Latvian Modernist Niklavs Strunke (1894–1966)

16th August – 23rd November, 2008


Niklavs Strunke (1894–1966), one of the most outstanding representatives of the 20th century Latvian avant-garde was a painter, graphic artist, book decorator, designer, theatrical artist, who boldly introduced the principles of modern stage design in Latvian theatre, but also an art critic and a successful essayist. His creative heritage and sparkling personality make him one of the greatest legends in Latvian cultural history.


Niklavs Strunke’s career began at the time the Republic of Latvia was born. Young Latvian artists were actively searching for own artistic language fit for the young sovereign country. The process culminated with a vigorous wave of avant-gardism in the early 1920’s. In the 1920’s, Niklavs Strunke dived headlong into the ideas of cubism, constructivism, suprematism, art deco, neo-pragmatism, metaphysical painting and futurism. At the same time he took active interest in the ethnographic heritage of different nations. His work is characterized by sensitive synthesis, decorative stylization, elegant rhythm of abstract formal language and clear-cut composition. Some of his works generate a rare metaphysical aura.


In 1909–1911, Niklavs Strunke studied at the St. Petersburg School of the Imperial Society of Promoting Arts with Nikolai Roerich and Ivan Bilibin as his mentors. In 1911–1913 he attended the studio of Mikhail Bernstein and in 1913–1914 studied at the Jūlijs Madernieks Art Studio in Riga. In 1923–1927 he received a scholarship from Latvian Cultural Foundation and was able to improve his skills in Berlin, Paris and Italy. Niklavs Strunke was one of the founding members of Latvian Artists’ Group in 1920. This cosmopolitan group represented modernism and played an inspiring role in the birth of the most important group in Estonian avant-garde art – the Estonian Artists’ Group in the early 1920’s.


In 1944, Niklavs Strunke escaped to Sweden and became one of the most remarkable figures of Latvian art in exile. His works are represented in different Latvian museums, in Malmö Art Museum, in London Tate Gallery and a number of private collections.


The exhibition “Latvian Modernist Niklavs Strunke (1894–1966)” is a result of the joint effort of Latvian National Art Museum, Adamson-Eric Museum and the Embassy of the Republic of Latvia. The exposition was chosen by art critic Aija Brasliņa from Latvian National Art Museum. One can see Strunke’s best paintings, graphic art, book illustrations and stage designs made in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His remarkable personality is introduced on photos.


In addition to the exhibition, a richly illustrated book “Latvian Classical Modernism of the Early-20th Century”, basing on the research of the Latvian art critic Dace Lamberga, will be published in Estonian in November. Educational programme “World Through the Art of Painting” (pre-registration by phone 644 5838), children’s art camp on August 25.-27. and a family event “Me and Daddy Becoming Artists” on November 9 at 1.00 p.m. will take place during the exhibition.


Aija Braslina (Latvian National Art Museum)
Kersti Koll (Art Museum of Estonia – Adamson-Eric Museum)

The exhibition “Latvian Modernist Niklavs Strunke (1894–1966)” is open until November 23rd.