Capri Motif

Capri Motif

1922–1923Oil on canvas53 × 59 cmEnn Kunila art collection

The hitherto unknown Capri motif was taken to Sweden by Estonians fleeing the Second World War. The owners were clearly in a hurry to leave: the position of Mägi’s signature is due to the fact that the painting was cut out of the frame with a knife, rolled up and transported that way. When the painting was stretched on to a new frame in Sweden, there was less canvas left and the signature extended over the edge.

Mägi used a similar perspective on other Capri paintings: walls that funnel the viewer’s gaze into the depths of the painting, yet at the heart of the painting, an opening that affords a view of mountains in the distance. In the Capri paintings, the approach to space has become labyrinthine, bespeaking mystery and fondness for mysticism. Yet this may also be a reflection of Mägi’s mental condition, where intricate mazes with no sign of an exit supplant claustrophobically sealed landscapes. The latter theory is tenuous, since little about the Italy period suggests he was depressed (though he was always given to a certain gloominess) and although he later finished a number of works in Estonia, judging by the sketches, he developed the main structure of the works while still in Italy. Such a spatial approach, then, is instead a sign of Mägi’s desire to pass through the physical space to the metaphysical. The houses and streets of Capri are a pretext for Mägi to structure not a romantic space but an abstract, metaphysical space where questions are posed about the nature of reality and our spatial perception is shifted just enough for the ostensibly real to start becoming non-real. This in turn is characteristic of Konrad Mägi’s more general aspirations in painting, where he constantly sought out metaphysical and cathartic experience, using different tactics, such as intensity of colour, sublime compositions, dramatic landscape motifs (clouds in particular) and mystification of space as we see in this work.

The painting depicts the former Certosa di San Giacomo monastery, located in the middle part of the island not too far from the port.