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2017 | 20 | 36-55

Article title

The World of Erich von Campenhausen: A Creative Spirit to Mark the Opening of a New Artistic Era in Riga… and Beyond (Art Historical Lacunae: A Case Study)


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The article deals with the diverse activities of the Baltic German artist Erich von Campenhausen (1872–1926) and analysis of his known works in the art-historical context. In his early period after returning to Riga from Karlsruhe where he studied engineering, the artist was more involved with applied arts while later he studied at the Karlsruhe Academy of Art (1909–1914) and took up painting and graphics to a greater extent. The so-called ‘play’ figures (Scherzfiguren) created around 1907 were ceramic sculptures of exotic animals, with their rounded forms reminding of Japanese netsuke. About the same time Campenhausen also made 18 ‘humorous art postcards’, coloured ink drawings, showing ‘joys and sufferings of a Negro boy’, according to the press of the time. Campehausen’s contribution to applied arts (design of plates and dishes, cutlery and furniture) is represented in the Baltic art yearbook ‘Bildende Kunst der Ostseeprovinzen’. In all, Campehausen’s approach was based on laconic aesthetics, envisioning beauty in simplicity that sharply differs from his younger brother Balthasar von Campenhausen’s output – rather Historicist interiors with Baroque forms and decorative weightiness of patterned, upholstered furniture and tapestries. Erich von Campenhausen also took part in the poster competition (1907–1908) organised by ‘Rigascher Kunstverein’ (Riga Art Society) to find the best solution to advertise society’s exhibitions in the recently opened Riga City Art Museum. Campenhausen’s poster features the image the sacred grove, the cradle of mystic spirituality important for National Romanticism. The poster can be perceived as a modernised interpretation of Arnold Böcklin’s work ‘Sacred Grove’ (1882) in the vein of Art Nouveau, comparable also to decorative solutions of Gustav Klimt. Fifteen years later, Campenhausen created another poster, announcing the lottery of the German Baltic Charitable Institution (1923) and depicting a fashionable young woman with a cornucopia.


  • University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK


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Publication order reference


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