Konrad Mägi is one of the most recognised Estonian painters of all times.
Konrad Mägi was born on 1 November 1878, into the family of the lord of Hellenurme Manor, in Tartu County. The family moved to Tartu when Konrad was 11 years old. His education was cut short as he started his working life early as an apprentice in the carpentry workshops of M. Sangernebo and Blum, and from 1897 to 1902 in the Bandelier furniture factory. Mägi’s deepening interest in art led him to study at the Stieglitz Art School, in St Petersburg, where, among other things, he studied furniture design. Forced to leave school after taking part in student unrest, he went with friends to Åland in the summer of 1906, where he made his first paintings. After moving to Helsinki in the autumn, Mägi worked as a transcriber of Estonian folk songs.
In 1907, the artist travelled to Paris, the city of his dreams, where he lived in La Ruche, a colony of artists and writers, and studied for a short time at open academies. Due to a lack of money, it was very difficult for Mägi to find better opportunities for further studies and for painting. Tired of life in the big city, Konrad Mägi travelled to Norway with his friends in 1908, initially for the summer. Despite the difficulties, the artist stayed there for two years and began to paint more actively. In Norway, he is known to have produced 75 paintings (or more, which he probably sold to earn money), mostly of deserted landscapes.
In 1910, Konrad Mägi managed to sell his paintings at art exhibitions in Tallinn and Tartu, which enabled him to return to Paris. Having hoped to make a breakthrough in the art community there, he was disappointed and returned to his homeland, via Germany, in 1912. In 1913, the artist was gripped by depression and, due to poor health and living conditions, he went to the island of Saaremaa to recuperate (https://konradmagi.ee/et/elulugu/).
Konrad Mägi came to Viljandi in the autumn of 1913, at the invitation of his childhood friend Frieda Sangernebo (1884–1949) and settled in the welcoming home of the Sangernebo-Baars family. The artist spent the next three years alternately in Viljandi and Tartu, painting in Viljandi, Saaremaa and Võru in the summer. He spent the autumn and winter teaching in Tartu. Mägi was constantly short of money, complaining of poor health and low spirits.
Konrad Mägi’s first major exhibition of one hundred paintings was put up at the end of 1913, in Viljandi, in the Koidu community centre. The artist and critic Jaan Vahtra (1882–1947) wrote in the local newspaper that Konrad Mägi’s works followed the latest French art trend and seemed too intense for the average person. According to Vahtra, Mägi’s paintings copied nature in a way that seemed natural to the untrained eye (Vallikivi, 2020).
From time to time, while living in Viljandi, Konrad Mägi painted together with Villem Ormisson (1892–1941), the son of the owner of the local Grand Hotel, who had studied under Wilhelms Purvitis at the Riga Art School. After Konrad Mägi’s death, Ormisson was invited to teach drawing and painting at the Pallas Art School, in Tartu, which Konrad Mägi had co-founded in 1919.
Mägi travelled in Europe again from 1921 to 1922, stopping for a longer period in Germany and Italy. His health gradually deteriorated and he died in Tartu, on 15 August 1925.
Konrad Mägi is thought to have completed a total of around 400 paintings, but half of them have been lost or destroyed. During the Soviet occupation, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mägi’s work was ostracised and banned from public display.
Oil painting. The Viljandi Landscape (1914–1915) is one of the first known works on the Viljandi theme to have been created using the dotting technique.
The views of the castle hills and the lake are more powerful, and it could be argued that the paintings of the ruins have an Italian flair.
Oil painting. Viljandi motif (1915–1917).
The style of this piece of art differs from that of earlier works made in Viljandi. The red-brick St Paul’s Church has an expressive effect against the blue sky. The painting was probably completed several years later, around the same time as the landscapes of Otepää and Lake Pühajärv. The fate of about ten works by Konrad Mägi depicting views of Viljandi and the precise nature of what they depict is unknown (Vallikivi, 2020). Five paintings (four from the castle hills and one from the Ugala Theatre)
KEYWORDS: talented painter, expressive paintings, volatile and depressive character.