Naples Motif

Naples Motif

1922–1923Oil on canvas53.6 × 66.8 cmArt Museum of Estonia

This work was previously known as Rome Motif, but we now know the work draws on the Villa Comunale Park in Naples. Its twin is the Italian Landscape in the Enn Kunila collection, since Mägi painted both works from the same vantage point, but facing the opposite way. The motifs of both paintings thus lie on the same axis.

Compared to the actual space, Mägi has brought the more distant objects closer to one another, but generally has preserved the verisimilitude. This selection of motif is also somewhat surprising, however, since there are a number of perspectives near Villa Comunale that are traditionally considered appropriate for a painting: an expanse of sea, a terraced cape with clusters of houses. Mägi’s reluctance to depict the sea – or at least an expansive panorama of the sea – is unexpected, since Mägi had continuously employed a panoramic mode since about 1915. In Italy, this changed and Mägi favoured inward-oriented perspectives. In Villa Comunale Park and other Italian paintings, he also appears to be interested in nooks and crannies, not spaciousness: all sorts of recesses, steps, colonnades, mazes and openings between the trees that provide an entrance and exit for fantasy. A novel means of spatial depiction can be discerned – we might see it as being influenced by Cubist manipulations of perspectives and spaces, but Mägi was known to scorn Cubism and it is hard to believe that he would have become enthralled by Cubist works from living in Estonia. Thus, it is more likely that this quality in Mägi’s works stems from Mägi’s metaphysical aspirations and fascination with the mystical, since irrational experience potentially akin to religious epiphany took roost in Mägi’s sense of the world through mysticism and the enigmatic and occluded.

The date of both this painting and Italian Landscape are unknown. The green and flowering vegetation on the paintings may suggest that Mägi produced his sketches not in March en route to Capri but returning from the island in April. Thus, we could hypothesize that Mägi’s new painting style started on Capri and continued immediately thereafter in Naples.