Normandy Landscape

Normandy Landscape

1911–1912 (?)Oil on cardboard50.5 × 60.8 cmArt Museum of Estonia

Mägi probably painted this work in Normandy in summer 1911, which is most strongly suggested by the French-style signature “K. Maegui” – the only Mägi painting styled this way. But there are also several aspects that cast doubt on the setting and date.

For one thing, Mägi was in Normandy in the summer months, but the colour choices suggest autumn, where red and yellowish colours set the tone. Secondly, there are a number of aspects in the brushstrokes and depiction of the sky that link the work with the Norwegian period (compare the sky on this painting with the one on Winter Landscape. Norway (Museum of Viljandi), the brushstrokes share commonalities with Field of Flowers with a Little House (Art Museum of Estonia)). Moreover, the work was previously owned by Alfred Rõude, in whose notes this painting was initially titled Norwegian Landscape, but then crossed out and replaced with French Landscape. So, it is not impossible that Mägi painted this work while in Norway and took it with him to Paris unsigned, adding the Francophonic signature there for exhibition purposes.

Other questions are raised by a work that recently emerged from a private collection and is presumed to depict a southern Estonian landscape, as it shares some similarities in terms of painting with Normandy Landscape, although being signed differently. It poses a number of questions about several paintings that lack clear answers: it is possible that the one currently determined to have a southern Estonian setting was in fact completed in Norway – or in Normandy – but for some reason signed in an Estonian style. Analysis of the vegetation does not help, since it is hard to distinguish individual plants and get a read on the habitat.

The French orthography of the signature, “K. Maegui”, is not encountered on any other paintings in Mägi’s oeuvre, suggesting a self-colonialist gesture where the artist changes his name in order to make his works more saleable in a foreign culture.

It is not a conceptual artistic act such as adopting a pseudonym and alter ego, but a sop to Paris’s ostensibly international but ultimately colonialist art world. Mägi altered his name not to aid in pronunciation of his name internationally but altered himself to fit the French articulation better. It hints at a broader cultural phenomenon – the fact that the art scene in Paris at that time measured the worth of artists not according to their diversity but to how well they fit in with the French canon. That had a very direct influence on Konrad Mägi as well.

In spring 1912, Mägi exhibited three paintings at the Salon des Indépendants. It is possible that one was this work. The exhibition catalogue lists the titles of the paintings, of which one is consistent with a portrait and another, a sketch, but the name of the third one is Decorative Landscape. As Mägi’s name in the catalogue is also given as “Maegui”, it is reasonable to think that Mägi entered paintings whose signature matched the spelling in the catalogue.

In one review of the exhibition, Mägi’s works are also mentioned. According to the article in Chronique des Arts: “Foreign artists continue to proceed devoutly from our principles, many of us find them amenable because we find their works contain traces of our own teachings; truth be told, traditions are not a deterrent for them at all; for many of them, the history of art began with van Gogh and Matisse; this is a weakness and also a strength; it explains the fact that they are as sensitive as they are toward our innovations; skilful in understanding them and ready and willing to imitate them.” There is a line running across the page near the bottom; under the line, 11 foreigners are listed, and among them is a familiar name: Maegui.