Erich Pehap was born on 10 April 1912, in the Kantreküla district of Viljandi. Later, the family, which included four siblings besides Erich, lived on the narrow Liiva Street. His father, Jaan, was a policeman and constable in Viljandi, and his mother, Leena, did needlework at home.

Erich initially attended the Viljandi 2nd Elementary School, located next to the Town Hall. In 1926, he continued his education at the Viljandi County Gymnasium for Boys, where his art teacher was Pallas Art School graduate Julius Mager (1901-1997), who also inspired Erich to enrol in art school. In 1932, Pehap enrolled in the Pallas Art School. Altogether, his art studies lasted eight years, learning painting at the Tallinn School of Arts and Crafts and at Nikolai Triik’s studio in Tartu, graphics at Ado Vabbe’s studio, and watercolour techniques under Anna Põllusaar-Triik. In the 1930s, the teaching method was based on realistic representation. The years spent by Pehap in Tartu were labour-intensive, and he produced a number of sketches and works, most of them in charcoal, watercolour, pastel, pencil, sanguine, pen, and ink. In 1934, Erich Pehap displayed his works at an exhibition, and over the next ten years he participated in more than twenty group exhibitions across Estonia. Some of his works were also sent to exhibitions in Riga, Kaunas, Warsaw, Vienna, and Prague. Erich’s family supported his studies by sending him money and parcels to Tartu, but the sudden death of his father meant he had to rush his studies and take responsibility for the family’s welfare. Erich Pehap graduated from Pallas Art School in 1939 with a degree in graphics, and in 1938 he had also qualified as a teacher at the Didactic-Methodical Seminary of the University of Tartu.

In 1941, Pehap was at the beginning of his career as a professional artist, working as a freelancer in Viljandi. Thanks to a successful personal exhibition in 1942, he was able to buy a printing press. In early 1944, Erich managed to escape to Finland together with his younger brother, Allan. From 1949, the artist lived in Canada, where he worked as a freelance artist, quite an exception among Estonian artists in exile.

Erich Pehap was a very productive artist, who produced thousands of works, for example, his 1943 list of works includes 366 works, 93 of which feature Viljandi. His works can be found in many art museums and private collections in Estonia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, France, England, Switzerland, Latvia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Italy, and the United States (Vallikivi, 2020).

View of Kõrgemäe Street, 1935, charcoal, paper (private collection) – in the foreground, simple waggon trolleys used to transport gravel from the city quarry. The drawing also features one of the steepest streets in Estonia, Kõrgemäe Street, which has a gradient of more than 18% in places. By the time the drawing was created, Pehap had been studying art for three years, sketching on cheap wrapping paper (called ‘bread wrapping paper’), which his family collected and sent to him in Tartu. The work is one of the first sketches of Viljandi.

Valuoja valley, 1943. Charcoal drawing on paper. Viljandi Town Government. View from Vaksali Street across Vana-Vaksali Street and the manor pond (now the Ugala Theatre pond). Mõisa tee (now Hariduse Street) on the left and the aircraft factory in the distance.

Ruins of the Viljandi bank building (1941). Watercolour on paper. Viljandi Museum. The Bank of Estonia building, with its outstanding architecture, was set on fire by a Russian Extermination Battalion in 1941. It is the only work of art depicting the aftermath of the fire.

Erich Pehap (1912-1981):
Valuoja valley, 1943. Charcoal drawing on paper. 54 x 56 cm.
Viljandi Town Government

Erich Pehap (1812-1981):
View of Kõrgemäe Street, 1935. Charcoal, paper 54 x 29 cm.
Private collection

Erich Pehap (1812-1981)
Ruins of the Viljandi bank building (1941). Watercolour on paper. 36.5 x 51cm.
The Museum of Viljandi

KEYWORDS: very productive Estonian graphic artist, with photographic memory.