From 11 September 2021 to 2 January 2022, a Latvian centenary exhibition, “The Riga Group of Artists – 100”, will be held in the Great Hall of the main building of the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga (Jaņa Rozentāla laukums 1).
The oeuvre of Aleksandra Beļcova, Jānis Cielavs, Ģederts Eliass, Jāzeps Grosvalds, Jēkabs Kazaks, Eduards Lindbergs, Jānis Liepiņš, Emīls Melderis, Marta Skulme, Oto Skulme, Uga Skulme, Niklāvs Strunke, Romans Suta, Leo Svemps, Erasts Šveics, Valdemārs Tone, Konrāds Ubāns, and Sigismunds Vidbergs reflects a creatively expressive period in the history of Latvian art.
After the gruelling years of the First World War, the young Latvian artists longed to fulfil their creative ambitions and hold exhibitions; accordingly, in 1920, a Riga Group of Artists was established. This first exhibition, which opened at the Riga City Art Museum, presented works by Ģederts Eliass, Jēkabs Kazaks, Eduards Lindbergs, Oto Skulme, Niklāvs Strunke, Romans Suta, Valdemārs Tone, Konrāds Ubāns, Aleksandra Beļcova, and Erasts Šveics. Also the works of Jāzeps Grosvalds, who had died in Paris on 1 February, were included. The Riga Group of Artists declared: “All of the recent years have been really tragic for our art; it seemed that in this sphere, too, we were approaching absolute ruin. Art no longer had any place in our society. In order to fight destitution and surrounding indifference, the artists needed great endurance and self sacrifice. We are no longer satisfied with the simple depiction of real life. Currently, all our strivings are directed towards revealing personality. It is not life, objective, outward life, that we now wish to present through our work, but our own individual character, our spiritual essence.” This first show marked a radical turning point in the quest for means of expression in Latvian painting, initiating a historic process of reassessment of values and thus earning legendary renown.
The exhibition shows the development of the work of the Riga Group of Artists, which is associated with the search for the individual manner of young painters during the First World War, the stylistic manifestations of Cubism and other innovative directions of the 1920s, as well as the transition to a painterly realistic way of expression in the early 1930s. In 1933, art historian Boris Vipper argued that the group “belongs among the most vivid phenomena in Riga art life. The group’s artists were unified by an undeniable commonality of stylistic interests, and nevertheless each of them has retained an independent concept of their own. All of the artworks indicate a serious, profound attitude towards art. Without exaggeration, we may say that the latest word in modern Latvian art is heard most convincingly and most comprehensively at exhibitions by the Riga Group.”
The Riga Group of Artists lost its independent status in 1938, with the founding of the Latvian Chamber of Literature and Art, within which the creative art groups continued their existence only as subdivisions of the Fine Art Section. These, too, were abolished by the Soviet authorities in 1940, and so the Riga Group of Artists ceased to exist as a circle of likeminded individuals. However, the artists continued to create, and the exhibition also discovers the activities of the members of the group during the 1940s – 1960s, both in Latvia and in exile.
In 2020, we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the group’s first chairman, Jēkabs Kazaks, and therefore a separate exhibition in the exhibition consists of his paintings, watercolours and drawings.
The publishing house Neputns has published the catalogue The Riga Group of Artists – 100 in Latvian and English.
Text by Dace Lamberga
Dr. art. Dace Lamberga, Exhibition Curator / Latvian National Museum of Art
Anna Heinrihsone, artist
Ieva Kalnača, Head of the Project Management Department / Latvian National Museum of Art