Juhan Kangilaski was born on 19 May 1904 in Verilaske, Vana-Tänassilma Parish, Viljandi County. Juhan and his younger brother, Ott, studied at the Pallas Art School. Juhan studied at Ado Vabbe’s studio, in Pallas, between 1923 and 1927. After moving from Tartu to Viljandi, he devoted himself to the Ugala Theatre in the following years, designing slightly more than a hundred productions between 1929 and 1937. At the same time, Kangilaski drew caricatures for the newspaper Sakala, and in the early 1940s he wrote reviews of the Viljandi art scene.

After working at Uga for eight years, Juhan Kangilaski worked as a freelancer for a while. At the 1939 Autumn Exhibition, his painting depicting the proclamation of the Manifesto of Independence was exhibited for the first time. In an interview given at the exhibition, the artist lamented that, having been involved with the theatre for a long time, he had little time left for freelance work, i.e. for painting. The artist was also linked to Ugala later on: From 1939–1945 he worked as the administrator, and from 1948–1950 again as a designer at Ugala. Beginning in 1950 Juhan Kangilaski lived in Tallinn, where he continued to work as an advertising artist. In the 1960s, he produced graphic art, made landscape paintings in linocut and illustrated books. He died on 20 March 1981, in Tallinn.

Proclamation of Estonian independence, in Viljandi, on 24 February 1918 (1939, oil). A unique work of art and one of the few that captures historical-political events. As far as is known, no photographs of the event have survived, so it had to be reconstructed from the memories of contemporaries. Kangilaski has said that it was difficult to depict the event as a whole in a painting. The Manifesto of Independence was read out in Viljandi by the mayor of the time, Gustav Talts (1890–1958). The work was hidden for 67 years in a house on Edela Street, in Viljandi. The painting which was painted on plywood was used for the ceiling of the second floor cupboard, probably because of its dimensions – 112 x 180 cm. The painting was purchased by the Viljandi town government in 2016.

Juhan Kangilaski (1904-1981):
Proclamation of Estonian independence, in Viljandi, on 24 February 1918. Oil, plywood 112 x 180cm.
Viljandi Town Government

KEYWORDS: long-time and prolific theatre designer at the Ugala Theatre, used the pseudonym Tseko as a cartoonist.