Lake Saadjärv. Äksi Church

Lake Saadjärv. Äksi Church

1923–1924Oil on canvas57.7 × 68.5 cmTartu Art Museum

This is one of the last, but not the last, paintings completed by Konrad Mägi, painted during his stay at the Pallas Art School summer school complex. A number of sketches of this work – seemingly drawn with a nervous hand – have survived, but a compositional principle associated with Mägi can still be seen in them: twisting tree trunks on both right and left, framing the front part of the picture, with the main view between them, as if of a theatre stage. Although the painting was titled after the church, a recurring motif in Mägi paintings, it appears only as a small reddish structure in the distance. The heart of the painting is again made up of clouds, which Mägi has doubled on the surface of the water, thus making the painting space fuller, but also adding layers with mysterious overtones.

A watercolour also survives of Äksi Church, which attests to the deepening of the artist’s depression. The low black clouds and spreading landscape hardly support any interpretation other than it is a reflection of his deepening illness. At the same time, we should take note of Mägi’s continuing interest in dividing the landscape into colourful expanses so that a cascade of cheerful colours takes shape in the middle of the watercolour – an odd “smile” in the middle of yawning darkness above and below.

A painting with the same motif in the Art Museum of Estonia’s collection reflects a certain letting-go: muted colours and blurry perspective has abandoned the usual bacchanal of colour and appears to see the world through a fog. While the painting would appear to have all the necessary elements and is well executed, many of the characteristic qualities of Mägi’s work have been neutralized and a pall of silence has descended.