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Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

 

Lithuanian Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911) was only able to work briefly as a productive painter and composer. The word ‘associative’ has been used to describe his art and approach: he combined influences from nature, human relationships and new intellectual trends to create works in which all these disparate elements blend into a visual form.

Čiurlionis was born in Senoji Varėna near Vilnius into a well-to-do Polish-speaking family. He was a musical prodigy and after four years at a music school studied piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory from 1894 to 1899. Čiurlionis studied art in his native town of Druskininkai until 1901, and drawing at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts from 1904 to 1906. He always saw music and art as inextricably interconnected and many of his paintings bear musical titles, such as sonata, prelude or fugue.

He took an interest in the mythology of his native Lithuania and in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Rudolf Steiner. Čiurlionis was one of the initiators of, and a participant in, the First Exhibition of Lithuanian Art, which took place in 1907 in Vilnius, and he was one of the founders of the Lithuanian Union of Artists created soon thereafter.

Little known outside Eastern Europe, Čiurlionis was an important representative of the fin-de-siècle epoch and his work had a profound influence on modern Lithuanian culture. In 1910, suffering from clinical depression, he was admitted to a sanatorium in Pustelnik, north of Warsaw, where he died of pneumonia in 1911 at the age of thirty-five.