Masterpieces by Kasiulis reach his fatherland

  • 2010-10-20
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

JOY OF LIVING: The painting Moulin Rouge by Vytautas Kasiulis.

VILNIUS - Vilnius will have a new and unique museum. At the end of September, the Lithuanian Art Museum received a unique gift, which is the collection of 596 paintings by Vytautas Kasiulis. Kasiulis, who achieved worldwide recognition, was born in Lithuania in 1918 and died in 1995 in Paris where he spent most of his life. Modern art museums in Paris and New York, art galleries and collectors in France, the U.S., Canada, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, Australia, and Israel are proud to have paintings by Kasiulis, who was hailed by art critics as one of the most interesting Paris school painters in the second half of the 20th century. The museum of Kasiulis’ paintings will be opened after a year in the building on Gostauto Street 1.

On Sept. 29, the press conference to announce this good news was held in the Lithuanian Art Museum’s conference hall. The decision to donate the collection to Lithuania was made by Brone Kasiuliene, Kasiulis widow, not long before her recent death in France. She had some major doubts before the decision. “She was an old woman who visited Vilnius for the last time in 1940 when it was a small and bleak town,” said Romualdas Budrys, director of the Lithuanian Art Museum, who convinced Kasiuliene to donate the collection, resolving some of Kasiuliene’s queries regarding the donation.

“She was afraid that Lithuania will not continue to be independent. She was afraid that the Russians in their tanks will come back,” son of the famous painter, also Vytautas Kasiulis (but not a painter), said at the press conference about his mother’s doubts adding that the biggest impression of Vilnius for him is that everybody speaks the Lithuanian language in this city – he used to speak that language only to a few people in his native France.

Kasiulis, the future world-scale painting super star, was born in the Lithuanian town of Simnas. In 1937-1941, he studied at the Kaunas Art School. His first exhibition in 1943, held at the Vytautas Magnus Culture Museum in Kaunas, was a great success. In 1944, Kasiulis left for Austria and Germany for further studies and after the end of WWII, he had no possibility to return to his homeland. In 1948, Kasiulis arrived in Paris, the city of his dreams, where he stayed until the end of his days. “He made his way to Paris, where he got a job as a night watchman. By night he patrolled a radio shop with a revolver; by day he visited the galleries, marveled at the works of the French impressionists,” wrote the U.S. magazine Time in 1954 about Kasiulis’ first months in Paris. “People are worrying too much. After all, what do we really need? A room, a bed and one square meal a day. There is still plenty of sunshine around,” Kasiulis told Time in 1954. That article in Time about Kasiulis was titled Joy of Living.

Paris had an enormous influence on his art. His favorite subject was the same as to the majority of French artists of that period: lower-middle-class people, treated with traditional French gentle irony and admiration at the same time – it is enough to watch the French movies of the second half of the 20th century where, for example, a prostitute is always some good-hearted positive personage and the character of the main hero is usually far from the monumentally politically correct preaching of a typical Hollywood production.Kasiulis’ art is as joyful and colorful as the music video California Gurls by Katy Perry but at the same time it has some light sentimentalism in the style of Marc Chagall. Portraits of Eastern European Jews are also somewhat common to both painters. According to art critic Jean Chabanon, “the romantic world of Kasiulis turns us away from the common roads and surprises us with tenderness and nostalgia. The artist pictures the world of his imagination with great joy, where all people are poets and all things are decorations, where all gardens are gardens of paradise.”

In 2009, under the program Vilnius – European Capital of Culture 2009, more than 150 of Kasiulis’ paintings were on display at the Vilnius Picture Gallery. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite visited the exhibition and expressed her wish that the artistic legacy of Kasiulis would come to Lithuania. “Lithuania would become even more attractive to tourists. This idea could be driven forward by the ministries that promote incoming tourism, the Culture Ministry and the Economy Ministry,” Grybauskaite has said. Her wish came true.