Lydia Nirk-Soosaar was born on 30 June 1908, in Viljandi, into a large family. Her father, Peter, a merchant, was very strict and demanding, while her mother, Maria, who was a governess to the children of the German barons, was gentle and tender.

Lydia, one of four sisters, loved to draw. She spent her summers with her sister Nadiya near Holstre, painting the surrounding countryside. When Lydia Nirk was studying at the Viljandi Town Gymnasium for Girls, Ants Murakin, a drawing teacher, was a great role model for her. The teacher’s paintings were displayed on the walls of the school, captivating young Lydia with their beautiful colours. After graduating from the gymnasium in 1926, she tried several professions in Viljandi and Tartu, but ‘her heart was always with painting’. In 1927, Lydia began to take private painting lessons from Ants Murakin, and then enrolled in the Pallas Art School, in Tartu. Lydia’s tutors during her nine-year studies were Jaan Vahtra, in the preparatory class, Villem Ormisson, in the painting class, as well as Nikolai Triik and Ado Vabbe. In Viljandi, Lydia Nirk-Soosaar often painted portraits together with Karl Pärsimägi and Eduard Timbermann and participated in exhibitions organised by Timbermann. A longer period of silence came into the artist’s life after she was expelled from the Artists’ Union in 1949, accused of bourgeois nationalism. For decades, the artist’s days were filled with housework, taking care of children and animals, and doing farm work, until the family moved to Tallinn in 1969.

In her memoirs, Lydia Nirk-Soosaar has said that she had not been able to paint as much as she would have liked to. She was only readmitted to the Artists’ Union in 1990. She had already participated in national annual exhibitions earlier, and her solo exhibitions were held in Tallinn and Pärnu in 1979, in Viljandi and Haapsalu in 1981, and in Pärnu and Viljandi in 1993, which was her last exhibition.

In her older years, Lydia Nirk-Soosaar painted some lush Viljandi motifs. One of the most important features of the artist’s work was the translucent underpainting, done in red madder lake. One such work is a bush on Õuna Street, painted in early spring, which began to obscure the view of the lake. The artist used strong lines, often warm reds, never orange or purple. She preferred dark warm tones to light and cold ones, although she also liked grey. Lydia Nirk-Soosaar has also been called a painter of children, and she liked to paint old trees and the sea. The creative process was often more important to the artist than the end result and the viewer’s feedback. Lydia Nirk Soosaar died on 11 March 1995, in Tallinn.

Viljandi motif, Vallikivi 2020. Bigger on the inside than on the outside, Mark Soosaar

Õuna Street, Viljandi landscape, p 171

Viljandi castle ruins, p 71

Lydia Nirk-Soosaar (1908- 1995):
Viljandi landscape 1981. Oil, cardboard. 72 x 83 cm.
Private collection

Lydia Nirk-Soosaar (1908-1995)
Viljandi castle ruins 1935. Oil on canvas. 62×78 cm.
Private collection

KEYWORDS: translucent red underpainting, one of the few female artists from Viljandi.