Juhan Muks was born on 6 July 1899, in Viljandi County, into a farmer’s family. From 1914, Muks’ teacher at Viljandi Town School was the well-known artist Villem Ormisson. After graduating from school in 1917, Muks enrolled in the Tallinn School of Arts and Crafts against his parents’ wishes. Juhan’s parents had hoped that he, as the eldest son, would continue homestead farming, but their hopes were dashed. His art studies lasted almost ten years, involving various schools and studios and living in Paris. Studying at the Riga Academy of Fine Arts was particularly difficult for Muks, as the food was meagre, and he returned to Estonia for health reasons. Together with Aleksander Vard, Juhan Muks graduated from the Pallas Art School in 1925. The same year, he went to France, where he lived intermittently until 1939. In the early 1930s, Muks worked in his homeland for a few years. He organised a successful solo exhibition in Viljandi and the money from the sale of his works enabled him to return to France in early 1933. Unfortunately, little is known about Muks’ works painted in France, and there are only a few examples in Estonia from that period.
From 1944 until his death in 1983, Juhan Muks lived in Viljandi in a house on the shore of the lake (now on Pikk Street), the Rosenberg Villa. He is one of the few, perhaps the only Estonian artist who has created so many works with views of the windows of his home. The beautiful views of Lake Viljandi from the windows of Muks’ flat inspired him in every season (Vallikivi, 2020).
During the first years of the Soviet occupation, Juhan Muks and Juhan Kangilaski, professional painters living in the town, were forced to produce large-scale works of propaganda that would decorate Viljandi on state holidays. In 1945, under the leadership of Muks, a 12-member art circle began its work, although it soon ceased its activities. Muks’ opportunities for freelance work and participation in the Estonian art scene came to an end in the late 1940s, when he was expelled from the Artists’ Union and ostracised.
Juhan Muks re-entered the world of art after the restoration of his membership in the Union of Artists of the Estonian SSR in 1960. At the time, he was the only professional painter in our small town. The artist had been badly affected by the forced hiatus and it took him a long time to find himself again and start exhibiting his work. The best of Juhan Muks’ landscapes were painted in the 1970s, and many of them exude a French character, which is expressed in a certain way in the transmission of air and colour perspective. In 1979, Juhan Muks was awarded the Konrad Mägi Medal, which is to this day the highest award for art in Estonia. Juhan Muks was the first medallist and also the only one on the list who knew Mägi personally and was taught by him at the Pallas Art School.
- Viljandi motif. 1930, oil.
- Viljandi panorama. 1932, oil. The baroque Viljandi Town Hall was reconstructed in 1931. The mayor of Viljandi at the time, August Maramaa, commissioned Juhan Muks to create a large-scale panorama on the wall of the assembly hall, a view from the cemetery on Riga Highway (now the Ugala Theatre), encompassing the area between St Paul’s Church and the castle hills. The painting was criticized for a lack of internal harmony and for a certain dullness (Sakala, 2.02. 1933). The work was removed from the town hall in 1958, during the Soviet occupation. It was replaced by a painting commissioned from Elmar Kits. The panorama is now back on the entrance hall wall of the Town Hall.
- Viljandi in winter. 1945, tempera on cardboard. One of the earliest known paintings with a view from the windows of the Muks’ Pikk Street home. The foreground of the work does not yet feature the buildings on Ranna Avenue designed in the second half of the 1940s by the town architect Ott Puuraid (1904-1986).
- Viljandi Lake. 1960, oil on plywood. Commissioned by the Viljandi District Library for the reading hall wall. The commission helped Muks financially, as the amount paid for it was taken into account when calculating his pension.
Vallikivi, M. 2020. Viljandi motif.
Rummo, V. 1999 My Memoirs Book VI, p. 7. Owned by the Kondas Centre
KEYWORDS: French style landscape paintings, the abundance of views from home windows in Estonian art.