PREDECESSORS OF EAA - 80 years of the central organisation uniting Estonian professional artists

Jaan Elken's address at the reception held on 20 December in the Tallinn Art Hall
Jaan Elken's address at the reception held on 20 December in the Tallinn Art Hall


The community of Estonian artists began getting organised in the 1920s and 1930s when art had to fight for its place in the rapidly changing Estonian society.
Characterisation of the art life of that time sounds surprisingly contemporary: "the foundations of art were limited, general understanding and the need for art left much to be desired, with the aims of new trends in Estonian art remaining quite obscure to the public". Although circumstances were not at all favourable, the artists briskly set about establishing art institutions; by mid-1920s all other necessary structural elements for normal functioning of art life had been created: art societies and schools, museums, Cultural Endowment. The artists did all that in order to protect their interests. The need to set up an organisation that would unite all artists became urgent.
"Pallas" was established in 1918 in Tartu - most of the prominent artists belonged in this art society for shorter of longer period of time, although its membership never became very large, reaching a few dozen people on the average.
Central Union of Estonian Visual Artists (CUEVA) was founded in March 1922 in Tallinn to function as the central organisation uniting Estonian professional artists. The aims set by CUEVA sound topical also today:
1) Uniting all Estonian artists in order to protect their intellectual and material interests
2) Promoting art culture among people and widening the foundation of art; for that purpose it was decided to arrange exhibitions both at home and abroad, deliver lectures and courses
3) Help to establish an art museum
The number of people belonging in CUEVA at that time changed quite a bit (just like in other art associations), nor did the Union form any uniform membership as in "Pallas" - it embraced traditionalists, those in favour of innovations, artists resettled here from Russia, etc. "Pallas" people soon joined as well; in 1923 the Union alsoincluded members of the Estonian Society of Artists - for a period of time the Central Union thus indeed incorporated the best of Estonian artists.
In the early years, however, a group of conservative artists with an insignificant role in Estonian art life broke off from the Union because of in-house disagreements, and founded the Estonian Artists' Association. The latter also aspired to act as a representative body of all Estonian artists, but failed to accomplish this task.
CUEVA actively participated in the shaping of Estonian art life, including working out the Cultural Endowment legislation. The artists vigorously protected their interests on the artists' day in 1939 in their dispatch to the Prime Minister demanding the changing of the registration of artists that was legally binding at the time (professional skills according to the diploma), also increasing the Cultural Endowment money, and building the art museum. Applied artists are also entitled to celebrate a significant anniversary - this year sees 70 years since the founding (1932) of the Union of Applied Artists (UAA).The entire development of Estonian professional applied art is connected with UAA, including organising relevant exhibitions. Its predecessor was an association called "Décor", founded in 1928 which was the first attempt of applied art to get organised. However, it folded quite soon. UAA became a sound organisation uniting the best of Estonian applied artists and providing the entire applied art of the time with a direction and essence. In the course of its seven years of existence UAA arranged all-Estonian applied art exhibitions each year. The 1940s were of crucial significance in Estonian art history with a far-reaching impact. On 15 November 1940 all the existing art associations were abolished as unsuitable for the art life of a socialist state. The Arts Board that was set up at Soviet Estonian Council of People's Commissars played a significant role in founding the new organisation of artists - Soviet Estonian Artists' Union.
The aims of the new organisation were as follows:
1) Active and diverse co-operation in building up socialism with means at the disposal of applied artists
2) Close contacts with the working public and promoting Soviet art among wider masses of people 3) Developing all fields of art on the basis of socialist realism
4) Political and cultural education of applied artists, increasing their social-political activity
The rules and regulations of Estonian art were thus set for several decades. The activities disrupted by the war were terminated on 4 January 1940 in Yaroslavl where the inaugural meeting of the Soviet Estonian Artists' Union was held.
Those times could be well described also by the Artists' Cooperative, founded on the initiative of the applied artists in September 1940. Its membership grew quite rapidly, reaching 200 in 1941. Besides other undertakings (exhibitions, establishing studios, etc.), the Cooperative fulfilled various other tasks, such as decorating the city streets on state and revolutionary anniversaries.


Vabaduse Square 6, 1951

Art organisations were thus subjected to the dictate of the social order and there were quite a few who believed in the new ideology and were prepared to realise it. Art, however, proceeded along its own line of development that was not so easy to force into the required ideological form.Having gone through the enthusiasm, eagerness and initiative of its early years, and the subsequent schizophrenic stage of development of the occupation period, the organisation uniting Estonian artists - the Estonian Artists Association - involves today 970 members, with its aims in society quite similar to those proclaimed back in the 1920s.

20 December, Tallinn Art Hall 2002