Southern Estonian Landscape

Southern Estonian Landscape

1915–1916Oil on cardboard47.8 × 63.5 cmPeeter Värnik art collection

The exact location of the motif is unknown but is very likely in southern Estonia. The landscape is sufficiently anonymous and abstract so it could be a fantasy landscape. This is also suggested by the clouds in the sky, which are not realistic as on the Saaremaa scenes: according to analysis by nephologist Jüri Kamenik, Mägi’s treatment of clouds changes in the south-eastern Estonian paintings of the latter half of the 1910s.

In his Norway and France paintings, Mägi touched on the cloud theme only lightly, but in the Saaremaa period that followed, clouds are often the most important element substantively, compositionally, emotionally and symbolically. Mägi treats them quite realistically and there are a number of reasons for clouds being as prominent as they are, although Saaremaa is the place in Estonia with the fewest clouds.

South-eastern Estonia is another important place in Mägi’s cloud topography – the place in Estonia richest in clouds. The climate is very favourable for cloud formation: it is an inland region and winters are colder, and greater moisture levels create clouds while updrafts are common in summer (partly due to the hills) and this, too, is a favourable condition for cloud formation. Yet it is important to note that although natural conditions in south-eastern Estonia offered abundant dramatic spectacles of billowing clouds, Mägi’s depictions of clouds are generally the stuff of fantasy. He consistently manipulates the colour, form and shape of clouds and the proportion of fiction increases significantly in the mid- to late 1910s cloud paintings compared to the Saaremaa period. In this work, Mägi makes an intentional error: light parts of clouds never occur under the darker parts, their shape is very amorphous, they are moving in opposing directions, and they are coloured brown and purple, which in real life never happens.

It is possible that the change in Saaremaa’s realistic clouds to these fictional masses in south-eastern Estonia can be generalized as a broader shift: Mägi’s landscapes become more and more rational over time, the primary affect and impetus begin to be supplanted by constructedness, a deliberate search for colour effects, and so on. A shift in meaning can also be apprehended in a number of his southern Estonian landscapes: his works from Saaremaa can be viewed as an intimate confession and a quest for his personal longings, but many of the southern Estonian scenes explore more generalized, abstract claims, often creating extraordinary but carefully planned spectacles in the sky.