Rasa Andriušytė-Žukienė

www.kamane.lt , 2010 08 02

In brief: It is believed that the originality of art created by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911) is determined by the intertwined features of Symbolism and Avant-gardism. As scientists analyse the “transitional" status of Čiurlionis’ works (between Symbolism and Modernism), less attention is allocated to features determined by art of his epoch, i.e., manifestations of epoch of year 1900 and Art Nouveau. The signs and ideas of this style could be noticed in the environment of cities seen by the artist as well as in art, even in the educational programme of Warsaw Art School. Therefore, the author analyses paintings and drawings of Čiurlionis, in which relations with Art Nouveau style may be noticed on the idea or formal level, in the article. The author allocates more attention to lines, ornaments and other figures, the impact of which for the formation of new artistic language of M.K.Čiurlionis has not been studied thoroughly.

Art Nouveau also called Secession was the most pronounced in Europe at the end of the 19th century. The efflorescence of this style was slightly later in East Europe, in about 1905-1910 in Poland. Thus, the creative period of M. K. Čiurlionis (1903-1909) coincides with the rise of Art Nouveau. After the trip in Europe in 1906, M.K.Čiurlionis described the artistic situation of the period precisely: “Thousands of things I saw made one impression on me that painting was forcing somewhere, that it was eager to break the earlier frames but remained in them.” These words prove that novelties were clear and actual to the artist; they were among his aims too.

As it is known, M.K.Čiurlionis succeeded to achieve many new things. He crystallised the specific method of graphic-spacious and chromatic abstract painting; he also presented an original version how principles of music and musical tempos could be applied in painting. The artistic activity of M.K.Čiurlionis is based on the synthesis of various art fields: musical, visual and literary creation. M.K.Čiurlionis concentrated on painting the most from 1903; still, he was also concerned with stage design, art of poster, aesthetics of book covers.

Designs of fireplaces. 1904. Paper, pencil, 28.7x21.0cm

Embellishment of surrounding things became the proof of universality of an artist in Art Nouveau period. This is why Warsaw Art School, where M.K.Čiurlionis studied, taught not only painting but also composition of stained-glass works, book covers, creation of ornaments.

Composition. 1903. Pastel, paper, 71.2x62.8cm

Analysing the role of an ornament in the works of M.K.Čiurlionis, the author starts from the work of an early period “Composition” (1903). Thematically rather than stylistically, it is related with the ideology of Art Nouveau. Visionary fiction and surreal scene lets one believe that M.K.Čiurlionis was interested in such Art Nouveau artists as Felicien Rops, Fernand Khnopf, Hans von Stuck, Gustav Klimt.

Zodiac. VIII. Sun in Virgo. 1906/1907

The virgin pictured in the painting Zodiac VIII is not mystified in Secession-like style, it is closer to nature and is part of glorification of cosmos.

Danger. 1904. Oil, canvas, 68x50.5cm

Another early painting “Danger” is also close to Secession style thematically, like “Composition”. Still, these paintings are exceptions rather than rules in the context of works of M.K.Čiurlionis.

Tower. 1904

Bells are pictured in the painting “Tower” (1904). Continuous line, waving contour typical of Secession is prominent in this work. Abstraction is much closer to the musical phrase here; therefore, associations with sound become clearer in this work.

Going through sketches of M.K.Čiurlionis (in which initial ideas are seen clearer than in completed paintings), one notices that the artist started painting ornaments in the period of Warsaw Art School. At first M.K.Čiurlionis followed the so-called “floral style”. Evidently lecturers of the school wanted to see rhythmical ornaments in applied art works.

Sketch of composition. 1905/1906. Page of drawings. Paper, pencil, black ink. 17.4x21.7cm

Motif of nature. 1905. Paper, pencil, charcoal, 16.5x10.5cm

Sketches of 1905 stand out in albums of nature views of M.K.Čiurlionis. They show the tendency to express the feeling of nature by expressive lives and decorative surfaces, abstract motifs.

Forest. 1907. Pastel, paper, 62x72.8 cm.

Both sketches and paintings show that, seeking for decorativeness and abstraction, M.K.Čiurlionis continues experimenting with the motif of nature. An even coloured area is combined with pushing contour line in his works.

Sonata I (Sun Sonata). Allegro. 1907. Tempera, paper, 63.1x59.5cm

The most typical example is the painting “Sonata I Allegro” (1909). It is visible how M.K.Čiurlionis forced for “abstract style”. Secession lines are typical of other sonatas of M.K.Čiurlionis too.

Fugue. From the triptych Fantasy. 1907/8. Tempera., paper, 61x70.7 cm

The Secession language of lines is combined with graphic ornaments on the surface of painting in the triptych “Fantasy” (1908) and the “Sea Sonata” (1909) as well as the majority of late paintings of the artist.

However, the pure rhythmical ornament (loved by G.Klimt for instance) was not used by M. K. Čiurlionis; it only remained prominent in his applied works. Abstract ornaments reflect the shift of M. K. Čiurlionis from natural ornament to a “no-thing” ornament in about 1905-1906. Using abstract ornaments, the painter did not change the paradigm of his painting – it remained symbolical.

On one hand, the achievements of the painter forecasted the appearance of abstraction: the application of structural and compositional elements of music made his paintings much more abstract. Nonetheless, none of the so-called musical paintings is abstract, as the content of paintings is rather specific and often related with nature and mythology. The idea of paintings is usually symbolical, the structure of view is abstracted in Art Nouveau-like style, while small elements are very concrete, realistic, even though stylised in Secession-like manner sometimes.

Photos from the archive of the National Čiurlionis Art Museum

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