Dr. Rasa Andriušytė-Žukienė

www.kamane.lt, 2010 09 20

In brief: Two young people, talented creators met in Vilnius in 1907: the writer and journalist Sofija Kymantaitė and artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. She moved to Vilnius from Krakow, and he arrived here from Warsaw. Both of them exchanged intensive life in cities of Poland for Vilnius, which was still “in cultural swaddling clothes”, as later M.K.Čiurlionis himself put it.

It is known from letters of M.K.Čiurlionis and recollections of contemporaries what close relation joined these two people. The artist M.K.Čiurlionis created works synthesising music and painting: musical-pictorial sonatas and reached the top of his creation during the period of the most intensive communication with S.Kymantaitė in 1907-1909. S.Kymantaitė (before their acquaintance in Vilnius in 1907) had already written some short stories and tales; she wrote articles on literature criticism. They allocated much attention to each other’s works: Mikalojus Konstantinas asked his fiancée in his letter in 1908 “where the sequel of “Pikčiukas” was, while Sofija included the article of M.K.Čiurlionis “On Music” into her book “In Lithuania” (1908). M.K.Čiurlionis created the layout and the cover of this book. Even though the communication of these two creators was intensive spiritually and fruitful creatively, this theme has not yet been explored much.

Cover of the book “In Lithuania” by S. Kymantaitė-Čiurlionienė. 1908. Artist M. K. Čiurlionis

Even though S.Kymantaitė lived and studied in Krakow, and M.K.Čiurlionis was related with the cultural environment of Warsaw for about ten years, they were influenced by common sources of modern Polish culture. Sofija knew people in Krakow who formed the modern Młoda Polska (Young Poland) movement. Krakow artistic world played an important role in the creative life of the writer S.Kymantaitė. She cherished the ideals of Krakow symbolists and modernists even after her return to Lithuania. Meanwhile, M.K.Čiurlionis had no direct relations with Krakow; it is not even known whether he has been in this city. Nonetheless, the cultural climate of Krakow and the most important artists were surely known to him indirectly, from Polish culture press and conversations with his teachers (Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Ksawery Dunikowski and others), who were members of Młoda Polska movement.

Formed by very similar spiritual sources, S.Kymantaitė and M.K.Čiurlionis developed very similar understanding about creation. They stood out by strong romantic flight and emphasised the idealistic attitude to work for the society. The neo-romantic imagination united M.K.Čiurlionis with S.Kymantaitė and other Lithuanian writers: Albinas Juozapas Herbačiauskas, Šatrija Ragana, Vaižgantas. Therefore, the romantic note of longing for something lucid may be noticed in the thinking of both artists.

Longing and yearning is one of the strongest motifs in letters of M.K.Čiurlionis to Sofija. Also, the idea of exaltation of the internal world of a human being is frequently found in the correspondence of Sofija and Mikalojus Konstantinas. Rhetoric with elevation is refused both in her articles and in letters written to her by Konstantinas; silence is considered an important means of their communication. M.K.Čiurlionis has written to Sofija: “...what can we say to each other with the help of black ink? [...] wouldn’t we say to each other much more by silence?”. The romantic fantasy swept away both artists, especially when they shared thoughts about the aspirations for “new art”, about flights of the spirit in endless space.

Both Lithuanian creators were strongly related and concerned by the question of the destination of an artist, creator and intellectual in the society and in creation. Judging from letters, it seems that M.K.Čiurlionis chose the role of an artist-victim or artist-messiah consciously. Still, his constant interest in cosmos and science of astronomy shows that the scientific attitude was also actual to him.

M. K. Čiurlionis. Sketch for the diptych of stained-glass works “Rex”. I-II. 1904. Pastel on paper, 74,5x29cm, 74,3x29,2 cm. National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas

Meanwhile, S.Kymantaitė had a more practical attitude to creative work: as sacred duty, as necessity to share her skills and works with others. She involved even the unpractical M.K.Čiurlionis into such activity: he became the organiser of first art exhibitions in Vilnius as well as the author of articles about music and art. It should be pointed out that M.K.Čiurlionis was a pupil of Sofija at the beginning of their acquaintance in 1907: she taught him Lithuanian. Later their relation changed, and the “teacher” had to listen to explanations of Mikalojus Konstantinas about the structure of musical compositions, his encouragement to “try out musical architectonics” in poetry.

It is often argued who had a greater impact in this couple of artists. Usually it is believed that Mikalojus Konstantinas had a stronger influence on the young Sofija. Still, it seems that the influence or hearing each other’s thoughts was mutual most probably, as they both had a common intellectual ground, they both matured in the environment of Symbolic art in Poland; most importantly, they were related by the feeling of love.

M. K. Čiurlionis. “Amber Palace”. Sketch on the theme of opera “Jūratė and Kastytis”. 1908. Pencil on paper, 10,5x16 cm. National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas

Views of paintings of M.K.Čiurlionis are vividly reflected in literary works of S.Kymantaitė. For instance, views described by Sofija Kymantaitė are close to drawings of M. K. Čiurlionis which were dedicated to the opera “Jūratė and Kastytis”, which was their common creative idea. The opera was not staged; still, it is probable that the sketches of its libretto were included into the drama of Sofija Kymantaitė “Our Barn”. The painting of M.K.Čiurlionis “Lightning” was created while thinking about the stage design of the opera.

M. K. Čiurlionis. “Lightning”. 1909. Tempera on paper, 59,8x76,6 cm. National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas

M. K. Čiurlionis. "Sonata No. 5. Finale". 1908. Tempera on paper, 73,2x63 cm. National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum, Kaunas

The respectful admiration of the sea felt in paintings and texts of M.K.Čiurlionis is reflected in the poem of S.Kymantaitė “The Sea” (1908) as well as in the drama “Our Barn”. The sea, sun, wave, bird, child, cloud, morning, dream: these concepts-symbols are frequently found in written works of Sofija Kymantaitė as well as in paintings, letters and literary attempts of M.K.Čiurlionis.

The motif of longing predominates in thoughts and texts of both artists. It took them to the embodiment of symbolic ideals, to spiritual and abstract art, to joining of music, colours and words. Both artists spoke about “spiritual eyes”, both longed for silence; they considered silence and pause important means of the new and modern language of art. The creative tandem of Sofija Kymantaitė and M.K.Čiurlionis was very important for the formation of Lithuanian modern literature and art. It is most probably impossible to tell who had a greater creative impact on whom. These artists are the only married couple in Lithuania who was joined not only by great love but also by the burning desire to create at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a duet of tantamount creators, which is a very rare phenomenon.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis with his fiancée Sofija Kymantaitė in Vilnius in 1907

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