10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
10/01/2023
Reviews
Jelena Sofronijevic
Worlds Together, Poles Apart (Part One): M.K. Čiurlionis at Dulwich Picture Gallery
In the first of our two-part series of articles exploring myth and human/nature in current exhibitions, we take a look at M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds, currently showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery...

‘Lithuania was an essentially Polish society,’ says Kathleen Soriano, curator of the transcendent M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds. The exhibition is a Lithuanian mythfest, celebrating the country’s greatest artist – but one which transcends its Baltic setting.

Polish and Lithuanian histories were ‘entwined’ between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Russian occupation – and cultural Russification – from the nineteenth left Lithuania’s distinctive culture to the preserve of the working classes. Whilst cultural concessions were made after the Russian Revolution in 1905, formal independence wouldn’t come until after World War I – and then, under German occupation. 

M.K. Čiurlionis advocated for Lithuanian independence from the 1890s. A founder member of the Society of Lithuanian Art, he proposed a House of the Nation (1908), to which he pledged to donate his entire collection. An interdisciplinary and total artist, he saw art as an accessible means of telling stories of Lithuanian politics and history: ‘the path to great national art was through its folklore’. It delighted him that a farmer saw and immediately understood the story of his ‘Fairy Tale I-III’ (1907). 

Still, his world orbited around Polish and Russian influences, from his studies at the Institute of Music in Poland, to his time at the Warsaw School of Drawing (later Fine Arts) and Leipzig. 

Serenity, M.K. Čiurlionis (1904/1905)

Čiurlionis’ other-worldly explorations are symbolic to the point of abstraction – perhaps even surrealism. But they are best characterised by their dualism; though transcendental, a constant ‘earthly connectivity’ grounds the artist and his work. Never detached, he explores how his physical reality, and other worlds, connect. The crux here is how he moves between states, not static in some ‘liminal space’, in rippling landscapes and natural environments. 

As the last European country to adopt Christianity in 1387, Lithuania has a strong tradition of paganism and pantheism. This plurality manifests in his practice, producing multiple works in cycles to be seen together. Again, the artist’s works look to the relations between Lithuanian mythology, folklore, and religion and science; not a binary either or. 

Iconography abounds, but it’s quietly critical. His series ‘Creation of the World I-XIII’ (1905-1906) focusses on the construction of our – and other fantastical – worlds, not the limiting prescription of The Bible. Likewise, the piece ‘Hymn I-III’ (1906) co-opts the triptych form, packing a great philosophical message into small cardboard canvasses. It is this concentration – in part a necessity due to the high cost of art materials – that make his works so powerful, says Soriano. 

Sparks III, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

Many motifs crop up time and again; stars are Lithuanian ‘sisters in the sky’, responsible for graves, whilst space is the place where souls dwell. Elsewhere, they embody the artist’s global mindset, and open-minded interest in other religions and spiritual traditions.

‘The Zodiac’ cycle (1906-1907) reflects Čiurlionis reading of the ancient Indian Vedas (Vedic Sanskrit texts). So too the recently published works of astronomer Camille Flammarion. Flammarion’s study of ancient celestial tables sought out unexpected connections between places and peoples; his History of the Heavens pointed out words shared in Sanskrit and Lithuanian. Astrology and astronomy, spirituality and science – that bothness, again.

Staring into ‘The Sun’ (1907), we see Polish interests in Hinduism, Ancient Egyptian practices of sun worship, and the cult of Prometheus, the fiery Robin Hood of classical Greek mythology, oft celebrated by artists. In others are torii, Japanese temple gate architecture. There’s no hint of orientalism - Čiurlionis does not create meaningless hybrids, non-specific, or exotic ‘others’. He isn’t seeking escape, but imagining alternatives, grounded in his experience of the present.

Sonata No 7. Sonata of the Pyramids: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

Though not geographically well-travelled, Čiurlionis was ‘culturally voracious’, debating Darwin in Warsaw’s literary salons, or savouring minerals and geological rocks in Munich’s museums. For Soriano, his futuristic visions stride ahead of the cinema of Georges Méliès and Sergei Eisenstein. Why bother with trains, when one’s gaze transcends the world?

