Baltic Biedermeier

September 19, 2009 – August 29, 2010


The exhibition Baltic Biedermeier gives an overview of the heyday of Baltic German art and culture in the first half of the 19th century.


The exhibition Baltic Biedermeier shows the Baltic German art of the first half of the 19th century in Estonia and Livonia through one of the most important features of the era – the Biedermeier style. The term ‘Biedermeier’ was used to denote the bourgeois way of life in the peaceful times following the Napoleonic Wars. The style left its mark on every field of art. Different Estonian art collections contain wonderful portraits, landscapes and works of applied art, which take the visitor back to a time of feminine gentleness and masculine fortitude. The exhibition material provides an enjoyable overview of the pride of the Baltic nobility, gender roles, the cult of family and image of homeland, of the attitudes towards Estonian peasantry, and of the life in Tartu (Dorpat) and Tallinn (Reval).


The Biedermeier style was born in the German-speaking countries. The way of life of the Baltic nobility fit perfectly with the ideals of the Biedermeier era. The values that characterised the Biedermeier culture – individualism, practicality, love of home and close family ties – formed the foundation of the Baltic identity.


A way of life that centred around the hearth, and the joy of spending time with loved ones, gave rise to the popularity of the portrait genre. Rows of faces looking down from portrait galleries referred to the ancient past of the family, while portrait miniatures on the mantle reminded one of a dear relative or friend. Although several of the names of the authors or people portrayed have faded from our collective memory, these objects bring to us the spirit of a time of remembrance.


The Biedermeier era was also the heyday of the activities of Baltic German literati friendly to Estonians, accompanied by artists’ growing interest in local subject matter. Painting or engraving charming, exotic Estonian and Livonian folk costumes, influenced by the urban and manor culture and supplemented by invented details, allowed the Baltic German artists of the first half of the 19th century to express their creativity, as well as their Estophile attitudes.


The art of the Biedermeier era is characterised by a variety of styles. Both paintings and works of applied art show intertwining layers of different aesthetic systems. The period saw the first buds of Classicism and Romanticism in Estonian art, as well as early Realism, representing a sensible and practical way of thinking.

Baltic German artists displayed at the exhibition include: J. C. Dorner, F. B. Dörbeck, T. Gehlhaar, E. Hau, G. A. Hippius, A. J. Klünder, C. F. von Kügelgen, F. L. von Maydell, G. J. F. Napiersky, C. T. von Neff, A. G. W. Pezold, H. L. Petersen, J. Schwabe, G. F. Schlater, E. H. Schlichting, K. A. Senff, M. F. Stegemann, C. S. Walther, O. Zoege von Manteuffel and many others.

Works of art displayed at the exhibition belong to the collections of the Art Museum of Estonia, the Estonian History Museum, the Estonian National Museum, the Tallinn City Museum, the Tartu University Library, the Tartu University History Museum, the Tartu University Geology Museum, the Tartu Art Museum and private collections.

Curator: Tiina Abel (Kumu Art Museum)

Designed by: Tiit Jürna

Accompanying events:

Saturday Academy lecture series (programme at

Educational programmes:

Tin Soldiers and Embroidery (for pre-school and primary school students)
Oh the times! Oh the customs! (for compulsory and higher secondary school students)