Enn Kunila's Art Collection

Eerik Haamer (1908—1994)

Eerik Haamer had made a name for himself by the beginning of the 1940’s as an epic depictor of the life of people living on the seacoast, depicting the relationships between man and nature and between man and society. As such, his position in Estonian art was relatively unique and the art criticism of that time was very highly appreciative of him.

  • /

Eerik Haamer

Construction Workers

1942

oil/plywood

78.5 x 63.0 cm

Eerik Haamer became known in the 1940’s with works just like this one: dark colouring, epic action, serious-minded people, often in some way becoming one with nature or the land. The depiction of the theme of work and of working people was also frequent. The paintings Eel Fishermen, Eel Basket Emptiers and Logging in Winter, for instance, are known from the same year of 1942. Back then, Haamer often painted Ruhnu Island, yet in the summer of 1942, he went to sea with eel fishermen from Muhu Island fishing off the shores of Saaremaa. It is known that Haamer rarely used models in his painting. He often painted on plywood back then.

  • /

Eerik Haamer

Sheep Washers

1944-1945

oil/canvas

54.0 x 65.0 cm

In the spring of 1943, Eerik Haamer submitted his work Lambapesijad (Sheep Washers), on the theme of Ruhnu Island, to the conceptual design competition announced by the Directorate of Education of the Estonian Self-Administration, and won 1st prize in the painting category.

Lambapesijad turned out to be the last large figurative painting that Haamer painted in his Estonian homeland. He worked intensively on this painting and the conceptual design that earned first prize in May of 1943 was followed by the final completed work at the end of the summer.

The work depicts sheep washers on the little island of Ruhnu (no more than 400 people have ever lived there at any given time) – Ruhnu was a frequently occurring theme in Haamer’s oeuvre both before and after he left his homeland.

Four preliminary versions-sketches of this painting are known to have existed. The largest of them, which was on display at the Winter Art Exhibition that was held in February and March of 1944, is known only by way of a black and white photograph. The painting itself has most likely not survived. The remaining three sketches have survived and are located in Estonia. Compared to the other versions of Lambapesijad, this painting is more dynamic. The women who bustle about in both the foreground and the background create an energetic mood. In the midst of this sheep washing tumult, however, are two nude young women calmly drying themselves and a little girl with a dreamy expression in a skimpy little shirt. These three figures seemingly do not belong to this businesslike world. They do not nevertheless come across as foreign bodies, rather they blend into the composition. “Extraordinary situational authenticity,” to use the words of the artist Olev Subbi here in reference to Haamer.

Lambapesijad is an exceptional work in Haamer’s oeuvre from 1943–1944. His other paintings from that period are serious pictures of mankind’s struggle with the elements of nature, everyday life and fate.

  • /

Eerik Haamer

Ruhnu Landscape with a Harrower

ca. 1944

oil/masonite

61.0 x 73.0 cm

Eerik Haamer was born in Saaremaa, and discovered Ruhnu Island for himself in the 1930’s. Ruhnu’s natural settings, and even more so the cohabitation of the islanders with nature inspired him in creating several very important paintings. Haamer always sought generalisation from Ruhnu Island. He was not interested in precise ethnographic detail but rather in seeking and depicting the basic elements of humanity. In this painting as well, it was not so much the topographic location that was important but rather the topic of the painting and the artist’s generalising style. We see opulent nature, which is somewhat unusual in Haamer’s body of creative work, and man’s contact with that nature. Characteristically of Haamer, he examines the relationship between man and nature through work.

  • /

Eerik Haamer

Vaika Landscape

1945

oil/cardboard

60.0 x 73.0 cm

Eerik Haamer had made a name for himself by the beginning of the 1940’s as an epic depictor of the life of people living on the seacoast, depicting the relationships between man and nature and between man and society. As such, his position in Estonian art was relatively unique and the art criticism of that time was very highly appreciative of him. "Vaika Landscape", on the other hand, is a deeply personal work with a tragic background story. The home of the Haamer family had been destroyed by bombs dropped by Soviet bombers in the spring of 1944, and his wife had fled to Finland with their children before that already. Shortly thereafter, Eerik Haamer was also to travel to the Vaika islands and stayed there for a few days with a lighthouse keeper that he knew. The Vaika islands are Estonia’s westernmost tip and Haamer decided to flee to Sweden from there by boat with some companions.

This work was completed when he was already in Sweden, depicting his last view of his homeland. This subject was so important to Haamer that he repeated it several times during his years in exile. The final version of the painting was completed nearly 40 years after he had left his homeland.

  • /

Eerik Haamer

Harbour

1945

oil/cardboard

41.0 x 33.0 cm

"Harbour" is one of the first works that Haamer completed in exile since he left Estonia in 1944. The colouring is characteristic of Haamer’s works from the 1940’s. This is a painting that probably was completed on the spot directly. Symbolic interpretations of departures, exile and other such aspects can also be seen in the harbour motif if one is so inclined. Haamer lived in Kungälv, a Swedish town located on the west coast directly on the seashore, until the end of his life. Yet first he moved with his family to Göteborg. It is possible that it is the Göteborg harbour that is depicted here.