Lake Saadjärv Landscape

Lake Saadjärv Landscape

1923–1924Oil on canvas99 × 103 cmTartu Art Museum

Konrad Mägi spent the summers of 1923 and 1924 working at Lake Saadjärv with students of the Pallas Art School. They lived in Kukulinna Manor, which Pallas had purchased and turned into the heart of their summer painting camps. This was Mägi’s last creative period: in both of those summers, Mägi painted several paintings, but similarly to other periods, it is impossible to pin an exact date on them. Yet it is a safe bet that the more refined and finished works were completed in the previous summer, for Mägi’s health experienced a setback in spring 1924. At first, the doctors mistakenly diagnosed typhus and Mägi spent the early summer convalescing in a private clinic in Tartu. By autumn, his health had deteriorated so much that he asked to go on leave from his position as director of Pallas.

Mägi lived and painted mainly around Äksi and Kukulinna on the southern shore of the lake. He has used this motif at least once before, and a sketch of the painting has also survived. Influences from the Italian period can also be seen, especially in the way the sky is expressively, impetuously depicted. Much like his southern Estonian period, Mägi surveys the landscape panoramically, interspersing individual trees here and there, but his whole painting style is sparer than it was previously. His colour transitions are more sudden and dramatic, arguably more agitated. Dark red again makes a forceful entrance into these paintings, after last having been seen in such an emotionally defining role in some of Mägi’s Viljandi landscapes. A familiar compositional element is his use of a zigzagging path leading into the interior of the painting and a tree trunk twining toward the sky in the middle of the painting. Yet he also uses the contrast between light and shadow in a more powerful fashion, flooding the front part of the painting in dark shadow. In this manner, an illuminated arena takes shape in the heart of the painting and the entire landscape begins to resemble theatrical decoration.

Toward the back of the scene, there is an odd conflict between the sketch and painting. On the sketch, we get a glimpse of a hill, which in the painting has become a range of hills. There is no such landscape feature near Lake Saadjärv, so we can suppose he has supplemented the Estonian motif with a souvenir of sorts from his experiences in the Bavarian Alps surrounding Oberstdorf. Movement between two time periods, bringing the past into the present and melding the remembered landscape into a realistic one blurs the boundary line between fantasy and reality.