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In the Theatre Loge

Johannes Greenberg In the Theatre Loge 1940–1944 oil, canvas 104.7 × 101.5 cm

Johannes Greenberg painted theatre motifs very often. Actors from the Estonia Theatre, but also stage scenes, were mostly the focus of his interest. This painting depicts the audience sitting in a loge of the Estonia Theatre – but it does this very surprisingly in many respects. Regardless of the festiveness of the event (which is indicated by the very elegant clothing worn by the people depicted in the painting), the people’s faces are melancholy and sad. This can be explained by the customary reticence of Greenberg’s models, but we can also draw parallels to other paintings by Greenberg, whose disposition was exceedingly sensitive, that were completed in the same time period (in other words during the Second World War). Works like Kodutud [The Homeless], Trööstija [The Comforter], Leinajad [Mourners], Kurbus [Sadness], etc. bore within them powerlessness and sadness. It has, among other things, been pointed out that in these works, the people in them do not stand, instead they sit. At the same time, surprising signals can also be noticed that speak of Greenberg’s deeply humanist attitude. Namely, the models are unquestionably people who belong to the higher social class of society – the loges at the Estonia were for the select few, it was a place that defined the elite. People sitting in the loges were quite often depicted in caricatures of the 1930s as being callous, indifferent and boorish, who are only interested in showing off. Greenberg does not think so. The people depicted in the painting do not wear a single item of jewellery, for instance, which considering the glamour of the event does not seem to be a mistake on the part of the artist, but rather comes across as a choice. Their poses do not reflect a sense of superiority, their expressions do not reflect incomprehension, and their clothing does not reflect arrogance. Additionally, we can be quite certain that unlike many scenes depicting actors or singers, this time Greenberg has not directly painted a view that he had seen, rather he has constructed a new reality in the painting.
Similarly to people, Greenberg also relates to colouring with a respectful sense of discretion. Instead of vivid contrasts and striking associations, he has preferred far more modest tones. The edges of the picture and the two models in the back are painted using especially muted colours. The artist has placed women wearing clothing in slightly brighter tones at the heart of the picture, but here as well we cannot speak of any particular dramatics of colour. Everything in this painting is based not on reality and its imitation, but rather on feelings, inklings and impressions. The theatre room itself is also conveyed only vaguely and sketchily, especially in the rear part of the picture. The artist’s focus is instead on the fragile dialogue between colours.