The art before 1850
The art in Estonia before 1850 was influenced by the influence of Germany, Sweden and Russia. In the latter half of the 1400s, sculptor Bernt Notke was active in Tallinn. Michel Sittow, court painter at Karl 5, was born in Tallinn 1469. His paintings can be found in several of Europe’s major museums. The sculptor Arent Passer created a number of significant Renaissance sculptures in Tallinn in the late 16th century.
The art of the period 1850-1900
The art of the period 1850-1900 developed with the national currents that influenced cultural life in Estonia until independence in 1918. A pioneer was the painter Johan Köler (1826-99), educated at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. His best-known work is the Abbey painting in Karlskirken in Tallinn, and the portraits he made of his parents. The sculptor August Weizenberg (1837-1921) created style-creating sculptures with motifs from the Estonian national poet Kalevipoeg, and Amandus Adamson (1855-1229) created the Rusalka statue in Tallinn.
Konrad Vilhelm Mägi is a fine colorist who combines Art Nouveau and French neo-Impressionism in his Norwegian landscape paintings.
The art of the 20th century
Several art schools were created. Artists such as Ants Laikmaa and Kristjan Raud as well as Nikolai Triik tried in various ways to express a national uniqueness in the art. Raud performed expressive illustrations for a new edition of Kalevipoeg 1935. Laikmaa and Triik were skilled portrait painters.
Cubism and futurism were introduced in 1913 by Ado Vabbee, a close friend of Kandinsky. With the establishment of the Estonian State in 1918, the influence of German expressionism and Cubism became strong, and in 1924 the first Cubist exhibition was held in Tartu. The establishment of the Pallas art school in 1919 was of great importance to Estonian art. Most of the leading artists got their education here.
During World War II, some artists fled to Sweden and continued their business there.
Graphics has always had a prominent place in Estonian art, and the country’s internationally best-known artist is the graphic artist Eduard Wiiralt. He lived for many years in Paris, but returned to Estonia in the 1930s. He created pictures with motifs from Paris’ cafes and exotic animals in the Jardin des Plantes. In his Estonian motifs he clearly shows his love for his home country.
Following the Soviet takeover of power, and especially during the Stalin era, artistic freedom was severely restricted. In the 1950s paintings and sculptures were created to pay tribute to the new regime. In the 1960s, Estonian art freed itself from the Soviet art ideal. The possibilities for artistic expression that were found in modern art were once again discovered, and the artist group ANK 64 gained great influence under the leadership of Tonis Vint and Jüri Arrak. American pop art was introduced at the exhibition SOUP 69. Later Raoul Kurvits received international attention for his performance art.