cultural exhilaration over the rich art life on the one hand and a critical stance on the other. “When you enter Notre-Dame, you forget the whole filthiness of life for a while,” wrote Mägi. In another letter he added: “I expected a lot, but received very little, because everything that is so much spoken about and praised is not good. There were approximately 3,000 paintings at the exhibition. It was boring to walk through these halls and look at all the hideousness and repulsiveness. There were, of course, some good pieces here and there, but only a few and mainly by Russian artists. Perhaps I do not simply understand this new art yet, but I have realised that I do not particularly like contemporary French art (there are exceptions). After looking at old portraits it is especially painful to look at all this dabbled rubbish.”

Konrad Mägi saw a lot of art in Paris, but no modern art trend managed to convince him enough to start following it. Mägi synthesised various influences from contemporary art: from fauvism to pointillism and expressionism, but he was just as much inspired by older art. The artist from the periphery (who, let us be reminded, had not painted almost anything yet and had almost no education) was almost 30 when he arrived in the centre of world art. He had developed a subjective way of seeing the world and art, which to some extent was influenced by the surrounding modern art life, but followed no direct models. He was influenced by pluralism in art, and by the boundless creative freedom. Mägi wrote from Paris: “There are two paths for art to embrace life. One path is wide, open, safe and convenient, the other is steep, leads over abysses, and is full of peril. The convenient path is that of the mind, of five [an illegible word] emotions which embrace life only in its randomness, in its sad and foolish routineness. The steep path leading over abysses is the path of a soul for whom life is a deep sleep and a tormenting premonition of different relationships, different depths than the ones our pathetic mind is capable of penetrating. These paths are different because the mind is the everyday reality: work and overwhelming heat, mathematics and logic. But the soul is a rare feast: it can be embraced with neither consciousness nor logic, it is a praise to humanity and its resurrection. For the mind, two times two equals four, but for the soul it may well be a million, since the soul knows no intervals in time or space. For the soul there exists a nature of things that is objectless, dimensionless and stretching beyond time.”



In Paris, Mägi was still not capable of painting regularly. “All the money that I had, which was little, of course, I spent on tobacco and paper (the tobacco here is awfully expensive and of poor quality), and there was none left for paint,” he explained the situation. The city itself did not inspire him to work, either. “When I look at the well-lit boulevards and the cheerful faces of the truly beautiful French women, I become even sadder, and the futility of life becomes even more evident,” Mägi wrote in a letter. In addition, the health of the former athlete showed first signs of deterioration due to living in a damp environment, so he began to look for possibilities to leave Paris for the summer. For various reasons he chose Norway, which was a popular destination in Europe at the time, as it enabled audiences exhausted by cultural eruptions to experience archaic and uncivilised wilderness.

Mägi arrived in Norway in the summer of 1908, planning to spend a couple of months there, yet staying for almost two years due to his shortage of money. He was not happy in Norway. In his letters he complained about money, coldness, hunger, loneliness and health; nevertheless, he painted exceptionally much and completed his first series of paintings comprised of at least 70 pieces (many of which have gone missing).

In Norway Mägi painted almost unexceptionally landscapes (one of the few exceptions was the portrait of the daughter of a local communist politician; in that painting the pattern of the rug placed in the background and the red hair of the girl are symbolically just as powerful as Mägi’s landscapes). Mägi did not travel long distances in Norway, but stayed in the vicinity of Oslo. As he put it, “when I travelled here I was in pain, but when I saw her wilderness, I forgot everything else for a while. She is magnificent.” Mägi’s Norwegian landscapes are large-scale and panoramic, but there are dramatic events acted out by clouds in the sky of his paintings: the clouds in Mägi’s works twist and turn as if there was pain straining them on the inside. Instead of looking like idyllic soft puffs of cotton wool Mägi’s clouds display conflict; instead of neutrally floating across the sky they seem to possess a subjective will.  In some paintings the clouds are massive and tall, rising upwards like pyramids, almost too large to fit onto the surface of the painting. There is religious sublimity in them, making a human being feel insignificant. In other paintings the clouds look like airships rushing somewhere, further emphasising one of the main conflicts in Mägi’s paintings: the split between a static landscape and a dynamic sky. “You need to observe the woods, the sky and the land a lot before you understand it all,” wrote Mägi from Norway. He used lots of colours, there can be as many as twenty different shades and just as many brush strokes within one square centimetre. He juxtaposed colours and blended them into one another, and however harmonious the general impression might be, a closer look at the surface reveals a restless, wild and intense passion. In some places the brush has made no movements, Mägi has pressed the brush against cardboard or canvas only for an instance and then removed it again, as though he was not trying to model reality with his brush. It seems as if Mägi was juxtaposing colours as such, believing in the power of colour as much as he believed in the power of wilderness to tell us something of importance. His belief in the power of pigment, and his conviction that there was something within colour itself even when it did not depict anything, was remarkable.

