Madis from Torgu

Ants Laikmaa Madis from Torgu 1901 pastel, paper 56.4 × 42.4 cm

Ants Laikmaa was one of the figures who laid the foundations for Estonian artistic life at the beginning of the 20th century. It is difficult to overestimate his role as an artist, teacher and organiser of artistic life. He had studied in Düsseldorf, yet was disappointed with the conservative teaching there and shortly returned to his homeland, taking short trips to Paris and Munich as well in the meantime. He lived in his home neighbourhood at the time when he completed this painting and even though he was already 35 years old, his career as an artist was only then starting to take off. He worked a great deal and energetically, focusing now exclusively on portrait genre. Incidentally, it has been claimed that Laikmaa’s portraits completed at the beginning of the century introduced impressionism to Estonian art.

A longing for nationalist art often bore Laikmaa’s artistic quests, which is why his works frequently also focused on conveying nationalist messages. Thus this work is also noteworthy: the subject is a distant relative of Laikmaa, a rather prosperous farmer with an above average education. Back then, the strongest bearers of Estonia’s aspirations to independence were seen as originating from precisely that social class. Heatedly, Laikmaa severely criticised the manorial system in his writings of that time as a system that oppressed the people, while at the same time creating portraits with warm-hearted thoroughness of people who stuck in his mind from among the farmers. Contemporary intellectuals, village girls and gypsies were also among the people he depicted, yet portraits of farmers form a separate series.

Incidentally, this work was completed according to a photograph. According to recollections, “those kinds of clothes were already out of fashion in Vigala at the time this photograph was taken around 1870, but this codger from Torgu wanted to have his picture taken in exactly those clothes.”