Arts and a Nation

The Role of Visual Arts and Artists in the Making of the Latvian Identity, 1905-1940


Focusing on the role of arts in the construction of national identity, Suzanne Pourchier-Plasseraud has chosen to study the case of a country lacking an ancient state history of its own, Latvia. This book analyses the part played by the visual arts in transmuting the cultural concept of a nation, advocated by a small intelligentsia, into a widespread claim for independence. By the end of the 19th century, fretting under Russian political domination and German economic and cultural supremacy, the Latvians turned back to their own language, culture and folklore, with a special interest for their dainas, their timeless common heritage rooted into a mythical golden age. Latvian artists thus found themselves entrusted with the mission of creating a national iconographic representation and a specifically Latvian art, freed from Russian and German influences. The author shows how the links between the cultural and political spheres evolved between 1905 and 1940, including during the period of authoritarian government preceding WWII. An enlightening contribution to understanding how art and history can be turned into social and political instruments, this book reaches far beyond the Latvian case to a European and even global scope.

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Suzanne Pourchier-Plasseraud (PhD in History, Université de Paris 1- La Sorbonne) has extensively travelled in the Baltic States since 1988 and is a specialist in visual arts of Lithuania and Latvia. She is one of the co-authors of Capitales baltes (Autrement ,1999 ), Carnets baltes 1980-1999 (Lituanica, 1999), Les Litvaks, héritage universel d’un monde juif disparu (la Découverte, 2008), and the author of Les Arts de la nation, construction nationale et arts visuels en Lettonie 1905-1934 (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012).

Table of Contents
Foreword, Prof. Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga
Preface, Krzysztof Pomian
Prologue: On the Eve of the 20th Century, A Cultural Awakening that Faced Twin Obstructions
Part One: 1905-1915. A Socio-Cultural ‘Risorgimento’
Chapter 1. The Emergence of Demands for Autonomy in the Russian Empire
Chapter 2. The Formation of an Imaginary Landscape for the Latvian Nation. 1905-1920
Chapter 3. The Arts in the Service of the Latvian Idea
Part Two: 1915-1920. The Chaos of the First World War
Chapter 4. The Collapse of the Russian Empire and the Emergence of Latvian Political Demands
Chapter 5. Depiction of a Heroic People, a New Source Fro the Imaginary Landscape Created in Latvian Art
Chapter 6. Artists in the Service of National Symbolism
Part Three: The Construction of a State. 1920-1934
Chapter 7. A Vulnerable Parliamentary State
Chapter 8. An Assertive Cultural Policy
Chapter 9. The ‘Latvianization’ of the Visual Arts
Part Four: From Nation to Nationalism
Chapter 10. The Authoritarian Regime. 1934-1940
Chapter 11. Latvianisation of the arts
Chapter 12. Architecture and urban development harnessed by the state
Illustrations Table
Bibliography and Sources

All interested in: Latvian and Baltic history, and nation–building in general; Russian relations with their neighbouring nations; development of visual arts in 19th and 20th Century Europe.
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