But Mägi’s paintings are, first and foremost, pantheistic. He wrote: “Imagine: huge blue mountains and red clouds floating high up above them. I felt that this was the place where gods might abide.” Mägi’s relationship with official religions was tepid; during the years of revolution he had even publicly protested against the church, because the latter was just another attribute of power to him. But this does not mean that Mägi could not have possessed religious feelings: there was a certain inclination towards religious experience in him, it was something he looked for in various religious and esoteric practices throughout his life, taking an interest in yoga, Buddhism, theosophy, Indian philosophies, then at one point in Christianity again, but he also made friends with the leader of the indigenous Estonian Taara faith. (That was something characteristic of modernity: individualisation leading to the possibility to create one’s own religion). Mägi, however, sensed his own religiousness most acutely in wilderness: that was his church.

Mägi searched for something sublime, unearthly, metaphysical, beyond-the-worlds, irrational, undefinable, pre-cultural, extra-cultural, mystical, enigmatic and unclassifiable. He yearned to be part of something bigger than himself and humankind, something cosmic and ethereal, which would fill the ever deepening sense of an existential chasm within him. We could add a whole range of descriptive words here, but it seems that for Mägi his searches centred at least at one point and at least in Norway on finding God. And he found his God in wilderness.


Breakthrough in Estonia

In the spring of 1910, Mägi sent some of his paintings to a small exhibition in Tallinn. This was the first display of works by the 31-year-old artist in his homeland, and it did not go unnoticed. But the real breakthrough came in the autumn of that same year, when a few dozens of Mägi’s paintings were displayed at the exhibition of the cultural group Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia) in Tartu. Noor-Eesti was a movement whose goal was not only to popularise visual arts in Estonia, but to modernise the local cultural scene (and they were quite successful in doing that). Mägi’s paintings immediately attracted the attention of both art critics and the general public. He became a superstar in no time. However, his breakthrough was limited to the art scene of Estonia. Upon the invitation of Christian Krogh he participated in an art exhibition at the renowned Blomquist Gallery in Oslo, but that did not open any doors for him yet. It did not put Mägi off, though, because his wish was to return to Paris.

Thanks to the sales success of the Estonian exhibition Mägi was able to return to Paris in 1910, where he now stayed for one and a half years. That period in the metropolis did not bring him happiness, either: he quickly ran out of money and continued to suffer from poverty, hunger and bad health. He did paint more than during his previous stay, and made a short painting trip to Normandy, near Dieppe, but he experienced no success in Paris. In the spring of 1912, he displayed three paintings at an exhibition in the Salon des Indépendants. These paintings were pointed out in art critical discussions (which was remarkable, because the display consisted of about 6,000 paintings altogether), but as Mägi never learnt French and was rather incompetent in the mechanisms of the art world, his success in the diverse art scene of Paris was short-lived. Thus, after nine years abroad, he returned to Estonia in the late spring of 1912. He had become a mature painter, who in a short time had turned from a handicraftsman into a painter and from a realist into a modernist.



Back in Estonia, Mägi lived in Tartu most of the time, although the latter seemed paralysingly small-calibre compared to St. Petersburg, Oslo and Paris. Till the end of his life he constantly complained about his weariness of provincial life. At first, his financial state was not praiseworthy: he was forced to stay at his sister’s place, and the first paintings he made after his return to Estonia reflected his complete lack of focus. But in the summer of 1913, Mägi went to improve his health on the island of Saaremaa, which was renowned for its therapeutic mud, and he returned there the next summer. These two summers witnessed the creation of a whole series of paintings by Mägi, but compared to the Norwegian period his handwriting had changed: his brushstrokes were now shorter and colours brighter (partly due to the peculiar light on the island, since there are more sunny days on Saaremaa than in other parts of Estonia), but his choice of subjects had not altered. He continued painting landscapes, and was able to work only when a new experience of wilderness managed to bring about an emotionally affective state or shock in him. Mägi did not construct practically any of his paintings, all landscapes (but also portraits) were created under the influence of a direct impression or on the basis of sketches drawn from that impression.

