University of Tartu Art Museum, from 1 July to 30 September 2017

In 2016, the University of Tartu Museum and Rector’s Office started a joint project, the purpose of which was to supplement the portrait gallery of rectors who had held their position after Estonia regained its independence. The Museum owned portraits of Professors Jüri Kärner and Peeter Tulviste by Jüri Arrak but no formal portraits had been painted of their successors in office.

During the project, portraits of Professor Peeter Tulviste (1945–2017; Rector 1993–1998); Professor Jaak Aaviksoo (born 1954; Rector 1998–2006); Professor Alar Karis (born 1958; Rector 2007–2012) and Professor Volli Kalm (born 1953; Rector since 2012) were commissioned.

It was clear from the start that the person portrayed should make the final decision about selecting the artist but the shortlist of artists was prepared by an expert committee of researchers specialising in art, and representatives of the museum. After a long discussion, four original and talented artists were selected: Elo-Mai Mikelsaar (born 1989), Tõnis Saadoja (born 1980), Rauno Thomas Moss (born 1977) and Laurentsius (Lauri Sillak, born 1969).

Elo-Mai Mikelsaar, who defended her Master’s degree in painting in 2016 at the University of Tartu, no longer had the opportunity to meet Rector Peeter Tulviste in person when she painted the portrait, but Professor Tulviste’s family selected a photograph that provided the inspiration for the painting. While academic portraits usually have a neutral background, in Professor Tulviste’s case the artists decided to keep the backdrop that clearly references one of the great passions of the person portrayed—books. In the original photograph, Professor Tulviste was holding a large volume, which did not have a significant connection with the set of symbols in the painting. Mikelsaar said it seemed the most natural to her to paint him with a cantus book, a students’ book of songs from the first half of the previous century.

The author of Rector Jaak Aaviksoo’s portrait, Tõnis Saadoja, has received many prestigious art awards and acknowledgements (e.g., Konrad Mägi award in 2015; Kristjan Raud prize in 2013). The artist, who attended the Estonian Academy of Arts, has garnered a lot of attention in cultural circles with painting the ceiling of the Theatre NO99 and is primarily known for his photorealistic style. Just so, in painting the portrait of Professor Aaviksoo, he has, first and foremost, paid attention to the exact depiction of the portrayed person’s physical and characteristic traits.

The author of Rector Alar Karis’s portrait, Rauno Thomas Moss, has a long history with the University of Tartu, as he has been instructing the students of the Chair of Painting for years. He has had a part in raising several generations of new artists but in addition to teaching Moss has also dedicated time to painting. His works have caught the eye of museums and private collectors as well as been praised by art critics. Moss’s works are diverse, enveloping different subjects and styles of painting. In portraying Professor Karis, he consciously chose an academic standpoint and Karis is depicted on a background of classicist tones.

In the field of portraiture, Laurentsius (Lauri Sillak) is known for his strictly academic style of painting—a characteristic that stands out as bold and controversial in the modern art world. The artist has constructed Rector Volli Kalm’s portrait on the relations between light and shadow, brightness and darkness, which allows the viewer to interpret the character of the portrayed person and the office he holds.

Kadri Asmer

Referent at the University of Tartu Department of Art History, coordinator of the project of Rectors’ portraits.