Landscape with the Sun

Landscape with the Sun

1913–1914Oil on cardboard42.5 × 35.7 cmArt Museum of Estonia

Konrad Mägi painted the sun on Saaremaa on a number of occasions: suspended above the horizon and in the middle of the frame. In this work, Mägi has cleared the painting of all other elements and left only the sun. It is either rising or setting, and the clouds in front of it are diffusing the reddish light everywhere, making a normal natural phenomenon more spectacular and amplifying the emotional and dramatic power. The apocalyptic impact of this grand scene is enhanced by the fact that the landscape melts away into nothingness and the disappearance of identifiable details, but it is also still packaged in a surprisingly intimate format. This supports the possibility that Mägi painted the work from the natural location itself as a direct reaction to what he was experiencing. The treatment of a transcendental theme in a manner that is not epic but impulsive permits us to speculate whether Mägi is not creating a meaningful portrayal of nature as a metaphysical environment, similarly to many of his large Norwegian or southern Estonian landscapes but rather is conveying his own mood or epiphany experience.

In depicting the sun in full frontal view, Mägi may have been inspired by the works of Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch. Nor can we completely dismiss the idea that in 1910 he may have seen Munch’s sketches for a mural painting for the University of Oslo that depicts a giant sun above the horizon. Munch had moved back to Norway in 1909 and as part of his recovery from mental exhaustion was advised to interact only with his closest acquaintances, who may have also included Christian Krohg, who had supported Munch and with whom Mägi had a joint exhibition in Oslo in 1909. It remains mere speculation whether Mägi also had contact with Munch himself through Krohg as there is a complete lack of references suggesting that this was the case. But we do know that a large Munch exhibition was held in Oslo in March 1910 – with more than 200 works – and it is plausible that Mägi could have visited it.

Considering Mägi’s great interest in the esoteric sphere and transcendental dimension of nature, it is perhaps surprising that he repeatedly painted the sun but only once depicted moonlight in the evening, in a drawing (Moonlight, 1906–1910, private collection). We get a hint of the mysterious and romantic atmosphere created by moonlight in quite a number of Capri scenes, but for some reason Mägi refrained from night-time observations and instead focused on the spectacles produced by the sun, which must have offered him a stronger emotional reward.