Capri Motif

Capri Motif

1922–1923Oil on canvas83 × 90 cmTartu Art Museum

Mägi produced two painting of this motif, and a sketch survives as well. The painting was probably completed in autumn 1922 or the late winter of 1923 when he was back in Tartu, as the names of the colours to be used in the painting are marked on the sketch. This work is more finished-looking and detailed and larger than the work in the private collection, so it can be presumed that the work in the private collection was already painted in Capri on the basis of the sketch and the painting in the Tartu Art Museum collection was completed later.

In its spatial structure, the painting is complex and multi-layered making use of a labyrinthine pattern of passages, stairways, doorways and towerlets. The typology of the spatial elements is not the only thing that changes on the surface of the painting – the more archaic building fragments are replaced with more modernist buildings in the backdrop – but there is also a shift in the atmosphere. The foreground was designed fairly realistically and we notice many elements characteristic of Capri (such as the passageways framed by tree branches, stairs leading up to towers, etc.) but in the background Mägi again dives into romantic mystery. The anonymous, metaphysical seeming buildings climb up the dark hillsides in terraces and the overall white tonality is replaced in the interior of the painting with shadowy mountains and a nocturnal atmosphere. The lofty twin towers in the heart of the painting and the painting’s dramatic colour contrasts also convey the pull exerted on Mägi by a sense of mystery: some red expanses of colour complement the white and the black.

Mägi’s treatment of space is not harmonizing, he does not look for concord between different elements or try to meld them into a one integral painting but instead places elements of different atmosphere and character one next to, inside and on top of another, being more interested in theatrical and dramatic contrasts and the labyrinth he is building. Looking at the painting, it is impossible to logically proceed from one place to another through the buildings; the eclectic and higgledy-piggledy space leads astray. Still, in this impossible space, we see not only resistance to rationality but an attempt to create within the painting a certain autonomous space that is impenetrable and thus endless and eternal.