This publication is the fifth in a row to introduce materials kept in the archives of the Art Museum of Estonia. It discusses the the lives and works of Kristine, Lydia and Natalie Mei, three sisters who were all artists. The research was initiated in 2016 when archival material and photos dealing with the lives of Lydia and Natalie Mei arrived in the museum’s archives, and all the material started to be organised. With the kind help of their relatives, the researchers have also been able to familiarise themselves with materials related to Kristine, the third sister, which is in the possession of her heirs.
Kai Stahl, the author of this book, is a Finnish art historian with Estonian roots. Her research has mainly been devoted to the oeuvre of women artists. Kai Stahl graduated from the University of Turku in 2005 as an art historian. She is a PhD student in the School of History, Culture and Arts Studies at the University of Turku. Her PhD thesis examines the Estonian artist Natalie Mei’s oeuvre from the perspective of female agency and modernisation from the 1910s to the 1930s. Stahl has published many articles related to women artists and their education and modernism in visual art since 2007.
The sisters, who were born in Liepāja, Latvia, entered the Estonian art scene in the second half of the 1910s. The first exhibition all three participated in – as the only women – was the spring exhibition of the Pallas Art Society in 1919. Kristine Mei (1895–1969), the oldest of the sisters, studied to be a sculptor at the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society in Helsinki. However, she made a name for herself as a calligrapher and (similarly to her younger sister) as a book designer. Only a few examples of Kristine’s sculptural work have survived. Lydia (1896–1965), who was a year younger, studied architecture in St Petersburg, although she later became a watercolourist and an acknowledged master of this art. Natalie Mei (1900–1975), the youngest of the sisters, was in the first class to graduate from the Pallas Art School. She later designed costumes and decorations for productions in the Estonia Theatre, as well as many other Estonian theatres, served for a long time as a professor in the Textile and Costume Department of the State Art Institute of the Estonian SSR, and was also its director. However, her work in the fine arts was no less important. She demonstrated a remarkable socially and societally critical attitude for a woman artist, and also developed new ways of portraying women. As multifaceted modernist artists, the sisters chose more marginal and less respected techniques as means for their self-expression and depicted their era directly, openly and often with humour.
Written by Kai Stahl
Edited by Ulrika Jõemägi
Graphic design and image editing by Külli Kaats
Size 17 × 24.5 cm
192 pp., sewn paperback
In Estonian, summary in English, illustrated
Published by the Art Museum of Estonia
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