Norwegian Landscape

Norwegian Landscape

1909Oil on cardboard42.7 × 47.2 cmArt Museum of Estonia

The work was probably exhibited at the Third Estonian Art Exhibition held in Tartu in autumn 1910. About a week after the exhibition was opened, one of the organizers, Bernhard Linde, sent a notice to Konrad Mägi, saying that a student named Nõges wanted to buy the painting Blue Water with Mountain Ashes for 65 roubles – would Mägi be willing to sell?

It is possible that this discussion concerned this painting. The first thing to note here is the price level, reflecting a new clientele, and in turn Mägi’s social stature. In the summer, during the song festival, Mägi had sold works in Tallinn, but the paintings had fetched only one-fifth of that amount. The summer prices were about a week’s wages for a worker, but 65 roubles was more than a month’s wages. Despite the soaring prices, Mägi’s works sold briskly at the exhibition, he made a total of 400 roubles from sales in Tartu and then 525 roubles at a continuation of the exhibition sale in Tallinn, which was the equivalent of a year-and-a-half salary for a mayor of a resort town.

Although Mägi’s paintings would rise even further in price, with a clientele consisting of the haute bourgeoisie, back in 1910, students could still afford his works. What is interesting here is that the buyer of the painting was an ethnic Estonian. Considering that the First Estonian Art Exhibition – meaning, one where the artists were Estonians – had taken place just four years before, it was noteworthy that the exhibition-goers were buying paintings, with demand from young students.

A generational and broader cultural attitude can be discerned here. As the exhibition was organized by Young Estonia, a number of young people doubtless identified with Mägi. The pan-European ideology of the movement could have also seemed congenial, as it was focused on youth, and on writers and artists who were radical for their time. Nõges was not buying this painting by an unknown, seemingly avant-garde-tinged artist as an investment, but rather expressing solidarity with a progressive, experimental culture. Today the work is considered a classic and one of the best-known in Mägi’s catalogue.