Latvian Decorative Art and Design: end of the 19th century to the 1960s

Professional Latvian applied art grew out of folk art traditions and the ethnographic heritage. Professionally trained artists began to turn applied art at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Carpets, furniture and ceramics were produced from original artists’ sketches. Inspiration was drawn from the then popular European Art Nouveau (embroidered altar carpet from a design by Janis Rozentāls, samples of wallpaper patterns drawn by Jūlijs Straume).

The proclamation of Latvia’s independence in 1918 gave rise to a surge in patriotism. In the 1920s and 30s art was dominated by the national style brilliantly revealed in the furniture suites and and textiles designed by Ansis Cīrulis and Jūlijs Madernieks. For their part young artists found inspiration in European avant-garde movements and styles such as Cubism, Constructivism and Art Deco. The painters Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova and the graphic artist Sigismunds Videbergs founded the porcelain painting studio Baltars (1925-1928). The studio was awarded prizes at the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Art in Paris. To this day the contribution of the Baltars studio is regarded as a unique phenomenon in the context of European art styles and is among the treasures in Latvia’s Culture Canon.

 

After the Second World War, Latvia’s applied art was permeated by enforced Soviet ideology but the 1960s saw daring efforts challenging the established order. The features of the new style of modernism included laconism of geometric forms, colourfulness and experiments with new materials and techniques. This could be seen furniture design, ceramics and metal art. Of note is the fact that in 1961 a Textile Art department was established at the Academy of Art. The second floor display ends with a selection of works from this period emphasising their unified modernist stylistic.

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