“Wild Souls. Symbolism in the Baltic States” at Musée d’Orsay, Paris

But why did they name this exhibition “Wild Souls”?

Maybe to attract the crowds but it is misleading and does not serve this attractive exhibition well. If anything it’s just the opposite. When you walk through the show, if nature is omnipresent, it’s not wild but an intense, controled and quiet presence.

As my favourite art critic Philippe Dagen writes it in the newspaper Le Monde at end of April: “Not wild at all, these painters share a common history, which is European. They are not unaware of what is happening in Berlin, Vienna and Paris. Most began their education in St. Petersburg, which was not a stronghold of modernity around 1900, but many did travel to Western Europe, sometimes continuing their studies, visiting salons and museums. They know the German, Belgian, British or French symbolists with their chlorotic and languishing women, melancholic androgynous and nightmarish phantasmagoria. But they also know other contemporaries. The impressionists, Rodin, Whistler, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Böcklin, Klinger, Munch, Nabis, the Viennese: all are familiar to them, whatever their aesthetics. These Baltic artists participate in what is then an open space including the Russia of Cezanne and Matisse collectors: a space where men and ideas circulate freely and quickly, at the speed of the press and art magazines, among other means.”

With the exception of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the internationally renowned Lithuanian painter and composer, the works of the majority of these artists are being shown outside their country for the first time.

So this exhibition proves that Estonia, Letland and Lithuania are very much a part of Europe. Most of us are simply not familiar with them. This exhibition does a great job filling that gap with a most beautiful selection of paintings. You come out with the warm feeling of having met a distance relative you didn’t even know you had.

The immediate occasion for this exhibition is the centenary celebration of the Baltic states’ independence after the First World War.

Not to be missed!

10 April – 15 July 2018

Illustration: Johann Walter (1869-1932), Young peasant girl
Circa 1904
– Oil on canvasRiga, National Museum of Fine Arts of Latvia
© Photo Normunds Braslinš


Flavia Claes