Romans Suta and Sigismunds Vidbergs:Creative Dialogue Between Two Artists
Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova
Romans Suta 120th anniversary program
A comparison of the histories of Romans Suta (1896–1944) and Sigismunds Vidbergs (1890–1970) reveals a series of coincidences. The two Latvian artists were members of the Riga Group of Artists (Suta from the very beginning in 1919, Vidbergs from 1922), and they both left the group in 1926 because there were claims that the two of them had wasted the organisation’s researchers. In 1924, the artists established the porcelain painting workshop Baltars. They also drew cartoons for the satirical magazine Ho-Ho in the early 1920s. Suta and Vidbergs helped to establish the Riga Association of Graphic Artists and were members of it from 1928 until 1938, with Vidbergs serving as its chairman for a while. They both taught drawing at the Riga People’s University (Suta from 1929 until 1934, Vidbergs from 1927 until 1934). They also designed sets and costumes for many theatrical performances. For a few years, they both lived in the same building at 23 Lāčplēša Street in Riga, where the Baltars workshop and dishware store was found. During World War II, both Suta and Vidbergs departed from Latvia for good, with Suta moving to Georgia in 1941 and Vidbergs emigrating to Germany in 1944 and then to the United States.
Sigismunds Vidbergs’ favourite story lines included erotica, nightlife, those who enjoyed life, and the circus. All of these were often seen in Romans Suta’s works, as well. Still, although the two artists used the same technique for their compositions – Indian ink drawings – they interpreted the motifs very differently. Characters in Vidbergs’ art mostly represented the heights of society, while those who enjoyed life in Suta’s artworks were more likely to be members of the proletariat – workers, retailers and hoboes. Vidbergs’ erotic motifs involved a slightly refined and courtly Art Deco atmosphere, while Suta’s works were often rather brutal (Woman and Revolver). Still, Suta, unlike Vidbergs, produced farm scenes that were enormously organic and convincing (To Work). Vidbergs had an excellent sense of the rhythm of city life, which he very much admired. That is very clear in his artworks, in which urban landscapes look like impressive megalopolises, while Suta often presented them as a bitter and oppressive environment that was alien to human beings.
Vidbergs’ drawings always involved elegant and delicate lines, with an emphasis on the perfection and completion of technical drawings. Suta’s art, in turn, can create the false impression that it is accidental and spontaneous. The artist achieved the impression purposefully, and it is known that he often drew many versions of compositions before finishing an artwork. The different approach toward the interpretation of story lines and the technical aspects of the artworks was dictated by the differing worldviews and temperament of the two artists. Suta lived his life eagerly, was impulsive and a good conversationalist, and also an optimist with endless joie de vivre. Vidbergs, by contrast, was a sedate, reticent and elegant aesthete, always dressed perfectly and most gallant as a gentleman. The two artists were not close artists, but they got alone quite well. It may be that they felt that they were competitors to a certain degree, but they never engaged in open conflicts.
This exhibition shows a comparison of the achievements of two outstanding Latvian graphic artists in the 1920s and 1930s, and it offers a peculiar creative dialogue. The artworks in the exhibition demonstrate and emphasise the artistic specifics of both great artists.
The exhibits come from the collections of the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova, and private collections.