View of Tartu

Endel Kõks View of Tartu 1938 oil, canvas 90 × 100 cm

In 1938, the 26-year-old Kõks was in his fourth year of study at the Pallas Art School. Pallas was located in Tartu and as the most important art school of that time in Estonia, its teachers and students often depicted the city of Tartu (a tradition that faded away after the Second World War when Tallinn developed into the centre of artistic life in Estonia).

This is an ideal landscape, a kind of hymn, but also an illusion or mirage. This artist was closely associated with Tartu. He wanted to paint a Song of Songs to his home town and to this end, he constructed a view that does not exist, yet which brings together all of Tartu’s most important symbolic structures. This is a romantic view of pre-industrial Tartu. In the artist’s opinion, the city’s atmosphere is borne first and foremost by its buildings and various architectural objects. Such animation of an urbanistic environment is comparable to paintings of nature, where mountains, lakes and forests are burdened with the same kind of meaningful charge – they are no longer ‘them themselves’, rather they symbolise something else as well that is situated outside of themselves. Kõks stresses symbolism not only in the composition, but also in the colouring, structuring the painting pyramidically, placing a couple of church towers at its tip and stressing the dramatic nature of the entire view, but also its majesty by the striking contrast between the red towers and the dark blue sky. In this work, painting is a means for Endel Kõks to create a personal dedication, but also for manipulating with the emotions of the viewers. Nowadays, however, this work can be viewed in an altogether more traumatic context since most of the buildings depicted have been permanently destroyed and the hymn to the city has become a dirge to a mirage.

This work was located in Sweden for decades in the collection of former University of Tartu Professor of Art History Sten Karling.