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Italian art critic Arnaldo Colasanti: Konrad Mägi has a place in European art history


Ülle Toode, Rome

Konrad Mägi raised Estonian art to the level of European art capitals, said renowned Italian art critic Arnaldo Colasanti.


Arnaldo Colasanti, were you already familiar with Estonian art before studying the works presented in the Vittoriano Museum Complex in Rome?

I must admit that due to the limited and stereotypic way of thinking that can often be found in Italy, the culture of Estonia has often been undeservedly considered the culture of peripheral Europe.

Lithuania is is the best known Baltic state due to its significant contribution to Jewish culture and literature. As for Baltic visual arts, they’re unfortunately not that well known in Italy – as a result of our limited way of thinking.


How do you rate the collection of Estonian art that will be displayed in the Vittoriano Museum, in the European context?

It is a massive surprise for me. It shows that Estonian culture is not characterised solely by ‘loyalty’ to the big European capitals of art of the end of the 1800s and the start of the 1900s, especially Paris.

Estonian paintings have their own characteristics and identity in the cultural context of the European mainstream.

Loyalty may hide oppression, which can easily lead to provincialism.

However, we see something much more important here. It’s clear that Estonian art was living its own life and became a unique representative of its era.


Which of the authors has stood out the most for you?

Konrad Mägi. There is no doubt that his technical preparation was excellent, which is also proven by the story of his life.

He studied abroad, especially in Paris in 1907, and also in Italy later on.

I think he started using a very special way of painting when he was in Paris. This is now something we could expect considering that Mägi was primarily known as a landscape painter. In addition to landscapes, something new caught Mägi’s eye when he was in Paris – Fauvism.

Fauvism started in the early 1900s. It was already a thing of the past by the time Mägi arrived in Paris. But Mägi wasn’t interested in Fauvism as an imitator. He understood that there was something very significant in the way this style of painting played with colours. The colour tonalities of the Fauve painters were like musical states of mind.

This is not characteristic of French Fauve artists, but more reminiscent of the Berlin school of expressionism. Mägi therefore understood already that Fauvism with its power colours was moving towards expressionism.

The colours of the Fauve painters were taken over by the Berlin school and other German and Austrian expressionists.

This is what made Berlin and Paris the capitals of Europe in the 1900s.

It’s interesting that Mägi understood how to depict a system of forms in his highly rational and geographic paintings, which were painted in a very academic style in this sense.

When Mägi came to Italy and started painting local landscapes, he did adopt the Italian landscape painting style of the 1800s to some extent, but there was this completely new connection between the colour solution and geometry in his works.

Mägi can therefore be regarded as the author who shows us that Estonian painting with its point of view and unique experience easily holds its own among the art capitals of Europe in the 1900s, i.e. Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Geneva.

It would therefore be wrong to assume that Estonian art represents peripheral European art when compared to the capitals that were in the spotlight back then.

On the contrary, Estonian paintings clearly have their own characteristics and identity in the cultural context of the European mainstream.

The exhibition in the Vittoriano Museum Complex in Rome will therefore be very interesting and fits very well into the present time – the Italian presidency of the European Union ended a little while ago and was taken over by Latvia. It’s also significant that the world exposition EXPO will be held in Italy this year and its theme is to look for the common identity of the world’s people via food.


How do you rate the contribution of collectors in art history?

It’s very significant and the history of art proves it. This history owes its existence largely to the patrons or collectors who ordered and financed works of art.

It’s clear that collecting and patronage are also a business. However, the price of a painting may change unexpectedly. Collectors therefore have good foresight, they have money and also business acumen.

Collectors love art and want the works in their collections to be visible also to wider audiences.

Art collectors therefore cooperate a lot with national museums that often don’t have money or cannot act fast enough and acquire works of art due to bureaucratic obstacles.


Arnaldo Colasanti and Estonian art

When it became evident that the private collection of the golden era of Estonian art belonging to industrialist and merchant Enn Kunila was going to represent Estonia in the series of exhibitions at the EXPO in the Vittoriano Museum Complex, Arnaldo Colasanti decided to study it to find out which Estonian artists could be most interesting for Italian art audiences.

He was impressed by Konrad Mägi and finds that Mägi will become the new protagonist of 19th century European art. Colasanti (57) is a reputable art and literary critic in Italy who has been working as a TV host, journalist and writer for more than 30 years. For many years he has cooperated with Italy’s national public broadcasting company RAI TV and hosted a number of art and literature shows on radio and TV. He has also written comments and prefaces for the Italian editions of French literary classics (incl. Guy de Maupassant and Molière) and is the chief curator of several cultural festivals. His novels and critical writings have been published by well-known publishers such as Rizzoli and Mondadori. In 2002 Colasanti won the Italian literary award the Grinzane Cavour Prize for his novel “Gatti e scimmie” (“Cats and Monkeys”). In recent years Colasanti has been curating exhibitions of modernist and contemporary art all over Italy, including last year’s exhibition “Doppo Sogno: Da Warhol A Hirst, Da De Chirico A Boetti” in Turin. Colasanti is also the editor of the national monthly Poesia and the editor-in-chief of the Italian cultural philosophy magazine Nuovi Argomenti. He has also studied in the Department of Philosophy of the University of Rome Tor Vergata.


Published in Eesti Päevaleht on 23 January 2015