UGA SKULME'S DRAWING SERIES 'BIBLE FOR THE POOR' (Ugas Skulmes zimejumu cikls 'Nabagu bibele')
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Uga Skulme (1895-1963) was one of the leading painters of the Riga Artists' Group, active propagandist of modernist ideas, erudite art critic and historian whose contribution to graphic arts has been hardly explored. His graphic series 'Bible for the Poor' from the 1920s reveal him as a skilled draftsman and creative interpreter of Biblical stories. The series forms part of the interwar developments of Latvian art and well illustrates the novel qualities of the Latvian modernists' turn to the realism. The artist's individual style transforms and integrates the experience of modernist experiments and leaning towards classical tradition that coincides with the contemporary scope of classicising and realist tendencies in European art, including the New Objectivity trend. During the so-called cubist episode Skulme's works are distinguished by individual quality that is both cubist and neo-classical. It was derived from Pablo Picasso's style and became particularly evident after Skulme's trip to Paris in 1923. The series and other stylistically close drawings from the mid-1920s show further changes in the artist's style that feature also in his paintings and book illustrations. Retaining his interest in constructive composition, strong drawing, pronounced and heavy volumes, the artist recreated Picasso's impulses into an increasing artistic individuality. The 'Bible for the Poor' convincingly demonstrates Skulme's individual style in the formal context of the mid-1920s with overlapping modernist, classical and realist tendencies and his leaning towards classical treatment of form. The known works from the series, usually dated by 1925, are two versions of 'Annunciation', 'Flight to Egypt', 'Nativity' and 'Crucifixion'. Some other drawings on religious subjects ('Lamentation', c. 1923; 'Baptism', 'Resurrection', early 1920s) are thematically close. According to Skulme's own statements, his series means the Bible from the poor people's viewpoint, not the medieval biblia pauperum. The artist freely combined scenes from Christ's life with contemporary or recent events, endowing them with genre-piece overtones but not with extreme social criticism.
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