With the regeneration of the Estonian people at the beginning of the 19th century, the conscious and methodical evolution in every field of culture began in Estonia; only later were the figurative arts enhanced.
Architecture. – The Estonian nation could not erect monumental buildings until after having obtained a certain material stability, which happened in the second half of the last century. At the beginning of the century. XX the theater with the concert hall of the Wanemuine association was erected in Tartu designed by the Finnish architect Armas Lindgren. The forms of the young architecture of Finland made school, because that first theater was followed by other buildings for theaters, for companies and individuals, built by Estonian architects in the Finnish style, in several smaller cities. Finnish architects were also successful in the competitions held for major works: the construction of the Estonia Theater in Tallinn was entrusted to Lindgren and his collaborator Vivi Lönn, that of the building of the Credit Society in the same city to Eliel Saarinen, who also succeeded first in the competition for the city plan of Tallinn and later he supplied the plans for the new church of St Paul in Tartu. Estonian architects Eugenio Haberman and Erberto Johanson had to erect – partly on the foundations of the ancient castle of the Teutonic Order, on the so-called “Toommägi” of Tallinn – the most original and representative building of the independence of Estonia, ie the new parliament building. Presently in Estonian architecture there are two different currents: one is of a classical address, the other tends towards originality, either by continuing or modernizing the ancient Baltic tradition, or by creating new forms. The Association of Estonian Architects (Eesti Arhitektide Ühing).
Painting. – The first place in Estonian painting belongs to Johann Köler-Viljandi (1826-1899), first pupil and then professor at the Petersburg Academy, who devoted himself mainly to portrait and historical paintings, without neglecting the landscape. Among his younger contemporaries, the landscape painters Karel Ludwig Maibach (1833-1886) and Oscar Hoffmann (1851-1911) deserve to be mentioned; the former brought an understanding of the landscape proper to his masters Calame and Diday into Estonian art, and the other, also dedicated to genre painting, preferred to represent the life of Estonian peasants. These older painters were forced by circumstances to work outside their homeland, mostly in Petersburg, while the next generation of artists settled back in their homeland; among these are Ants Laipman (1866) and the twins Paul and Kristjan Raud (1865). The former soon acquired a reputation as a faithful and delicate portrait painter in his country; the second in the representation of the ancient events and sagas of Estonia, reaches a kind of mystical vision expressed with a technique that approaches the primitive manifestations of popular art. The more vigorous Laipman was at first a portraitist, but later travels and wanderings led him to the landscape; its flowers are also noteworthy. It was these artists who prepared the ground for the successors, who came mainly from the Parisian school. The landscape painter Konrad Mägi (1878-1925), who must be mentioned first here, has changed in various ways in the course of his evolution; began with stylized and almost enamelled landscapes, then moved on to impressionism, then he went so far as to follow German expressionism, to then emerge, after a trip to Italy, in a calm and sustained style. Mägi also attempted the portrait and some great compositions (Pietà, Crucifixion). The portraitist Nikolai Triik (1884) had a more stable address; his work can be divided into two groups: on the one hand the portraits and a series of life-size figures, on the other is the graphic work in which a nocturnal world, populated by oppressive and mysterious images, seeks its own expression. Between these two very different worlds, village paintings serve as a passage, within certain limits. A generation of individualists accompanies and follows the Mägi and the Triik: Aleksander Tassa (1882); Aleksander Uurits (1888-1918); Paul Burman (1888) with an impressionistic manner paints landscapes, animals and flowers; August Jansen (1881) begins with a colourism and compactness reminiscent of Kustodiev, but then prefers bright shades for his compositions, figures, landscapes and portraits; Roman Nyman (1881) reveals a cultured and educated spirit as much in the landscape as in the architecture and scenery; Peet Aren (1889), introduces the somewhat bizarre outline of the modern billboard into panel painting, and also performs very successful scenarîs. Ado Vabbe (1892), derived from Kandinskij, should be cited as a precursor of the Cubist and Futurist tendencies; he tends towards pure painting, which should be close to music. In addition to his compositions, the many illustrations for books made him popular. The closer we get to today’s era, the more varied and active the artistic life in Estonia becomes. With political independence, four main groups of art exhibitors were formed: the Pallas Art Society in Tartu, to which the school of fine arts of the same name is annexed, Eesti kujutavate kunstnikkude keskühing) of Tallinn, the League of Estonian Artists (Eesti kunstnikkude liit), also in Tallinn, and the Group (Rühm). The realists with moderate impressionists form the Liit, at the head of which are the Sepp, landscape painter, portraitist and genre painter, the Vihvelin, excellent in portrait and landscape, and the Ottenberg, who devoted himself to the landscape and marine. The Rühm, which has reconstructive tendencies and promotes exhibitions, counts among its most notable members the painters Ole and Johannsen, who excel above all in the figure, Akberg and Blumenfeldt, who deal with architecture, Vahtra and Laarman, who cultivate sculpture in wood. The other artists belong to Pallas or Ühing. Among the youngest we must remember the Weeber, the Bergman, and mainly the Wiiralt.
Sculpture. – August Weizenberg (1837-1921) must be remembered among the oldest Estonian sculptors, who was the first to try to shape the characters of the sagas and popular epics of Estonia. He also made a series of busts-portraits of the most famous characters. Amandus Adamson (1855-1929), an absolute realist in expression, although of an idealistic orientation, expert in all the techniques of sculpture, from wood to marble and bronze, reacted validly against the classicism of Weizenberg, formed on Canova and Thorwaldsen. . In the Russia of the tsars he was entrusted with the task of erecting the monument of the Romanov house, a work interrupted by the world war and the subsequent revolution. For his homeland, Adamson has created a series of memorials to the Estonian Liberation War. Jaan Koort (1883) contemporary of Mägi and Triik began his career by modeling powerful heads larger than natural, inspired by Bourdelle, but he soon abandoned this picturesque genre to give himself all to austere plastic, avoiding any pictorial research typical of art Egyptian, Gothic or primitive Florentine. And to give greater relief to these forms he uses the hardest materials, granite, basalt, oak, rosewood, and only rarely marble. Some sepulchral or war memorials and beautiful animal sculptures are due to the author. In independent Estonia, Woldemar Memik and Anton Starkopf have reached full development, as well as their pupil, Ferdinand Sannamees. of predominantly architectural spirit, and of portraits painted with a sense of measure and distinction. We must also mention J. Raudsepp and Heinrich Olvi, who can be called representatives of constructivism “in Estonian sculpture.
The minor arts (textile arts, worked leather, ceramics) have had a large and successful development, thanks to the systematic use of the motifs offered by popular art. The beginning of the movement dates back to the end of the last century; what was then timidly undertaken, today bears excellent results, but it is still far from exhausting all the possibilities that exist in this field. The organization and marketing of these products are in the hands of the limited company Kodukäsitöö (national handicraft).