Rūta Marcinkevičiūtė , 2010 02 19

“Self-portrait” (1943). Photos by R.Marcinkevičiūtė

In brief: The exhibition of works of Kaunas painter Jonas Vaitys (1903-1963) formed from the collection of the Vaičiai family was organised in the private Stasys Juškus gallery in Vilnius this February. It became a pleasant surprise that made art admirers, collectors and art critics search for the road leading through snow to the gate of Sereikiškės Park.

J.Vaitys is a painter born in Kaunas who lived in Kaunas and Panevėžys. He is usually mentioned as the director of Kaunas Art Institute in the art world, who helped many future artists to avoid exile in post-war years as well as problems with the Soviet army.

Paintings on the theme of the city: “Chimney-sweep”, “In Musical Theatre” (1958), “Paris at Night” (1961) above.


The initiator of the exhibition at S.Juškus gallery, the son of J.Vaitys, architect Leonardas Vaitys is sure that it is necessary to take into regard the situation of post-war years, when it was impossible for an artist to express himself freely, while trying to define the place of his father’s creative work in the history of Lithuanian art.


Evidently, portraits and landscapes of J.Vaitys were enjoyed by the masses and ideologists who propagated social realism. One of the most famous works of the painter is “Machine Operator” painted in 1936.

“Brazilka” (1929)

The eye is caught by the famous “Brazilka” created by J.Vaitys in 1929 in the exhibition. It pictures the shantytown of Kaunas Žaliakalnis. The painter A.Savickas is sure that this painting is “a protest against “hedonistic" landscape” by its theme.

Not only the plot but also the original language of painting was important for J.Vaitys, who participated in the first exhibition of Independent Artists’ Association in 1930. The painter has stated himself that “the general tendency of the association was to distance from naturalists”. Therefore, it is no wonder that the compulsory “photographic” picturing of reality adored by ideologists of social realism did not become the style of the painter.

Landscape "Along the Banks of the Nemunas“ (1962)

It is frequently considered what Lithuanian art would be if artists had not been forced to “serve the masses”. Many artists, such as Viktoras Vizgirda, emigrated to the west in order to avoid this pressure. Meanwhile, J.Vaitys went to Panevėžys after graduation from Kaunas Art School in 1928 and spent twelve years there. He was the only professional artist in this city. The possibility to return to Kaunas appeared for the artist only in 1940, but the war started soon.


It was the time when the painter started participating in exhibitions more actively, and critics noticed new artistic quality. “The works of J. Vaitys created in the fourth decade represent the searches for the genre and artistic form. This period is the most mature creative period of Vaitys,” the work of the artist is described in this way in “History of Lithuanian Art of the 20th Century”, Vol. 2.

The art critic Jonas Umbrasas stated that J.Vaitys “did not follow the method of impressionism and chose his own way of generalisations, he created precise contrasts of colour spots and painted in expressive manner.”

Unfortunately, the wish to choose "one’s own way" was equalled to a crime in post-war years. The tendency of realism thrust compulsively defeated Vaitys according to the art critic N.Tumėnienė. In her opinion, the break of the painter is marked by the painting “Zarasai Land” created in 1948, in which a beautiful landscape was pictured as if captured by the camera.

“Spiritual Plebeians” (1938)

Even though landscapes form the most important part of J.Vaitys creation according to art researchers, the painting “Spiritual Plebeians” stands out from other works by bright colours in the exhibition opened at S.Juškus Gallery. Its title reveals the very negative attitude of the author to entertainment of “the upper class” and to women smoking and playing cards.

It is interesting that less known figure paintings rather than landscapes interested the director of the National Gallery Lolita Jablonskienė, who visited the exhibition. In her opinion, “Spiritual Plebeians” and a small painting created in 1956 “In Musical Theatre” could replenish the gallery collection of paintings of the 20th century.

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