In art history research, it should be taken into account that parallel to what is known, there is also an area of information that goes unnoticed and is often underestimated, because an overview of information, documents and knowledge of the personal life of an artist is lacking.
This is exactly what happened during research on the life and works of the painter Kārlis Grūbe, which was started in 1993.
The life story of the artist illustrates not only the relationship of one person to people, time and art. It shows how the fate of many Latvians was associated with, and dependent on, not only the harsh conditions, susceptibility and endurance of wartime, but also on lucky chance.
From April 3 to April 30, 2019, the Mentzendorff House in Riga is the venue for the second exhibition of works by Kārlis Grūbe, who was a student of professor Jānis Roberts Tillbergs at the Art Academy of Latvia. His first exhibition was held in March and April 1934 at Kuldīga State Gymnasium.
Kārlis Eduards Grūbe was born in the merchant family of Kārlis and Kristīna Grūbe on January 26, 1902, at Ķempēni Manor in the civil parish of Ēvele.
From 1921 to 1930 he studied at the Art Academy of Latvia and graduated from J. R. Tillbergs’ figure art masterclass with his diploma painting “Solemn Promise”.
After 1932, he lived in Kuldīga, a town in the province of Kurzeme, and worked as a teacher at the State Gymnasium and the Trade School. He made many paintings of Kuldīga Old Town and its immediate surroundings as well as portraits and flowers. The artist often made life drawings, in which he spoke about simple everyday work and showed the local society in Kuldīga. The 1934 exhibition showed 80 paintings, as well as drawings from his time at the Art Academy.
At the end of the summer of I944, Kārlis Grūbe, together with his mother and sister Aija’s family, became war refugees. The family went to Germany and settled temporarily in the Amberg refugee camp. His younger sister Laima and her family remained in Kuldīga.
During the 1945/46 academic year Kārlis worked at the Amberg Latvian secondary school as a drawing teacher.
In 1948 the artist travels to the United Kingdom, where he starts a rather unusual service and, because he knows six languages, works as an interpreter at the London Brick Co. At Drayton Parslow. Communication with his family is interrupted for 10 years and is renewed only in 1958, shortly before they moved to the United States. Grūbe wrote to his sister Laimai in Latvia: “Impressions from southern countries – Italy, Andalucia, Greece – are very deep and permanent, and have been expressed in a number of my paintings.”
In 1958 Grūbe starts working in the personnel section of Fred Meyer’s main department store in Portland (Oregon, USA), where he works until retirement. In 1964 he acquires U.S. citizenship. In 1972 he organises his second solo exhibition in the Masonic Temple events hall in Portland and exhibits 125 paintings for two days. During this time, the artist also concludes ‘global’ world travel, which can be seen in his paintings of cities in Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, North America, nature and portraits. There are also so-called fantasy paintings, in which the artist depicted women in Latvian folk costumes.
Grūbe lived an ascetic bachelor’s life, but with Latvian patriotism in his heart, he donated large sums of money to the Latvian Society of Oregon and to the Latvian church. He spent his old age in the Oregon retirement home
“House of Riga”, and died in Portland on December 21, 1998.
The exhibition consisted of works from the private collection of Ansis Grūbe, paintings from the Local History Museum of Kuldīga, the Latvian National Museum of Art, the Zuzans’ collections, the Museum of Literature and Music, a painting from the Cēsis Instructors’ School of the National Armed Forces, as well as documents from private archives and the Latvian National Archives.
Exhibition curator: Guntis Švītiņš, art historian
English translation: Inese A. Smith