On the Road from Viljandi to Tartu

On the Road from Viljandi to Tartu

1915–1916Oil on canvas94 × 102 cmArt Museum of Estonia

On a number of occasions, Konrad Mägi was invited to Viljandi to spend time with a childhood friend and flame of his youth, Frieda Sangernebo. Sangernebo had been a supporter of radical left-wing causes in her youth and her ideological worldview probably had an influence on Mägi’s mindset. Although they used the formal “you” with each other all their lives, Sangernebo was one of Mägi’s oldest and closest friends.

Sangernebo married a successful attorney and moved to Viljandi. After Mägi’s return from Paris, Sangernebo hosted the artist on a number of occasions, providing him with a room and paying his living expenses. Living in Tartu, Mägi constantly complained about losing the will to live, and in Viljandi he discovered a nurturing environment. After two summers on Saaremaa Island, he began a new creative period in this part of Estonia. December 1913 witnessed an exhibition of Mägi paintings that still holds the status as one of the largest ever, with over 100 paintings out on display.

In Viljandi, Mägi painted people (members of the local Romani community posed for him, for example) and also depicted landscapes surrounding the town. This work is the best-known of them.

Mägi brought a systematic approach to his study of clouds – a number of sketches have survived where he draws only clouds, sometimes writing down the names of the colours he saw in the clouds. As a rule, these clouds are dramatic, animate, massive piles of cumulus, which define the painting both emotionally and compositionally. For Mägi, clouds were a means of expressing mood and give an artwork a symbolic or sacral dimension.