Gederts Eliass. Magic of Colour.
27.04.2012 - 23.05.2012
Tallinn, Roseni 8, Rotermann’s square.
Gederts Eliass was an artist and as the time passes the interest of him is growing.
He was rich and varied in his creative work, gifted with strong and peculiar talent and great working capacity. He was an artist who was distinguished and respected, he was even feared of, but still his personality has always been shrouded in mystery. That was determined not only by the difficult time, but also by his self-restraint and aloofness.
More than a 1000 oil paintings, hundreds of paintings in watercolours and pastels, thousands of drawings, articles on different art subjects – that is the creative legacy of G. Eliass, by which he has recorded striking pages in the history of Latvian art.
ĢedertsEliass was born on the 23rd of September 1887, at „Zileni”, Platone civil parish, Jelgava district. Parents Janis and Karline Eliass could give to their four children working habits, persistence, self-independence and accuracy in all matters. Besides mother had passed to Ģederts the skill to see the beautiful – both in small and large things.
The stable, aesthetic basis obtained in the family helped G. Eliass to live his life in conformity with himself. Even then when externals urged to compromise.
Parents provided good education for their children. After graduating from primary school G. Eliass studied in Jelgava in gymnasium Academia Petrina (1896 – 1897), but in 1898 he proceeded his studies in Jelgava science bias school. The teacher of drawing KārlisVīsners noticed the boy’s interest in art and urged him to study painting at his former student the young and talented painter JānisValters.
He after graduating from the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg in 1898 had opened a studio in Jelgava. In 1902 G. Eliass joined it. After some years (1904) he continued his studies in the private studio of Vilhelms Purvītis (famous Latvian painter, who founded Academy of Art) in Riga.
Like his eldest brother Kristaps and sister Maija, also G. Eliass was involved in illegal movement since school days in Jelgava. During the revolution period from 1905 till 1906 he was especially active. His studies were interrupted, because on December 22, 1906 G. Eliass was arrested for taking part in revolutionary activities. After a short while he was released on bail and tried to leave Latvia. The new revolutionary went to Europe with a forged passport (now he was Ludvigs Teodors Lilau), but 7 years later he returned as a learned painter and due to his expertise his colleagues called him the most educated Latvian artist of his time.
According to the artist’s information and to the memories of his contemporaries G.Eliass had studied at the Brussels’s Royal Academy of Arts from 1908 till 1913. The Royal Academy of Arts of Brussels had approved that Lilau Louis, born in Bershola (Russia) on September 11, 1886 and residing at 30 Braemt Street in Brussels had joined the academy on October 3, 1910 and had studied there till 1912.
G. Eliass’s teachers in painting were J. Delvil (1867 – 1951) and H. Rishir (1866 -– 1942).
G.Eliass educated not only in the academy. He was a regular visitor of Brussels’s museums and he often went to Paris during the last years of studies, where his sister Maija was studying at that time. His first visit to Paris was in 1910. The Brussels was famous for sculptures and roses, but in Paris art was everywhere. There was the Louvre, where the new artist could see works of well-known painters who especially attracted him, e.g., Rubens, Rembrandt, F. Halls and others.
After his studies at the Brussels’s Royal Academy of Arts Gederts Eliass went to Paris. There he stayed till April 27, 1913 and studied at Z. P. Loran (1838 – 1921), who worked in the Paris School of Arts, and also at Zilian’s Academy (together with his son Pol Alber), in the list of students of which one can also find the name of G. Eliass.
In 1914 the new artist returned to his fatherland. And soon afterwards he painted a rather unusual painting. Not because it was one of the few that was signed with his initials and dated, but also because the painting was unexpectedly melancholic, almost resigned in the mood that was rather unfamiliar for the artist’s works especially in the early period.
In 1916 Gederts Eliass went to Moscow where he lived some months up to 1917, visited different museums and exhibitions. Ģederts Eliass did not find anything anusual in Moscow, because Brussels and Paris with their artistic activities had given him priceless experience. Though the artist was rather critical in his expressions regarding the Russian art, it still gave him new impulses. Probably the influence of Moscow painting traditions changed the meaning of colours and the character of colouring of his paintings, though the line still preserved its ornamental value.
Gederts Eliass returned to Latvia in 1917. In 1919 he engaged in the activities of the group of Expressionists. For the first time in Riga his works were exhibited in 1919 in retrospective exhibition organised by the Expressionists’ group. From the 7th till the 28th of March 1920, the first exhibition of Riga artists’ group (the former Expressionists’ group) was organised at the Museum of Art, at which Gederts Eliass participated with 68 works. This exhibition remained the largest as to the number of works exhibited.
A great part of his life (from 1925 till 1953 with a pause during the German occupation) G. Eliass worked at the Academy of Arts of Latvia – first as a teacher of nude painting, afterwards as a master of figurative studio. While working in nude painting class, the artist much more turned to nude painting himself. In 1924 the painting „Sitting woman” was awarded a prize, in 1928 the Culture Fund granted him a scholarship for trips abroad for the painting „Swimmers in the evening”.
G. Eliass is considered to be the founder of pastoral genre in Latvian painting. Scenes from native “Zileni” everyday life are the greatest and truest portrayal of Latvian farmstead and its people in the national painting. In his paintings this theme acquired such a noble, philosophically universal and epically extended character for the first time. The artist talked without ideological enthusiasm or sentimental didactics about life where nature, person and work are inseparable: the nature is primitively beautiful and imperiously demanding, a person –uneventful in his sense of fatality on his ancestral land, but the hard work – only a part of everlasting rhythm.
Another important sphere for G. Eliass was writing articles in periodicals on different art subjects in the beginning of the 20th century. Notable is his work while heading General Art department of the Latvian Encyclopaedia from 1927 till 1940. His articles on different art subjects – Christian, primal, Afro art, baroque and classicism can be found in all the volumes except the 11th. Of course he paid attention also to English, French, Danish, Belgian and Italian art.
In 1940 the book “Contemporary French painting” written together with the eldest brother Kristaps Eliass was published.
Reports, essays, speeches written in postwar period are not published though they play an important role in Ģ.Eliass’s work as an art historian. The most significant and comprehensive as to the covered material are the reports on Giotto 1946/47 academic year), on Giorgione (1948), on painting technique and on art as an educational tool (1949).
The end of the 40-ties and the beginning of 50-ties was a very difficult period for G.Eliass. On the 25th of March 1949 his mother was exiled to Siberia. In January of 1951 his brother Kristaps was also exiled, but the fate of his sister Maija and her family was still unknown. Moreover in 1953 he was forced to leave the job in the Academy of Arts. After these difficult emotional experiences he rarely made new works and mainly exhibited works of earlier years. His active period in art was from the 20-ies till the 40-ies. In the second half of the fifties G. Eliass had painted many pastels, mainly portraits of interesting persons observed in train on the way to Jurmala. These works were not meant for exhibitions and the artist showed them almost to nobody.
In the end of the fifties G. Eliass worked at the painting „The year 1905”, which has several variants (both in oil and in pastels). These were memories of the youth as well as dedication to friends and comrades-in-arms.
Also in the sixties G. Eliass continued to paint. He made several excellent works with which he participated in exhibitions. The artist worked because he could not another way. „ ... Art for G. Eliass was like music for Beethoven, his eminent, only and beloved bride in all times, to whom he has dedicated his lifetime...”, says the artist’s wife H. Kairukštīte-Jaciniene, Latvian art scientist.