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Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis

23 Feb 2017Personal Essays

Few outside artistic or academic circles know much about Lithuanian artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis; however, those who once encountered with the paintings of this artist are well-aware of his genuinely unique and evocative style. Apart from being an established painter, Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis is known for his musical works, specifically symphonic poems. Throughout his short and tragic life, Ciurlionis enjoyed little recognition from his contemporaries. Out of his 200 paintings not a single one was sold during his lifetime. Only the most brilliant minds of those times appreciated his remarkable talent -- the French writer Remain Rolland once referred to Ciurlionis’s art as ‘a completely new continent,’ where the artist himself was ‘Christopher Columbus’ (Sepetis 1985).

It’s a sad fact of life that interest in Ciurlionis’s art that began to rise in the pre-World War I times faded away during the Soviet era. Soviet art critics perceived his artworks as too abstractionist and borrowing a stamp of Western influence:

‘Those petrified hearts could not be touched by the magnificence of form, nor the harmony of graceful, carefully chosen tones, nor the brilliant thought which pervaded every work of this true artist’ (Plioplys, 1984, p.12).
Ciurlionis’s failing health which led to his death at the young age of 35 didn’t prevent him from producing a powerful impact on Lithuanian, Russian, and European art. One of the best known paintings by Ciurlionis is called ‘Tranquility’.

Since the perception of art and beauty is highly subjective, it’s hard to think of universal criteria to measure artistic qualities of a certain piece. However, there is a broad consensus among the critics that there are certain criteria they apply when judging an art work.

First and foremost, the piece should be aesthetically pleasing, i.e. correspond to the all-common notion of beauty. It should be harmonious and evoking positive, elevated feelings. While there is a trend among contemporary artists to make their pieces arouse indignation and disgust with a view to delivering a certain message, I strongly deem that art and aesthetics are inherently linked. The second criterion is the quality of workmanship, i.e. the mastery of artists’ skills.

Another criterion which is very important is the uniqueness of artists’ manner. Great artists stand out for the peculiarity of their individual style. Some of them prefer to pioneer new forms and techniques, yet this is not a prerequisite for creating a style of your own. Many talented artists don’t break away from the tradition but simply find their own niche within the existing patterns of expression.

Finally, the forth criterion is the message the piece is trying to send. Here it’s necessary to take into account the importance and relevance of the message as well as how successful the piece is in delivering it.‘Tranquility’ is an infrequent example of an artwork that meets all the aforementioned for criteria. As for the aesthetic characteristics, all the works of Ciurlionis embrace harmony and beauty. The colors are subtle and delicate, and the composition of the painting demonstrates a skilled representation of space. Nothing in this painting is flashy or repulsive; it aroused sincere feelings of delight and rapture.

As for the craftsmanship of the artist, the technique he used is interesting in many ways. Tempera painting weren’t very popular in Ciurlionis’ times, yet he was devoted to this particular style. Indeed, Ciurlionis developed an artistic style of his own which unmistakably distinguishes his pictures from those of any other artist.As for his manner, it’s a combination of realist and symbolist style of expression. In that sense, the painter was ahead his time: impressionist and symbolism as artistic styles were in the earlier stage of their development in 1905, when the painting was created.

It’s quite evident that the painter draws his inspiration from the mysterious beauty of nature and life. However, the aim of his paintings is not to suggest a detailed portrayal of natural scenery but to convey a certain mood and atmosphere.

The artist has a unique vision, and he succeeds in sharing this vision with the viewer. When you’re viewing works of Ciurlionis, you get a profound feeling that you are physically present at the scene pictured in the piece. The painter calls upon the viewer to experience the fullness and majesty of life:

‘It is not only the magnificence of the symbols that are attractive and stirring but also the love of life and the ecstacy of living that emanate from the works’ (Sepetis, 1985, p.52).

As for the message the painting delivers, it’s also quite clear and powerful. Generally, works of Ciurlionis are noted for their rich and unusual symbolism. At the first glance, ‘Tranquility’ doesn’t bear much imagery and hidden symbols. However, has an archetypal appeal -- I believe every person will find some special memories and reminiscences connected and associated with the scene represented on the picture.

Evening by the sea is traditionally associated with calmness, serenity, and meditative mood. As the sunset highlights vague contours of the mighty cliff, the skies in the west are still bright, yet night is already encroaching in the east. The smooth passage from daylight to gloaming is depicted with great mastery and imagination. Two shimmering lights at the foot of a cliff may be regarded as a symbol of hope, placidity and complacency.
Indeed, ‘[t]he works of Ciurlionis pose the complex question of whether and to what extent the power of the creative imagination helps the artist perceive and transform reality into artistic images’ (Sepetis, 1985, p.51).Therefore, after giving a tough-but-fair evaluation of this particular work of art, it is obvious that it meets all four criteria suggested for the evaluation. ‘Tranquility’ by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis is aesthetically pleasing and evokes positive feelings in the viewer. Secondly, the painting is done with great mastery, and the painter demonstrates a style of his own. Finally, the painting sends its message through symbolic and archetypal appeal, and the message is effectively conveyed to the viewer.

References

  • Plioplys, A.V. 1984, ‘The Influence of M. K. Ciurlionis Upon His Contemporaries’, Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, vol.30, no.2, pp.11-24.
  • Sepetis, L. 1985, ‘Mikalojus Ciurlionis' Space and Time’, Soviet Life, vol.351, no.12, pp.50-53.

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