Venice (Canal in Venice)

Venice (Canal in Venice)

1922–1923Oil on canvas63.5 × 59.9 cmArt Museum of Estonia

The painting depicts a bridge next to Santa Maria della Salute – part of the basilica can be seen on the left edge of the painting. The church was built in the 17th century as an architectural response to a wave of the plague. It is surprising that Mägi, seated in a gondola next to this impressive basilica, first did a pencil sketch not of the church itself but an anonymous bridge. Indeed, Mägi’s oeuvre contains very few large buildings, since he preferred small architectural forms (bridges, monuments, bell towers and the like) or viewed churches and houses from distance, turning the structures into small formal elements in the midst of landscapes and city scenes.

Konrad Mägi’s choice of motifs – what to depict in the first place – gives clues to a number of impulses. As to landscapes, he was drawn to emotionally or aesthetically noteworthy sites, often amplifying many of the qualities that had visual potential (colours, perspective) or manipulating motifs until they took on ecstatic connotations. We see a string of objects that fascinated Mägi in different creative periods – churches, lakes, forests, cliffs and mountains, vegetation – and where he moved smoothly between the micro- and macro-view. In terms of the choice of perspective, Mägi was dynamic, switching between close-up study of plant life and the intimacy of some of his Saaremaa works and the markedly more panoramic, even epic, views of southern Estonia. In his Norwegian periods, the movement between epic and intimate sometimes took place over a much shorter cycle.

So, Mägi was not consistent in his choice of motifs, but constantly moved between different themes. He was not necessarily drawn to spectacle and the headlining symbolism, preferring nooks and hidden corners instead. In his paintings from Italy, we see few symbolic, emblematic buildings; instead, languid parks, ruins, columns or bridges set the tone. Such a “menu” of motifs may again signal Mägi’s interest in aspects ordinarily concealed: he was interested in the more hidden recesses of the consciousness, urban space and nature; the areas that held more mystery for him.