The Art of Latvia

When checking information about what countries have visitors coming to the Artsology website, we often see Latvia near the top of the list. We have to confess to being somewhat ignorant about Latvia and wondered what kind of art and culture they have there? We have to admit that one of the first things that came to mind was: "wasn't Dr. Doom from Latvia?" The Marvel Comics supervillian, who often battled the Fantastic Four, stuck in our mind as being from Latvia. But a little research tells us that Marvel Comics made the imaginary "Latveria" as the name of Dr. Doom's home country.

The real Latvia resides on the Baltic Sea, surrounded by Estonia to the north, Russia to the east, and Balarus and Lithuania to the south, whereas the fictional Latveria was supposedly positioned further south, between Hungary and Romania. So let's put a rest to any misconceptions about Dr. Doom having Latvian art in his Latverian castle (although we guess he could have, if he collected art). With that issue resolved, let's go forward and try to learn a little about the art of Latvia.

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We're going to present some Latvian artists here that we found to be of interest ... however, if you decide you would like to go more in-depth than what we have here, the Latvian National Museum of Art website is a good starting point.

Vilhelms Purvitis, pictured below left with one of his paintings titled Melting Snow, below right, was an artist who lived from 1872 - 1945. He founded the Latvian Academy of Art and was considered a master of painting snow scenes. He even traveled to Norway to have more opportunities to study and paint snow! In addition to his work at the Latvian Academy of Art, he was also involved in the University of Latvia and the Riga City Art School, so he was quite influential in the Latvian art scene at the time.

Latvian artist Vilhelms Purvitis and his painting Melting Snow

The painting at right is titled Sun late at night, 1916, and was painted by Rudolfs Perle, who lived from 1875 - 1917. His parents were innkeepers and it is known that he traveled to St. Petersburg to study technical drawing. He later worked as an assistant architect at a rubber factory and painted in his spare time.

Perle is considered the only true Symbolist artist of Latvian origin. His landscape drawings, oil and watercolour paintings usually depict ghostly, fantastic imagery and unreal forms.

Painting by Latvian artist Rudolfs Perle titled Sun Late at Night

Another Latvian artist who had an interesting style was Karlis Padegs, whose works are shown below. Padegs, whose short life spanned from 1911 - 1940, died of tuberculosis when he was only 29 years old. He was considered a "dandy," which means he was a man who gave exaggerated attention to personal appearance, and was known to wear things such as red scarves, long black coats, and pig-skin gloves, all the while carrying a bamboo cane. You can get a sense of this via the portrait painted by Victoria Trok, below left. He was considered a solitary yet legendary personality in Latvian art. He favored themes of modern urban life, antiwar subjects, ideal dream worlds, and sarcastic self-portraits. The other paintings below, starting with the 2nd from left, are Karlis Padegs' work, including: Madonna with a machine gun, 1932; Father and Son, 1932; and The Red Cow (date unknown).

Paintings by Latvian artist Karlis Padegs along with a portrait of Padegs by Victoria Trok

Here's an interesting footnote ... one of the better-known artists in 20th Century art, a leading figure of the abstract expressionists in New York City in the 1950's, was born in Latvia: Mark Rothko! It was technically considered part of the Russian Empire when he was born there in 1903, but what was then called "Dvinsk, Vitebsk Province, Russian Empire" is now the region of Daugavpils in Latvia.

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