Lake Kasaritsa. (Lake Verijärv)

Lake Kasaritsa. (Lake Verijärv)

1916–1917Oil on canvas86.3 × 103 cmArt Museum of Estonia

Lake Verijärv is close to the town of Võru, about 10 kilometres from Mätlik’s Villa, where Konrad Mägi would go on holiday. Martin Taevere remembers Mägi walking everywhere, scouting good painting locations; he probably also got to Lake Verijärv on foot.

Lake Verijärv was rich in terms of folklore. A number of the legends involved violence and bloodshed (hence the name of the lake, veri means blood) but it is hard to surmise a literary antecedent for Mägi’s selection of landscape motifs. Mägi chose his subject on the basis of aesthetic qualities, being primarily interested in forms and the emotional states and metaphysical meanings created by the forms or by amplifying their impact. His choice of Lake Verijärv, it appears, may have also been suitable for amplifying Mägi’s own psychological state. The painting was radically different from Mägi’s Saaremaa period: the light colour tones have been replaced by dark ones, the clouds covering the sky are dark and writhing, the horizon has been painted shut and the area between the trees is black. It is possible that the work reflects the health crisis that Mägi suffered in the summer of 1916, his deeper depression and darker moods stemming from his health. Another potential external aggravating factor was a search conducted at Mätlik’s Villa in August 1917 for coloured lamps allegedly used to send secret signals to German forces approaching Riga and believed to be in Martin Taevere’s possession (no lamps were found). At the same time Mägi wrote in a letter that he planned to leave on 1 August, so that he was not necessarily present at the search.

Throughout Mägi’s Võrumaa series, he seems particularly enamoured with lakes. Lakes recur in his paintings in all periods, and in southern Estonia, where the landscape is plentiful in them, he clearly sets his sight on them. They are generally not the focus of the painting, but rather decorative or picturesque elements embraced in the scene, melt into the whole, without having autonomous meanings or offering us separate narratives. This would happen only in the Lake Pühajärv period, when a lake would become the main protagonist of the paintings.

Lake Verijärv is an exception among the Kasaritsa landscapes: here the lake has risen into the focus, especially the reflection off its darkening surface. Mägi makes fairly rare use of the reflective characteristics of the water surfaces: often the surface is a picturesque blue expanse that engages with the surrounding space only through the colour and its spatial potential goes unused. In Lake Verijärv, Mägi reserves nearly half of the painting’s area for the lake and uses its surface to double up the drama in the sky (although becoming an abstract swirl of colour in the reflection) and the orange pine trunks on the shore. This sort of manipulation of space, transferring the mirror motif into nature to connect sky and earth is also a means of creating a dream-like state, directing the viewer’s attention to the enigmatic and fostering strong emotional impulses, because in reflection, truth becomes imaginary.