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In the Beginning There Were … Köler and Weizenberg

In the Beginning There Were … Köler and Weizenberg

Time: 07.12.18–26.05.19  10:00–18:00
Location: Kadriorg Art Museum

The exhibition presents a selection of works by both artists from Estonian museums and private collections, as well as from a foreign private collection which traces back to Estonia. The display consists of more than a hundred paintings and sculptures plus models and studies. Most of the artworks on display come from the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia, which has the largest selection of Johann Köler’s and August Weizenberg’s masterpieces.

Despite the fact that, stylistically, Köler’s and Weizenberg’s oeuvres belong to late academic art and are closely linked to the developments in Russian art in the second half of the 19th century, they served as direct and indirect role models in the evolution of our national art and in the emergence of the nation’s self-awareness and cultural aspirations. The successful careers of the two encouraged many younger Estonian artists to pick the same path.

In Köler’s lifetime, only a few of his creations could be admired in his homeland. Weizenberg’s works were introduced to the domestic audience somewhat earlier and in greater numbers. In art academies, Köler in Saint Petersburg and Weizenberg in Berlin, Saint Petersburg and Munich, the two artists adopted artistic ideals to which they remained true until the ends of their creative careers. For this, they were severely criticised by the generation of innovative artists of the early 20th century. Art historical assessment of academic art has become more objective as time has passed: we are now able to consider its development and links to novel movements in art. Therefore, we need to make certain adjustments to our evaluation of Weizenberg’s and Köler’s oeuvres even though their high professional level and significance for the Estonian art culture has long been recognised.

There has never been a joint exhibition of Köler’s and Weizenberg’s works, although regular displays of both masters’ oeuvres took place on the occasions of their major anniversaries in the second half of the 20th century in Kadriorg Palace. Köler’s first personal exhibition in Estonia was held in 1926 in Kadriorg Palace to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the artist’s birth. Weizenberg’s first personal exhibition took place in his lifetime, in 1878 in the Provincial Museum of Estonia, also serving as the first exhibition ever of the work of an artist of Estonian origin. Having moved to Tallinn in 1914, Weizenberg received special permission from the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Estonia in 1919 to settle in the seaside wing of Kadriorg Palace. The palace itself contained an exposition of his sculptures. The most recent major exhibition of Köler’s oeuvre was in 2001 in the Estonian Knighthood House. Weizenberg’s works were last shown in 1987.

This exhibition provides an overview of both masters’ oeuvres, highlighting the similarities in their art, aesthetic beliefs and lives. The first works on display were inspired by Estonian subject matter; these were particularly valued and praised throughout the previous century. However, the subject matter does not determine the nationality of art and neither do art trends. From the perspective of national art, it is rather significant that Köler painted his pictures in Rome and Paris and that Weizenberg was captivated by characters from Shakespeare’s works.

On 8 March, the anniversary of Johann Köler’s birth will be celebrated with the presentation of a monograph about the artist compiled by Mai Levin.

Exhibition curator: Mai Levin
Exhibition design: Mari Kurismaa and Mari Kaljuste; book design: Tuuli Aule
Coordinators: Kerttu Männiste and Aleksandra Murre

Collage: Johann Köler. A Woman from Italy (Rome). 1858. Art Museum of Estonia /
August Weizenberg. Ideal. 1888. Art Museum of Estonia