Tahiti and Latin America, by Juan Rimsa

  • 2010-07-21
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

GAUGUIN-STYLE TAHITI: Tamure (Dance of Love), painted by Jonas Rimsa in 1972-1974. The painting is under the ownership of former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.

VILNIUS - Those who suffer from the heat in Vilnius’ Old Town can take temporary refuge in the palace of a former nobleman of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, on Didzioji Street 4, where the Vilnius Picture Gallery (a branch of the Lithuanian Art Museum) is situated, and enjoy the cool temperatures and the spiritual heat of paintings by Jonas Rimsa (internationally better known as Juan Rimsa). The exhibition of his 105 paintings is called “The Call of the Tropics: Argentina-Bolivia-Tahiti.”
Rimsa painted the life of natives in Latin America a lot - he was probably the most influential painter of Bolivia. He also painted in Tahiti - there is an opinion that he was some kind of Lithuanian Paul Gauguin, though his main obsession was the remains of the Inca civilization in South America.

Rimsa was born in Svedasai, the Anyksciai region, in 1903, a month after the death of Paul Gauguin. Some can see a reincarnation of Gauguin in Rimsa because their styles of painting are sometimes very similar, especially in the series of paintings of Tahiti.

Rimsa’s father was tailor in Kaunas, and Lithuanian President Antanas Smetona was among his clients. No wonder that the father sent his son to Vienna to study tailoring. However, the 20-year old Rimsa got more interested in painting than tailoring there. In 1929 he arrived in Argentina, where from 1931-1934 he studied in the Buenos Aires Art Academy. Rimsa was interested in the ancient civilization of pre-colonial inhabitants of America. There are not many of them in the very European Argentina – so, in 1936 he moved to Bolivia, where the pre-Spanish populations of the Quechua and Aymara ethnic groups make up a majority of the population. Prior to Spanish colonization, the Andean region of Bolivia was a part of the Inca Empire.

Rimsa became a celebrity there. The Bolivian government bought 300 paintings from him. These paintings were announced to be a national treasure of Bolivia and were forbidden to be taken out of the country. These paintings were given by the country’s government to the custody of the municipality of La Paz, Bolivia’s capital city, and various Bolivian state institutions. Rimsa was awarded with the National Order of the Condor of the Andes, which is the highest order awarded to civilians there. He also received Bolivian honorary citizenship. Rimsa remained proud of his Lithuanian roots and was marking the certificates of his paintings with the words pintor lituano (“Lithuanian painter” in Spanish).

In 1958 Rimsa arrived in the United States, where he became a friend of Valdas Adamkus (who 40 years later became president of Lithuania) and other Lithuanian-Americans – they financed his trip to French Polynesia and a six-month stay in Tahiti, which was dear to Rimsa because, several decades earlier, his idol Gauguin painted his best paintings there.
One of the best paintings of Rimsa is “Tamure” (Dance of Love). It is the Tahiti locals’ dance, which was persecuted by the narrow-minded and quite aggressive Christian missionaries. Girls in Tahiti shake their hips round and round, like a washing machine, while dancing Tamure. Rimsa would probably share the later notion of Shakira, stating that “hips don’t lie” - he grew fascinated with the Tamure.

From 1967, Rimsa lived in Santa Monica, California. He died in 1978. The exhibition’s paintings are from private Lithuanian collections, including the collection of President Adamkus and his wife Alma. The exhibition is held until Sept. 5. o

The entry ticket costs 6 litas (1.74 euros). Open: Tuesday – Saturday 11.00–18.00
Sundays and before national holidays 12.00–17.00.
Museum is closed on Mondays and during national holidays.