Makslinieka personibas traktejums latviesu makslas vestures monografijas: No pirmsakumiem lidz padomju eras norietam
THE ARTIST’S PERSONALITY IN LATVIAN ART-HISTORICAL MONOGRAPHS FROM THE BEGINNINGS TO THE LATE SOVIET PERIOD
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The genre of monograph based on the paradigmatic link between the artist’s life and work, dating back to Giorgio Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Artists’, had already fossilised and experienced a decline in the 20th century. Nevertheless, the turn of the 21st century in Latvia marks a period of unprecedented flourishing of the genre which invited to examine also historical precedents over the 20th century. More thorough publications were only to emerge since the 1920s in Latvia. In 1925 the Independent Artists’ Association started to publish a series of monographs ‘Latvian Art’ (on Alfreds Plite-Pleita, Janis Rozentals, Rudolfs Perle); after a break, their initiative was taken up again in 1938 (on Jazeps Grosvalds, Karlis Miesnieks, Karlis Zale). A considerable shift emerges in the focusing largely on the stories of success - the fortunes of romantic victims of adverse conditions, society’s indifference or their own addictions are replaced with largely praising, optimistic narratives about the artists being rooted in their native land, overcoming numerous difficulties only to express the national spirit, more or less echoing the authoritarian mood of the 1930s. After the Soviet system was established, the first monographic publications appeared in the early 1950s. The most acceptable artists were the classics of the late 19th and early 20th century (Karlis Huns, Julijs Feders, Janis Rozentals) whose art was genetically linked to realist traditions and Russian art. In the following decades, more and more artists were included in ‘the progressive stream of Latvian art’ by detecting ‘humanity’ and a ‘realist approach’ in their heritage. From the 1970s some monographs stepped back from the double trap of belletrist and ideological superficiality towards the tradition of the catalogue raisonné. Fluctuations between individual aspirations and determined, collective worldviews and psychological priorities typify the artists’ monographs published in Latvia; a general democratisation and ‘collectivisation’ of the genre in the 20th century spearheaded popular editions with reduced scientific content that had two main tasks: firstly, the preservation of the most valuable in the national art heritage and secondly, picking out the ‘progressive’ elements from this heritage according to certain ideological requirements.
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