Portrait of Marie Reisik

Portrait of Marie Reisik

1916Charcoal and pastel on paper60.7 × 46.7 cmArt Museum of Estonia

Marie Reisik was 29 and an active member and organiser in the women’s movement when the drawing was made. Reisik had already made a name for herself but her true rise to fame is considered to have started in 1917. Later on, she served multiple terms as an MP and was energetic in politics.

As Reisik’s art collection also included the watercolour of the Dieppe Cathedral and one Norwegian landscape, it might be supposed that they met already in Paris, where Reisik arrived in 1908, but she did so only on 18 May, by which time Mägi had left for Norway.

In 1910, though, Reisik moved to Tartu, working as a French teacher, but at the same time, she was a women’s movement organizer and editor of a political magazine published by the women’s society, standing out for her radical and feminist views. She was probably close acquaintances with Mägi, maybe even friends. In addition to owning some Mägi works, Reisik and Mägi were both among the founders of the Pallas Art Society a few years later. Reisik bowed out of the society along with Claire Holst and Alma Koskel, also painted by Mägi, a year later in connection with the “Gripenberg scandal” where a number of members protested during a theatre performance by Finnish dancer Maggie Gripenberg against what they felt was too conservative a dancing style. Mägi supported the protests, but Reisik did not approve of disrupting a woman’s live dance performance by throwing rotten eggs, and left Pallas. Yet this was not necessarily the end of their ties, as the Reisik collection also included a late period Mägi Venetian scene.

Upon arriving back from Paris, Reisik had the same European Bohemian spirit as Mägi, opposing conventional norms of conduct and demanding equal treatment for women. Smoking and close-cropped hair – not brought out in this drawing by Mägi – both were said to have created some scandal.

This portrait is probably the most psychological and personal female portrait by Mägi. Reisik is not subjected to Mägi’s idealized model, she is not made anonymous or a Madonna-like viewing object but rather the drawing gives us a sense of her personality and she remains at a certain distance from the viewer. Unlike other portraits of women, the backdrop is completely neutral, which also helps her personality emerge and does not drown it in decorative ornament. Her clothing is elegant but modest and the artists has avoided excessive use of accessories, draperies and the like. Around her neck, Reisik is wearing a green necklace, which based on analysis by jewellery artist Tanel Veenre could be enamel, glass or gemstone. In any case, gems had not become a people’s fashion yet in the early 20th century, according to Veenre, and wearing such jewellery would signal wealth, a special occasion or both. Knowing the circumstances of Reisik’s life, green may also be seen as suffragette green, but it is also possible that no political or other meaning was encoded in it.

Besides Reisik, other suffragettes portrayed by Mägi included Linda Bachmann (who with Reisik held the second national women’s congress) and Alma Koskel. Claire (Klara) Holst was also an active participant in social life.

Other Mägi drawings are known as well. Apart from sketches, these drawings are always portraits. Like the Reisik portrait, they are much more laconic, psychological, and stress the subjectivity of the model to a greater extent than Mägi’s paintings.