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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis

Winter V, 1907, Mikalojus Ciurlionis
As I've noted in the case of a few other extremely versatile and talented individuals, it sometimes happens that they are equally talented in a number of different media, styles, and techniques. Picasso is a prime example. For most of his life, everything he touched turned (almost literally) to gold. What is somewhat more might even say exceedingly rare, is for an artist to display equally prodigious talent across several different disciplines having to do with the fine arts--music, painting, poetry, etc. Picasso, for all I know, may have been tone deaf, and his meager literary efforts are almost laughable as compared to his painting prowess. Although the Lithuanian painter, Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis was no Picasso, he far exceeded, not just Picasso, but the vast majority of all exceptional painters insofar as his talents in as many as three or four other creative disciplines. In fact, during his lifetime, Ciurlionis was probably better, known as a composer and musician as for his paintings, though he tended to consider them one and the same.

Some might consider Ciurlionis a composer who also
happened to paint pictures. Over his lifetime, he
composed some 400 pieces of music, but painted
only about 300 works of art.
Mikalojus Ciurlionis was born in 1875, the eldest of nine children. The small town of Senoji Varėna, in southeastern Lithuania where he was born was a part of the Russian empire at the time. His father was Polish, his mother was Lithuanian of Bavarian descent. Despite living in Lithuania, the family spoke only Polish. It wasn't until Mikalojus met his wife, Sofija, that he learned Lithuanian. In growing up, if ever there was one, Mikalojus was a child prodigy, though not, as you might suspect, in drawing or painting, but in music. He could play songs by ear when he was three and was sight-reading music by age seven. (His father was the town organist.) Shortly after finishing primary school, the young boy went to the musical school of Polish Prince Michał Ogiński in Plungė, where he learned to play the flute and several other instruments. Ciurlionis studied piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory from 1894 to 1899. For his graduation, in 1899, he wrote a cantata for mixed chorus and symphonic orchestra titled De Profundis (From the Depths). Later he attended composition lectures at the Leipzig Conservatory.

Sparks, 1906, Mikalojus Ciurlionis, one of his early
non-musical works.
It would seem that only after having mastered music did Ciurlionis decide to study art. He returned to Poland in 1902 where he studied drawing at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts from 1904 until 1906. After the 1905 Russian Revolution, which resulted in the loosening of cultural restrictions on the Empire's minorities, Ciurlionis began to identify himself as a Lithuanian. He co-founded, and participated in, the First Exhibition of Lithuanian Art in 1907 at the Palace in Vilnius. Later he was one of nineteen founders of the Lithuanian Union of Arts. Through this endeavor Ciurlionis met and married the art critic, Sofija Kymantaite in 1909 (a smart move for an up-and-coming artist).

Mikalojus Ciurlionis--less than ten years of art.
Less than a year later, he traveled to St. Petersburg, where he exhibited some of his paintings. On Christmas Eve Ciurlionis fell into a profound depression and was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital in Marki, Poland, northeast of Warsaw. In 1911, while still a patient there, Mikalojus Ciurlionis died of pneumonia at the age of thirty-five. As a painter, Ciurlionis contributed to Symbolism and Art Nouveau. As a representative of the fin de siècle epoch, he has often been considered one of the pioneers of abstract art in Europe.

Ciurlionis painted numerous series, many of them paralleling his musical
compositions. Much of his written music was destroyed during WW I.
Ciurlionis considered himself a synesthete, which is to say he claimed to perceived colors and music simultaneously. Many of his paintings are interrelated, falling into series such as the Creation of the Earth (above) while others bear the names of musical pieces: sonatas, fugues, and preludes. Ciurlionis was one of the few artist which, today, one can view the vast majority of his surviving works in a single place, the M.K. Ciurlionis Art Museum (below) in Kaunas, Lithuania.

The M.K. Ciurlionis Art Museum,
Kaunas, Lithuania.

I know how he felt.


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