On Saaremaa Mägi completed several paintings, all without exception depicting the Spartan landscapes of the island, where the scarce Nordic wilderness seemed archaic, almost primordial. Civilisation seemed to be somewhere in the far future. Saarema at that time was a pre-cultural landscape, where a more sensitive person could have felt something he might have identified as the primeval rhythm of nature or the mystical starting point of existence. Saaremaa did not consist of thousands of miniature narratives, yet there was something metaphysical, almost unfathomable on that island, something that reached across times like an ocean spreading across the bottom of the sea. Mägi depicted that archaic wilderness with extraordinarily powerful colours. His strong, often single brushstrokes rendered the layer of paint rather thin: the surface of the canvas glimmers through it and makes the lines of paint seem three-dimensional. The coast has exploded into dozens of shades of colour, the beach is covered in stones that are orange, blue, purple, yellow, green and white or a range of their undertones. The artist has pressed single dots next to each other on the canvas with his  brush, some of the dots are thicker, some thinner; there are empty spaces between them, with warps of the canvas adding brownish shades to the painting.

At that period certain visionary elements entered Mägi’s paintings: he used hallucinative circles of paint to depict stones, placed a burning sun straight above the horizon, or painted a skyline in flames. Mägi’s approach reflected his yearning for that moment when our individual peculiarities and the rules established by culture would fall away, and a new type of Man would appear, living in harmonious affiliation with the galaxy. Wilderness acquired a mystical power in Mägi’s paintings, providing the artist with the means to aspire towards the place where he could be one with something bigger than himself. This quest was initiated by the flame within him, lighting up his landscapes from the inside, and finally setting fire to himself, too.



The following years Mägi spent in Estonia, although he was constantly yearning for Paris. Despite the success of his paintings and the improved financial state he for some reason did not undertake that journey. He continued living in Tartu instead, and made painting trips to South Estonia in the summer, occasionally painting portraits upon commission. His paintings were still very popular among art critics as well as audiences, and at the end of the 1910s he was regarded as an “official” artist, whose works often played a role in state rituals. In spite of that he retained his critical and anarchist views on state and society. He quickly established contacts with the literary-bohemian groups and circles of the time, and was happy to participate in their socially provocative enterprises. Mägi acknowledged no social hierarchies, and he repeatedly expressed his contempt of national ideology, although it was the time when Estonia gained independence and national sentiments were at their height. On the other hand, he ardently contributed to the institutionalisation of the local art scene. Being very critical of the scarce and incompetent art audience (here Mägi was mistaken, because modernist art with European influences was exceptionally well received in Estonia) he made an effort to popularise art in Estonia. In addition, he started to teach art. In 1919, he helped set up the Pallas Art School, and became its first headmaster.

While Mägi found recognition and fame quite quickly, his frame of mind became more and more troubled. In the 1910s, he spent summers at various locations in southern Estonia and always painted there, too, but his paintings became gradually darker in colour and the clouds ever more dramatic. This may be called a sombre period in Mägi’s creative life. This development could be associated with his deteriorating health, but it was customary for Mägi to depict his health and financial state as being worse than they really were. Mägi went on conveying impressions of wildlife in his paintings, which now transformed from existential reflections to megaphones of his inner life. Just as his landscapes turned into works depicting endless horizons, his moods became more wistful, too. The restlessness characteristic of Mägi was now mainly visible in the clouds, but a new leitmotif appeared in his paintings: lakes. There is almost no painting from that period without a body of water; they range from small blue blots to blackish mirroring surfaces that absorb light.


