Landscape with a Bell Tower (Kihelkonna)

Landscape with a Bell Tower (Kihelkonna)

1913–1914Oil on canvas61 × 68 cmPrivate collection

The work depicts the bell tower next to Kihelkonna Church. It was built in 1638 and is the only extant freestanding bell tower in Estonia. When Mägi painted it, the bells still rang regularly, but soon thereafter they were taken away to Russia and melted down for cannons. The landscape has changed, since no path leads from the bell tower anymore and the post windmill is also gone now.

This painting is one of the most realistic in Mägi’s Saaremaa cycle. Even individual stones in the wall have been painted with unusual verisimilitude. The large cloudbanks blowing in from the sea are also exaggeratedly dramatic, so this painting can be considered one of the most realistic in his whole catalogue.

In an area full of old-fashioned buildings, Mägi’s decision to paint Kihelkonna Church and the bell tower is interesting. The artist may have been captivated by their vertical form, for which a psychoanalytical explanation could be proposed, and by their semantic associations, for neither was part of the “dull everyday” so scorned by Mägi in his letters, but rather linked to “celebration for the spirit”.

In recent years, two other variants of the work have emerged: the smaller, lighter one in a private collection where Mägi has also added two farmhouses. A significant change has taken place in the sky, where the clouds are not the typical banks of cumulus clouds. The same private collection contains a rare work painted on a small stone, which is reminiscent of contemporaries’ recollections of how a number of stones were also painted on the Åland Islands. The spontaneous act points to Mägi’s playful nature but also his desire to depict the given motif on more occasions, with capturing the different cloud background appearing to be of key importance.