Capri Motif

Capri Motif

1922–1923Oil on canvas50 × 54.5 cmEnn Kunila art collection

On Capri, Mägi paints street motifs a number of times, experimenting with perspectives penetrating into the depths of the space. Mägi makes a more programmatic study of a perspective extending deep into the painting space in his two Naples paintings, but here he remains more cautious, cutting off the line of sight in quite short order with a band of buildings. A space sealed in by built-up areas began setting a tone in his more depressive southern Estonian paintings. Now he continues with the claustrophobic spatial perception; still, the light colour and spaciousness of the sky prevents interpreting the painting in the same way.

Both in the case of the Capri and Venice paintings, the abundance of blue should be noted. It is of course often associated with melancholy or depression but that does not mean that Mägi had the blues on Capri. Nevertheless, we can assume that later, finishing the works in his Tartu studio, he may have been bordering on such a state. On the other hand, the saturation of blue can be interpreted instead as a thirst for romance and as such, it can be a strident counter-reaction to what he experienced in Estonia immediately before the trip. While Mägi’s style began becoming more neurotic in the mid-1910s, his letters from Italy generally express life-affirming qualities, which before leaving Capri succumbed to a new nervous attack. Yet it is possible that the blue and dark-blue skies of Capri are a certain compensation, or more precisely that the romanticism that brims over on Capri is a foil for his Estonia depression, and he expresses that sense of romance above all using cerulean tones.

In general, all of Mägi’s oeuvre is characterized by omission of human forms (other than in portraits, of course) and modern life. In the rare cases where people appear in a scene, they do not exhibit any activity, being more like patches of colour or figures that aid in giving the composition rhythm, not characters with agency. In much the same way, Mägi omits references to technological and urbanist world, building a kind of refuge with his paintings, a sanctuary from modern life.

In this work, we see not humans but signs of humans – laundry on a line. A mysterious sense is thus kindled, since only the traces of people are seen and not the people themselves. The principle of “black openings”, something Mägi introduced in his Italy paintings, adds mystery: tens of dark doors and windows have been sown on the painting’s surface, yet we cannot peer in and no one looks out either.