Janis Rozentāls (1866–1916). Art and Technique
Janis Rozentāls (1866–1916) was the talented and determined son of a country blacksmith from the Saldus parish who, at the end of the 19th century, trained at the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts to become a professional painter. Latvian art history records him as being the most popular, beloved and versatile founder of the national art.

“With his enthusiastic and enthusing personality, Rozentāls was the first to awaken the Latvian nation’s interest in the visual arts. In this sense he was the first love of the Latvian nation and will remain as such forever.”

(Romans Suta)


The artist’s biography and creative activity bear brilliant testimony to the social and national self-awareness of a Latvian artist at the turn of the century. He first gained recognition in his homeland in 1896 at the Latvian Ethnographic Exhibition, together with his peers from the Rūķis (Gnome) artists’ group, coming up with the idea of serving his nation and depicting its life in art.


At the beginning of the 20th century Janis Rozentāls was one of the most active shapers of Riga art life and modernisers of Baltic art. He became an enthusiastic implementer of the new aesthetic principles of the age in painting, graphics and applied art. Rozentāls was also the most important representative of Latvian art theory, whose main essays were published in the magazines Vērotājs (Observer) and Zalktis (Grass Snake). Alongside Vilhelms Purvītis and Johann Walter, Janis Rozentāls was among the few contemporaries who around 1900 brought Latvian visual art closer to the horizon of the great European centres of art.


The artist expressed his credo in the programmatic article Art and Technique (1906–1907): “To be new with every work is the artist’s ideal.” Influenced by the principle of art for art’s sake (l’art pour l’art), he had earlier proclaimed: “(..) art is the idea of form made visible.” His swift changes in individual style and viewpoint, linking the traditional with the innovative, reflects Rozentāls’ impulsive temperament and the art phenomena in Latvia at the time.


The boundaries of the artistic searches encompassed by this exhibition range from the pinnacle of National Realism in his famous diploma work to Belle Époque aestheticism and decorativism in romantic dreams of Arcadia, the idyllic land of happiness. Wanderings between reality and fantasy reveal a synthesis of Academism, Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, National Romanticism, Neoclassicism and other influences and at the same time, ever increasing expressiveness in colouring and brushwork. The moments and moods captured by the acclaimed portraitist, figuralist, landscapist and depicter of intimate everyday scenes intermingle with fantastic symbolic compositions and religious themes. Variations on favourite motifs and images appear throughout his creative work and are repeated in graphic art in books and periodicals. Rozentāls created a wide gallery of portraits of his contemporaries and various character types, he turned his hand to the mother and child theme and as a “painter of Eves” he celebrated the beauty of women. He also painted the nature of Latvia, Finland and Italy.


Rozentāls’ marriage to the Finnish singer Elli Forssell who for him was the embodiment of the ideal female image and became the model for many of his future works, strengthened the ties with the latest Finnish art. The geography of the modernising European initiatives embraced the art of Russia, Germany, France and the Nordic countries, the examples of the then international authoritative figures of Arnold Böcklin, Max Klinger, Ludwig von Hofmann, James Whistler, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and others. During his creative process he learned and made use of the technical possibilities of photography.


The 150th anniversary of the birth of Janis Rozentāls is included in the UNESCO list of anniversaries of eminent personalities of member states to be celebrated in 2016. This retrospective is comprised mainly of works from the collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art supplemented by exhibits from the Gallen-Kallela Museum, the Museum of Literature and Music, the Liepāja and Tukums Museums, the Academic Library of the University of Latvia and private collections in Latvia and Finland.



Dr. art. Aija Brasliņa



Inta Pujāte



Ineta Sipunova



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