Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911) was an artist and composer who remains something of a national hero in his native Lithuania. Although his music is known worldwide, his art has rarely been exhibited outside Lithuania. However, an exhibition of his work opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London in September last year, and runs until 12 March.

Dulwich Picture Gallery is our local gallery, and has set something of a trend in holding pioneering exhibitions of the work of European artists who are little known beyond their own national borders, such as Norwegian artist Harald Sohlberg, who I wrote about in 2020.

Čiurlionis (pronounced Churlyoniss) was a symbolist artist, who is now considered one of the earliest pioneers of abstract art, as well as a contributor to art nouveau.

Lightning, 1909, tempura on cardboard

Although Čiurlionis died in his mid-30s, he left behind over 400 pieces of music and over 300 works of art and, according to Dulwich Picture Gallery, he was “engaged with the idea of our relationship with the celestial and the cosmos.” He was influenced by Lithuanian folklore (Lithuania was pagan and pantheistic before adopting Christianity in 1387), as well as science, religion and philosophy.

Fantasy (The Demon), 1909, Tempera on cardboard

Lithuanian culture and language were long repressed under Russian rule, until after the Russian Revolution of 1905, and Čiurlionis was a founding member of the Society of Lithuanian Art in 1907. In the following year he wrote of his hope for the establishment of a ‘House of the Nation’ – and that museum, the Kaunas-based M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum, has lent his works to the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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