Lake Pühajärv

Lake Pühajärv

1918–1920Oil on canvas83.6 × 102 cmArt Museum of Estonia

In the topography of Estonian cultural lore, Lake Pühajärv plays an important role in the early decades of the 20th century. A number of writers and artists spent the summers on the shores of the picturesque lake near the small southern Estonian town of Otepää. The first such summer was in 1918, when they rented Saare Farm’s new lakeside summer house on the southeast shore of the lake from April to the summer’s end. The holiday-makers were members of the Siuru literary group, and Konrad Mägi was among the guests who visited Lake Pühajärv. He produced many pencil sketches and later finished the paintings in his studio. Similarly to the writers, Mägi also visited the lake in the following summers. An inscription on the window alcove of the summer house’s attic stands in witness of this: “Marie Under, Arthur Adson, Friedebert Tuglas, August Gailit, Joh. Semper, Henrik Visnapuu, Aug. Alle, Konrad Mägi and Ado Vabbe stayed here 1918–1925”.

The tradition of depicting lakes was not uncommon either in the work of Mägi or in painting traditions of the late 19th century or early 20th century in general. In particular, there were many artists from the Nordic countries who made lakes the setting and central motif of their paintings. While Mägi’s oeuvre includes only a few works where a lake becomes the star of the painting (e.g., Lake Verijärv), the lake was often more central in the works by Nordic artists. Sometimes it is a setting; sometimes a romantic background; sometimes it serves identity politics goals, used to define a narrower social group or liken an entire nationality to nature. In Mägi’s paintings, the lake is generally a functional compositional element: its task is to imbue the landscape forms with rhythm and tone colour. Bluish patches of colour nestled in rolling low hills often have merely decorative or delineative value.

Yet Mägi’s consistency in depicting lakes cannot be overlooked. Besides Lake Pühajärv, he also painted the lakes Saadjärv, Valgjärv and Kasaritsa, and a number of smaller, anonymous bodies of water.