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A glimpse at Ciurlionis' painted music

  • 2008-12-03
  • By Justinas Vainilavicius

The famous artist's surreal work is both calming and inspirational.

KAUNAS -  Autumn always comes and leaves unnoticed. One day the sun is high in the sky and the next everything is sinking in the darkness. I generally fail to acknowledge four seasons. There are only those two short months of summer for me. Everything else falls into the category of winter.
 Prominent artists here, fortunately, have different perspectives. Even the first Lithuanian-language poem, written by Kristijonas Donelaitis back in the 18th century, was called "The Seasons."
 Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis is another artist whose inspiration, among other muses, came from the changing seasons and the natural colors they offered. This painting and musical prodigy is a national pride, sometimes credited as the most famous Lithuanian artist that ever walked the earth. The majority of his work can be found in the M. K. Ciurlionis Museum in Kaunas.

 Feeling under the weather, I decided to cheer myself up with a healthy portion of fine arts. The museum building is a piece of art itself and is located in the hub of Kaunas' inter-war functional architecture area, which the city is famous for. Nearby lies another monument of the period 's the Zaliakalnis Railway Funicular, one of the oldest operational funiculars in Europe.
 It is not the first time I had visited the museum, but the small five lita (1.45 euro) entrance fee always surprises me. I feel even more uncomfortable using my 50 percent student discount. The state cherishes this place as much as I do, so it is financed well.

 When I see Ciurlionis art, I feel like I'm in one of those surrealistic fantasy dreams I occasionally have.
I could stare for hours at these paintings, especially the one called "The Altar." This ancient Mesopotamian ziggurat painted in bright red and ornamented with European looking fortifications, with rising fumes and the nearby river running through the desert is part of the artist's late period paintings. I see a symbol of faith, hope and sacrifice in it which sometimes is the last thing left to us. Ciurlionis is known for symbolism.
 He is also praised for the ability to depict music in his paintings by giving musical elements a visual form and imitating the rhythm and other components of the music. Ciurlionis painted the series of paintings, some of them to express the cycle or triptych, prelude and fugue or sonatas, divided into allegros, andantes, scherzos and finales.

 All of them take you to the fantastic land, cosmic journey, to the fairytale. It does not matter if it is the "Cycle of the Winter" or "Sonata of the Summer" or "The Zodiac," a magnificent cycle of twelve paintings. Everything is out of this world, and coming here always helps me hide from the freezing drizzly weather outside.

The Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis Art Museum, V. Putvinskio g. 55, Kaunas. Open 11am-5pm every day (except Mondays).