Health problems

By the beginning of the 1920s, Mägi had acquired quite a broad-based social reputation, but still maintained the attitudes of a young labourer towards life and art. He mostly communicated with people considerably younger than his age, and found common ground with new avant-garde authors. Step by step, abstractionist and cubist works started to appear in Estonian art, but Mägi felt no affiliation with those trends, despite the fact that in his own paintings colour is often separated from objects, too, and there are peculiar shifts in space. As a school headmaster Mägi refused to follow state regulations and wanted to preserve Pallas as a stronghold of bohemian free thought, thus protecting the inalienable right of artists to absolute freedom. At the same time his health continued to get worse, and although he led a very unhealthy life, smoking a lot and drinking enormous amounts of coffee, he paid close attention to the decay of his body. At the beginning of the 1920s, he painted two large religious compositions (both have gone missing), where he depicted human sufferings at their emotional peak.



In 1921, Mägi finally decided to leave Estonia once again. He headed for Italy, where he lived for a little more than a year. He stayed mainly in Rome, where he wrote: “I feel as though I have arrived home after many years. Although it is very uncomfortable to live here at the moment, I feel great. I want to live and accomplish something: I feel that life has a meaning here.” He was happy. Winter in Rome was happier than the time spent in Paris, the air was not as damp as the Atlantic air in the streets of Paris. All in all, everything was unlike Paris. Mägi himself was even surprised that he should like Rome so much. Paris had represented modern times, Rome was the past. Paris had meant bohemians, colonies, noise, passion, and a new kind of avant-garde each year. Rome meant history. And yet Mägi loved it. Wandering along the streets of Rome on his own he visited churches (“absolutely divine”) that were “full of exquisite works of art” from all possible periods in art history. At the end of January he wrote to a friend: “I have been in the Eternal City for more than a month now. It is interesting in every aspect, but the churches are the most fascinating.” Other Estonian artists who stayed in Italy also took an interest in antique and renaissance authors. Ado Vabbe, a good friend of Mägi’s, mentioned Botticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, Brueghel on his postcards, but also wrote “Mantegna, what a Mantegna! It is unimaginable!” (Futurism left no significant impression on Vabbe, who was considered to be a futurist himself). Modernists from the periphery did not define themselves through the modernism of the centre. The most significant experience Mägi took away with him from Paris was not a new art trend, but rather an absolute artistic freedom. This freedom included the right to be exhilarated by the art of the past, to turn his back on the avant-garde, and draw inspiration from a painting by Raphael, for example. Italian futurism, which stood out with a particularly heated denial of the past, had no impact whatsoever on Mägi. Instead, he wrote: “It feels strange when I look at the old ruins of Rome, those grand buildings and the whole magnificent style. The faded marble, the separate elements, crushed: all that makes me a little sad.”

What actually fascinated Mägi was Italy itself: its climate, people and atmosphere. “I believe there are quite many traits of a southerner in my nature. Day after day, the whole of Rome seems to become more interesting. Anyway, I would not want to leave this country too easily,” Mägi wrote. He was having a new kind of life experience, pleasant in many ways. He enjoyed Italy, and finally something new was born out of that experience: there, he recovered from the creative crisis of the last few years in no time. Mägi started making sketches again, but finished most of the paintings in his studio in Estonia. All of a sudden, in Rome, Mägi began to notice people. With the exception of a few works made earlier in Normandy, people now appeared in his paintings practically for the first time. He did not render them as psychological and social beings, instead they served as compositional elements. A human being was valuable only if he or she possessed an aesthetic quality, only then did he or she deserve to be in Mägi’s painting.

People were not the only new element in Mägi’s works. In Rome Mägi began to notice houses, or if not “houses” then architectural objects, constructional elements, or fragments of house-like objects, but even that was quite a lot when we take into account that until then Mägi had only painted a few manmade objects: some ruins, a lighthouse, a church, and farmhouses somewhere in the distance in several paintings. The farmhouses were usually so far in the distance that they amounted to just one half-centimetre brushstroke. Fountains, park benches and sculptures found their way into Mägi’s paintings in Rome. Indeed, in a city laden with the past Mägi suddenly started to notice the present.

