Enn Kunila's Art Collection

Jaan Grünberg (1889—1969)

Jaan Grünberg can probably be considered one of the most French artists in the Estonian art of painting influenced by Frenchness in the 1930’s. Grünberg has, for instance, admitted in his memoirs that even though he began his studies in art at the Pallas Art School (at the age of 31 incidentally), it was not until he lived in Paris that he understood what being an artist means. He lived in Paris many times since 1926 for a total of nine years altogether. Thus the greater portion of his creative work is in private collections there, all the more so if we can believe the words of Elmar Kits that Grünberg’s works were reportedly remarkably popular in Parisian galleries (more popular than Wiiralt, for instance). Yet that is not what makes Grünberg a “French” artist.

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Jaan Grünberg

Still-life

1930’s

oil/paper

54.0 x 45.0 cm

Jaan Grünberg was 46 years old at the time that he completed this painting. A couple of years prior to this he had returned from Paris, where he had spent seven years, and in the preceding year he had finished what proved to be a brief career as an assistant lecturer at the Pallas Art School, which was Estonia’s best known art school (one of his students has recalled that “Grünberg was not actually the teaching type, even though he had more technical experience than others”.) Two years after this work was completed, Grünberg moved back to Paris, where he remained until the Second World War broke out.

His creative work quickly attracted attention in Estonia, even though he had been abroad for a long time. Grünberg is said to have been popular in Parisian galleries, where his works were sold notably frequently. Thus Grünberg wrote in his autobiography that most of the works he completed during the period he spent in Paris are in private collections there. His sharp perception of colour and the strong influences of French art attracted particular attention.

The high point of his creative work was the 1930’s, since in 1942 already his eyesight deteriorated due to paralysis. The works completed after he went into exile abroad were no longer at the same artistic level as before the Second World War.

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Jaan Grünberg

Flowers in a Vase (Paris)

1938

monotype, paper

21.5 x 20.5 cm

Jaan Grünberg’s favourite genre was landscape. His still-lifes are less well known. He was an active creator of artwork but many of his pre-war works remained abroad (he lived abroad for most of the 1930’s, after all). In the autobiography that Grünberg wrote with his own hand in 1936, he also admits that most of the works he completed during the first period he spent in Paris are in private Parisian collections. Thus this painting is one of the few examples in Estonia of the high point of Jaan Grünberg’s creative work.

Grünberg’s usage of colour became expressive and dark after 1935, replaced once again by lighter tones and a more tranquil and impressionist style in Paris (including 1938). On the occasion of an exhibition of six artists held in 1939, which was probably the most important exposition of Grünberg’s work in his Estonian homeland, Armin Tuulse wrote in the Postimees newspaper: "/.../ and works become visions of colour to an even greater extent, where the object-oriented part is reduced to a minimum. An instinctive and momentary painting technique related to the impressionists prevails.”

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Jaan Grünberg

Blazing Forest

1961

oil/paper

29.0 x 40.5 cm

Jaan Grünberg moved to Sweden during the Second World War and lived there for the rest of his life. Much like other expatriate Estonian artists, Grünberg never integrated into local Swedish artistic life, always remaining something of an outsider who had nothing to do with actual changes and shifts. Grünberg did not change much over time in terms of his creative work as well, focusing on nature scenes. Admittedly, their vigour and expressiveness increased over time. His former gentle sense of colour was replaced by much harsher moods and visional atmosphere. Blazing Forest also bears these same key words. Here as well, the artist focuses on the power of colour in place of precision in drawing – on what sort of intense emotion certain tones and the depiction of a seemingly abandoned forest are capable of generating.