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In Konrad Mägi’s landscape paintings, we can sometimes find female figures with a striking head covering, dress and slender waistline, but somehow lacking personality. In the case of these female figures, Mägi usually stresses details that help the form and colour of some of the nature motifs or architectural objects to become apparent. In Portrait of a Woman as well, it would not be wise to draw conclusions about the model’s health and financial standing based on her attractive costume and unhealthy appearance. The painting is indicative of a trend widespread in 20th century Western culture where the artist does not set out primarily to depict a female person, but rather treats the woman as more of a passive object shaped by the will of the male artist. Her body as a whole is the reflection of a male artist’s moods, desires and thoughts as well as of his aesthetic ideals. For Mägi, female models were often necessary for expressing their decadent beauty. According to Mägi’s good friend Friedebert Tuglas, the artist was enthralled by decadent moods, including melancholy, ennui, anxiety, ecstasy, bipolarity – a various sorts of extreme psychological states that are considered unhealthy. As to decadent beauty, which Mägi tries to capture in the picture, the aesthetics of decadence considers beauty to lie in being different and unusual, often associated with melancholy and an appearance similar to that of a tuberculosis patient or vampire. Deviation is a central tenet of decadence, meaning that if a large part of society idealizes classical beauty based on an aesthetic canon of antiquity, decadence would see artistic allure in deviating from classics. While the painting does feature a woman with symmetrical facial structure corresponding to the classical idea of beauty, her wan and sad state do not gibe with the classic quality. She has a slouching posture and her eye (we see her in profile) has a dark ring around it, not just the socket itself but the entire eye is blue. Her sunken eyes suggest the loss of vitality. Her cheeks are flushed but a greenish-yellow dominates her skin tone. These colours, other than pink, were associated with illness and sickliness from the second half of the 19th century on in decadent art and literature; they were the symbolic colours of decadence. Blue symbolized melancholy and green and yellow were typical colours for depicting a body or soul wracked by illness. Greenish-yellow was also associated with absinthe, the notorious spirit. The visual aspect, psychological impact and symbolism had equal importance in Mägi’s work. Not only decadence ascribed meanings to colours – so did modernism, which sprang from the aesthetic ideals of decadence.
The reproduction of these works without the express written consent of the owner of the works is prohibited.