The Assessments of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis’s Work and His Image Formation in the Perspective of the Artist’s Anniversaries

Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis


  • Rasa Žukienė



Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, dissemination of work, representation, anniversary exhibitions, ethnic culture, national culture, Tretyakov Gallery, symbolism, modernism


The article shows how the perception and representation of the art of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911) was changing in the perspective of commemorations of his anniversaries. Already in the prewar period, two views of Čiurlionis were formed in Lithuania. Some people thought that he channelled the nation’s spirit, while others considered him a symbolist and a cosmopolitan. In Stalin’s era, the artist was condemned as a formalist. Later, the Soviet authorities cunningly used his creative heritage for propaganda purposes, and used his example to demonstrate their concern for national culture. Having created good conditions for exhibiting the artist’s works by funding the construction of an annex of the Čiurlionis Gallery at the Kaunas Museum (1965–1969), the Soviet authorities appropriated the representation of this art- ist, his image formation, and the organising of exhibitions of his works. The opinion of the museum’s employees about the protection of the paintings was disregarded. In 1975, an exhibition dedicated to Čiurlionis’s centenary was held in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. 60 paintings were displayed, and the exhibition attracted circa 240 thousand visitors. It was accompanied by commemorative events and scientific conferences in Moscow and Vilnius. The speakers were carefully selected in Moscow, and the presentations were censored and redacted. In general, the exhibition in the Tretyakov Gallery had a positive effect. It was visited by foreign diplomats based in Moscow and tourists, and thus, information about the Lithuanian symbolist hardly known in the West spread more widely.

Popularised and actualised, Čiurlionis’s art made an impact on the socio-cultural medium of Soviet Lithuania: it raised Lithuanian selfesteem, and helped to build a new layer of Lithuanian intellectuals who were hostile to the regime. Once again, the ideas of Čiurlionis’s painting became an important part of Lithuanian historical self-consciousness. However, increasing overtourism, annual commemorations, artists’ and poets’ dedications to Čiurlionis, numerous superficial writings in the popular press, as well as the scale of cultural industry had some features of a new cult, which was cultural rather than religious. In the Soviet period, Čiurlionis was presented to society as a genius artist and a herald of the bright future, while the philosophical basis of his work and such aspects as mysticism or creating a new artistic language were overlooked. The one-sidedness of analysis and research, and the aim to assess his work exclusively from the Marxist position did not allow placing this artist in an argumentative normative narrative of art history, which became a serious obstacle for his international fame.

Author Biography

Rasa Žukienė

Rasa Žukienė is an art historian and critic and Professor at the Faculty of Arts at Vytautas Magnus University. She explores the twentieth-century history of Lithuanian art, curates exhibitions, and takes interest in curating critique. Her research interests include various aspects of twentieth-century European art: the work of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911) and his contemporaries in the Baltic countries, the art of Lithuanian émigrés in Europe and the USA after World War II, new museology, modernist art, and the development of contemporary Lithuanian art. She has published several scientific monographs and compiled exhibition catalogues. The most important are the books on Čiurlionis, Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas, and the collections of émigré art in Lithuania. She is a member of the Lithuanian Artists’ Association, the Lithuanian Association of Art Historians, and the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). For her scholarly activity and promotion of art, Žukienė was awarded the Culture and Art Prize of the City of Kaunas (2008), the Scientist’s Prize of the Kaunas Municipality and the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences (2017) and the Culture and Art Prize of the Lithuanian Government (2019).



How to Cite

Žukienė, R. (2020). The Assessments of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis’s Work and His Image Formation in the Perspective of the Artist’s Anniversaries: Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (100), 137–166.