A Modern Woman
On Thursday, 9 April at 4 pm the Adamson-Eric Museum opens the exhibition A Modern Woman. The display is located on all the floors of the museum and will remain open until 28 June.
The exhibition focuses on representations in Estonian art of the emancipated, modern, socially active woman with professional aspirations in the last years of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. According to the curator Kersti Koll, the display is centred around educated and sophisticated Estonian women who were active in different areas of life, as well as on the image of the “new, modern woman” in contemporary Estonian art, which was a popular subject in the international art scene of that era. Through the eyes of several well-known Estonian artists, we can admire outstanding women in our society and cultural history, as well as charming changes in fashion, urban lifestyle, accessories, attitudes and hobbies of different decades.
The women’s movement, which reached Estonia at the end of the 19th century and in the first decade of the 20th century, can be viewed as a process of equalising women’s social standing and rights with men’s, as well as one aspect in the general Europeanization of the country at that time. Women’s emancipation was one of the most exciting topics at the turn of the century all across Europe, and with a small lag in time the innovative ideas reached Estonia, too. The first half of the 20th century was characterised by very lively organisational activities of women. Their organisations dealt with equal rights and opportunities for women in society, professional and family life, education, youth activities, mothers’ and children’s welfare, healthcare, the temperance movement and many other issues.
In order for women to enter the public sphere, education was of vital importance. Since the beginning of the 19th century, young Estonian girls had gone to Finland to study since access to education was easier there. At the turn of the century, more and more Estonian girls attended local German- and Russian-language schools. In the first decades of the 20th century, the first Estonian-language gymnasiums for girls were founded in Tartu, Tallinn, Otepää, Viljandi, Kuressaare and Paide. New opportunities were created for vocational education in order to bring more women into public life. The desire for education took Estonian women to higher courses in Russia, to German-language universities in Europe, and to the progressive Nordic countries (mainly Finland), which were the first to allow women access to higher education. In 1915, women in Estonia finally received permission to enter the university as full-time students and, from then on, the number of women with higher education continually rose.
Educated women had an increasingly bigger say in society. At the beginning of the past century, a woman with good education could only work as a governess, often outside of Estonia. Step-by-step, their options widened in the fields of education, journalism, medicine and academic areas. Public recognition and acclaim was earned by female creators in various areas of culture.
Sports became more and more popular among women in the 20s and 30s, hand-in-hand with emancipation; it was part of a modern woman’s lifestyle, just like a short haircut, long pants and other accessories from men’s wardrobe, cuts that allowed active movement, bare arms, driving and smoking as manifestations of liberty.
Liina Siib has designed a sensitive display of a rare drawing of our first women’s rights activist, Lilli Suburg (1841–1923), images of the literary legends Anna Haava (1864−1957) and Marie Under, the first professional Estonian composer Miina Härma (1864−1941), and the exceptional singers Aino Tamm (1864−1945), Paula Brehm (1877–1941), Helmi Einer (1888−1968) and Therese Rei (1891−1976). Of the outstanding and gifted women from the theatres of the first half of the 20th century, we can admire charming depictions of Hilda Gleser (1893−1932), Ella Ilbak (1895−1997), Lilian Looring (1899−1963) and several others. The display includes self-portraits and accurate likenesses made by colleagues of the first-generation female artists Karin Luts (1904−1993), Anna Triik-Põllusaar (1902−1998), the sisters Lydia (1896−1965) and Natalie Mei (1900−1975), Amanda Jasmiin (1902−2006), Alma Koskel (1886−1942), Irmgard Luha (1901−1987) and others. There are sensitive portraits of the translators Livia Oras (1909−1986) and Arma Linde (1889−1930s?), who enriched the Estonian literary world. A large part of the exhibition focuses on remarkable women who were active in the public sphere in the first half of the 20th century, for instance, Mari Raamot (1872–1966), an enthusiastic leader of the education sphere and women’s defence organisation; Linda Eenpalu (1890−1967), an education and women’s rights activist; Helmi Jansen, a journalist; (1889−1960) and Anni Varma (1891–1957), a well-known educator and fighter for women’s vocational education opportunities.
The authors of displayed works include famous artists: Ants Laikmaa, Konrad Mägi, Nikolai Triik, AdoVabbe, Karl Pärsimägi, Karin Luts, Lydia Mei, Marie Kalmus, Anna Triik-Põllusaar, Felix Randel, Ferdi Sannamees, Kuno Veeber, Adamson-Eric, Endel Kõks, Eduard Wiiralt and others.
The exhibition A Modern Woman is the latest instalment in the series of exhibitions and seminars on women in art history, First Estonian Female Artists, which began in the Adamson-Eric Museum in 1995. The aims of the series have been to study, exhibit and include in the history of art the first-generation women artists in Estonia.
The exhibition is accompanied by education programmes which deal with the position of women in the past; these programmes are geared toward participants of different ages. There will also be concerts by the young female musician Mingo Rajandi and the band Redel Ruudus.
Curator of the exhibition
Tel: +372 644 5838, +372 5813 6012