Latvia is 100. History, art, traditions
16.11 - 13.01.2019

From November 16, 2018 to January 13, 2019, “Latvia is 100. History, art, traditions” exhibition will be on display at the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus. The exhibition is jointly organized by the National History Museum of Latvia, the Embassy of Latvia in Belarus and the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus and features more than 200 works of fine and decorative arts, introducing the rich history and diversity of the traditions of the Latvian people.

The surge in the development of Latvian national art happened in the 1890s. It was caused by the abrupt economic, social and cultural changes in Latvian society in the second half of the 19th century. The growing interest in history, ethnography and folklore had a great influence on the strengthening of the national identity. To identify and collect traditional culture objects, the Riga Latvian Society Commission of Knowledge organized expeditions to different regions of Latvia. In 1894–1895, Jānis Krēsliņš (1865–?) participated in these expeditions as an artist and photographer, whose scope of works, including drawings, watercolors, paintings and photographs, became an important historical source for studying the traditional culture.

One of the first Latvian artists who, at the end of the 19th century, under the influence of national romanticism, became actively involved in depicting the ancient history of Latvia, was Arturs Baumanis (1867–1904). He drew inspiration from studying chronicles, relatively poor archaeological material available at that time, and creating reconstructions of ancient Latvian costumes.

Vilhelms Purvītis (1872–1945) is one of the most famous Latvian artists of the late 19th – the first half of the 20th century, the founder of the school of landscape painting. He belonged to a new generation of Latvian masters who at the beginning of the 20th century tried to create national and modern art. Purvītis painted Latvian landscapes at different times of day and year, often referring to the natural motives that fascinated him – the spring floods, the melting snow, the reflection of trees in water. He loved to paint birch groves.

An important issue at the turn of the 19th century was the creation of professional Latvian applied art based on the traditions of folk crafts. Decorative ceramic plates created by potter Jēkabs Dranda (1853–1915) became a striking phenomenon of this time. The rich decoration combines the traditional pottery ornaments and the Art Nouveau motifs. In 1906, his works were exhibited at the International Arts and Crafts Fair in Milan and were awarded a silver medal.

The exhibition “Latvia is 100. History, art, traditions” widely represents the diverse artistic heritage of the outstanding master of applied art, painter and graphic artist Ansis Cīrulis (1883–1942). Early in his career, in 1907–1911, the artist was fond of ceramics. He drew inspiration for decorating his works by exploring the traditional ornament in the Latvian Museum of the Riga Latvian Society (now the National History Museum of Latvia) and perfecting his skills in Paris, where he examined the latest trends of the European applied art.

During the World War I, Ansis Cīrulis developed patterns for flags and breastplates for the Latvian riflemen battalions. In 1917–1918, the artist participated in the development of the standard of the national flag of Latvia.

After the creation of the Latvian state in 1918, a demand arose for the design of public interiors. In the competition for the decoration of representative premises in the residence of the President of Latvia in the Riga Castle, the “Revival” project by Ansis Cīrulis took the first place. From 1926 to 1932, the interior for the Hall of Accreditation of Ambassadors was created after his designs - ceilings and wall painting, furniture and carpets.

National romanticism continued to develop in the 1920s and 1930s and was manifested in painting, in decorative and applied art and design. Elements and motifs of the national ornament influenced the creation of the state and national symbols of the Republic of Latvia – the coat of arms, bank notes, coins and state awards.

The great enthusiasm the artist had towards the ancient Latvian history was due to the large-scale archaeological excavations and rich collections of archaeological objects in the State Historical Museum (now the National History Museum of Latvia). Forms and ornaments of the objects of ethnographic collections became a source of inspiration in search of the Latvian style for the artists. In applied art and design, the expression of the national identity was intertwined with the modern trends of the 1930s and the traits of the Art Deco style.

The continuity of the Latvian national traditions in art and culture has been preserved even after Latvia’s incorporation into the USSR. At the exhibition, these traditions will be presented by the works of Džemma Skulme (b. 1925) from the collection of the National Art Museum of Latvia, which were specially selected for display in Minsk as part of the exhibition project.

In the 21st century, preservation and use of national traditions in art is an important factor in the formation of national identity and the strengthening of belonging to the Latvian state.


Anita Meinarte,

Deputy Director in Collection,

National History Museum of Latvia


* The National History Museum of Latvia is the largest repository of Latvian material culture. It was founded in 1869, and today the collection of the museum consists of more than a million exhibits. The permanent exposition of the museum covers the period from the 9th century BC until 1991. In the near future, the National Museum of the History of Latvia will be substantially transformed and improved. In the second half of 2019, the museum will begin moving to new working premises and depositories. In turn, in 2023, it is planned to complete the renovation and restoration of the oldest part of the Riga Castle – the Convention, which is reserved for the needs of the museum expositions.

Back >>