The mood in Mägi’s Italian paintings was often mystical and enigmatic. In the spring of 1922, Mägi travelled to the island of Capri (“Happily arrived on Capri. The island is divine”), where he stayed for just 40 days, but was so inspired by it that he later painted numerous pictures depicting Capri. He mostly depicted the island at night or in twilight, with a dark blue sky. On Capri, Mägi seems to have made peace with the world: in his Capri paintings the sky no longer presents an apocalyptic menace, but is romantically blue, rendered in peacefully painted larger stretches. With his paintings Mägi seems to have confirmed what he was saying in his letters: that he was happy, in harmony with the world, not looking for a parallel world, but mediating the beauty of this world to the viewers. All seemed to be well. (This is exactly how the viewer perceives them. No painting from other periods in Mägi’s creative life has been through such upswings at auctions as his Capri views). Yet there still appears to exist some “other level” in these paintings, too: there is mystery in his motifs of Rome and Capri as well as Venice. The mysteriousness is often rooted in the dark blue overall atmosphere, but in some cases it derives from a detail: in pictures painted on Capri there are sometimes several dozen black windows or doorways which lead nowhere or through which we cannot see. In Venice, where he arrived in 1922, Mägi created paintings in which he shifted space, depicted views that did not really exist. Mägi liked Venice, he admired its historical beauty regardless of the way the futurists had discredited it. This proves once again that Mägi had a personal approach to everything, he did not copy any fashionable art trends, but found inspiration in very many different movements and approaches, and synthesised them into a unique whole.


Last months

Mägi returned to Estonia in 1923, but his health had already become considerably weaker, and his customary nervousness was gradually turning into a mental illness. He continued working as a teacher at Pallas Art School, but increasingly often hid away in his studio to finish his mysterious Capri views in the dark Estonian November. In 1924, Mägi’s health deteriorated even further. He painted less and conflicted easily with his colleagues at Pallas. Then, in the winter of 1925, Mägi travelled to Germany for several months to improve his health. It is unclear what exactly was being improved: he is believed to have been treated against one thing, yet Mägi complained in his letters about completely different things. When he returned to Estonia in the spring of 1925, he was already terminally ill. At the end of May, his students took him to a mental institution, where he died in August at the age of 47.


Afterlife of Konrad Mägi’s oeuvre

The total volume of Konrad Mägi’s creative legacy is estimated to be 400 paintings; the location of approximately half of them is currently known. His art has gone through different periods of reception: in the 1920s and 1930s, Mägi’s art had incontestable authority, which influenced a large part of earlier Estonian painting. During WW II., it was attacked by German as well as Soviet occupation powers, who ordered his paintings to be removed from museums; they even went as far as to force his old friends to write public letters discrediting his paintings as formalistic. Even in the second half of the 1950s, public display and discussions of Konrad Mägi’s art were prohibited. (Art students of the time have recalled how they would secretly go the paintings depository of the art museum to look at paintings by Mägi and other discredited artists. Every couple of weeks, museum employees covered the windows with thick curtains and brought Mägi’s paintings out into a narrow corridor, at the same time glancing around to make sure no one was watching, urging the students not to tell anyone about it).  The renaissance of Mägi’s art began at the end of the 1950s, when political circumstances in Estonia became less repressive. Several comprehensive survey exhibitions of Mägi’s works were held in the following years. In 1978, on his 100th anniversary, Konrad Mägi’s creative legacy was fully rehabilitated, and even those who a few decades earlier had taken part in prohibiting his name to be mentioned in public were now lauding him. Over the next decades a whole range of exhibitions popularising his works have been initiated by the Art Museum of Estonia and Tartu Art Museum. His works are often displayed abroad, too, and altogether three monographs have been published. For wider audiences he is still the most outstanding representative of the older generation of painters in Estonia, but his art has not yet become an integral part of European art history. Despite that fact that he was one of the first modernist painters of northern and eastern Europe, whose art quickly moved away from realism and synthesised the major art trends of the time into a unique whole, adding a touch of pantheism and treating landscapes not as decorative objects but as phenomena laden with inner energy and force, his significance and extraordinariness has so far been overlooked by centre-based art history (the same applies to other authors from eastern Europe).


In 2017 a solo exhibition by Konrad Mägi was opened in Rome in Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. In the spring 2018 Konrad Mägi’s paintings were part of the exhibition “Wild Souls. Symbolism in the Art of the Baltic States” in Orsay Museum in Paris.