Some works are startlingly modern. From figuration into totally ambiguous forms, he strays even into surrealism with three-dimensional lightning bolts. Abstract black protest flags combined with the flock of birds, a traditional Lithuanian symbol of the fallen, show the artist’s awareness of political protests in Warsaw, alongside his own commitment to Lithuanian independence. 

Sorrow I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906/1907)

Indeed, his strong symbolist undertones come not from visiting Paris, but from the many works encountered during his studies around Eastern Europe. He lapped up Japanese prints in Warsaw, the ‘German’ Hodler and American Whistler, and was left starry-eyed by the works of van Gogh and Monet. 

Indeed, French post-/Impressionist works were amongst his favourites; his letters had ‘little to say’ about the English or Italians. Like Gustave Courbet, he loved the sea. Swimming further out, going deeper, the artist always wanted to see life beyond the shore.

Between Worlds boldly claims Čiurlionis as the first European abstract artist. ‘Kandinsky’s wife’ (a woman unnamed – we hope not Gabriele Münter) would say otherwise, as would those who push the work of the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Perhaps Čiurlionis would never be so arrogant to say.

Lightning, M.K. Čiurlionis (1909)

But his efforts to synergize art and music – like the parallel movement to acknowledge the fine and applied arts – were far beyond his contemporaries. Others merely gave their paintings musical titles. But the musician-first literally fused music and painting, composing his works to be read like sheet musical notation. Praise rare, he no doubt more greatly valued the views of his fellow musician Stravinsky, who called him ‘the most talented member of the Russian School’. 

Seven Sonata cycles were painted between 1907 and 1909 alone. His musicality is reflected too in the lyrical captions and curation. ‘Raigardas’ (1907) speaks both to his love for his birthplace Druskininkai, and its harrowing legend, a city of wealth punished, sunken into the ground, and haunted by night. 

The artist’s music rings around the Mausoleum, a cold, church-like room in the centre of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Its architect, Sir John Soane, spoke of its uniquely ‘religious’ atmosphere. 

But the connection goes deeper. Much of Dulwich’s collection was commissioned by King Stanislaus II of Poland in 1790, first intended as the basis of his Royal Collection in Warsaw. By 1795, Poland had been partitioned by its more powerful neighbours, disappeared as an independent state, forcing the King to abdicate. What was to be Poland’s first national collection would become the core of England’s first purpose-built public art gallery. This exhibition – drawn entirely from the artist’s national museum in Lithuania – is merely another link back to its European home. 

This remarkable exhibition continues to constellate connections. Local art students at UAL were invited to respond to his work, their products on sale in the shop. It gushes out accessible information – a phonetic pronunciation in the first caption (it’s chur-lon-iss), interviews around key works with the curator Kathleen Soriano, and a soundtrack, on the Bloomberg Connects app. Even my algorithm-targeted social media ads have been a delight, impossible to scroll past.

Sometimes this additional information confuses the narrative of Between Worlds – his works suggest a titanic visionary, Soriano calls him out as less confident. But its wealth makes it the best sort of exhibition – one entered with little context or knowledge, perhaps even scepticism, but left with a newfound love.

Daybreak I-II, M.K. Čiurlionis (1906)

1902 to 1907 were Čiurlionis’ most ‘feverishly creative years’ (‘I work more than ten hours a day. I don’t know how time slips by,’ he wrote to his wife, Sofija). Late to his second practice, and already an established musician, he enjoyed little commercial success as a visual artist in his life. An early death, from poor health, pneumonia, and depression, put an end to a promising career, already comprising over 400 musical compositions and 300 artworks.

But even his final works are filled with hope. For other fin de siècle artists, the modern city was archetyped as a dead, corrupted, industrial sprawl. Čiurlionis saw beyond this Baudelaire-like vision, to something glorious, even utopic. His paintings seen thus are plans – well-curated with his sketches, their plans – for a brighter world. 

The tower, the symbol of human achievement, is here always overshadowed by higher powers, by light. It was this Lithuanian myth and folklore that always served as his comfort, companionship – a common thread with the sculptor and textile artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz.

This article is part of Worlds Together, Poles Apart, a two-part series exploring myth and human/nature in the art of M.K. Čiurlionis and Magdalena Abakanowicz. For more, click here to read our review of Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, on view at Tate Modern until 21st May.

M.K. Čiurlionis: Between Worlds is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 13th March. Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

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