Landscape with a House

Landscape with a House

1908–1910Oil on canvas44 × 54 cmArt Museum of Estonia

The church in the distance on the painting could well be the Eidskog Lutheran Church in Norway – the exterior, colour and location in a scenic area are all consistent with such an identification.

This is the first known painting where Mägi depicted a church – from a distance, yes, but still an immediately noticeable feature. Later on, Mägi depicted churches on several other occasions: the Kihelkonna Church and its bell tower on Saaremaa, churches in Otepää and Viljandi, San Giorgio Maggiore and its bell tower in Venice, San Costanzo Church on Capri, an unknown church in Oberstdorf, and chapels in Kuressaare cemetery and, in one of his last works, Äksi Church on Lake Saadjärv. It is one of the most widespread building types on Mägi paintings; only individual farmhouses interspersed in the landscape occur with similar frequency.

We can also highlight Mägi’s particular interest in vertical features, since on a number of occasions he painted the Vilsandi lighthouse on Saaremaa. Also taking a steeple-like skyward-craning form were masts of sailing ships in Venice’s port, mountains in Oberstdorf, electrical posts in Viljandi, lantern posts in Norway, windmill on Saaremaa, a bandstand in Naples, and of course all sorts of tree trunks. The large number of vertical columns in Mägi’s paintings is noteworthy and permits psychoanalytical and metaphysical interpretations.

It is hard to theorize a direct tie between depiction of churches and Christianity in Mägi’s works, however. Although there are two Christian compositions among his works, we know that Mägi was very interested in various religious and esoteric traditions and he was captivated by the sacral in the abstract sense, separated from specific religious practice. It is thus hard to call him a Christian and particularly hard to consider being fond of the church. The large number of churches in Mägi’s paintings is even surprising considering the aggressive attitude of his youth toward churches as an institution. This work with Eidskog Church was painted only a few years after Mägi caused a scandal in a church in St. Petersburg while studying in that city, shouting anti-tsarist slogans and tossing flyers. Yet the painting depicting Eidskog would not be even close to the last one in his works.