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2015 | 18 | 66-83

Article title

Jāņa Jaunsudrabiņa ilustrācijas 'Baltajai grāmatai' – viens no pirmajiem primitīvisma piemēriem Latvijā


Title variants

Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš’ Illustrations for His 'White Book' – One of the Earliest Examples of Primitivism in Latvia

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Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš (1877–1962) was a talented writer who was also active in the visual arts – painting, book illustration, as well as art theory and criticism. One of Jaunsudrabiņš’ most outstanding contributions to literature and art is his collection of childhood memories 'The White Book', written and illustrated by the author. The first part of the book was published in 1914, the second in 1921, and this publication has retained its place in Latvia’s cultural scene up to the present, as evident from its inclusion in the Latvian Cultural Canon. During his work on illustrations for 'The White Book', Jaunsudrabiņš was inspired by children’s drawings. Firstly, as the book is an autobiographical narrative about the author’s, little Jancis’, childhood, it seems reasonable to accompany it with matching illustrations. Although the idea seems clear and simple, this approach was used in Latvia for the first time and artists illustrated books in a similar manner later too. Secondly, Jaunsudrabiņš’ study trips to Germany must also have left some influence; he travelled to Munich in 1905 and Berlin in 1908. His stay in the modern cities of the time could provide completely new impressions and experience of art. Thirdly, inspiration could have been found in printed or reprinted articles on children’s drawings in the local press, especially German publications that dealt with new art and primitivism as well as psychology and children’s education at an early age. One should mention that such artists as Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Paul Klee, Natalya Goncharova and many others also collected children’s drawings. Prior to the publication of the book’s first part in 1914, separate stories with illustrations and vignettes were issued. These small brochures demonstrate the artist’s wish to approximate the aesthetics of children’s drawings but he had not yet reached the level of stylisation that would appear in parts of the book published in 1914 and 1921. Illustrations of both parts of 'The White Book' feature simple ink lines that are in a sense reserved but viewers, children and adults alike, can quickly figure out what is depicted in these drawings.


  • Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova Museum, Latvian National Museum of Art, 57a Elizabetes Street, Riga LV-1050, Latvia


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Publication order reference


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