“I believe that everyone has a mission in life.”
The mission of the author of these words, Alfred Rõude (1896–1968), one of the most important art collectors in Estonia in the first half of the 20th century, was to collect the best works of contemporary Estonian art and, to a smaller extent, earlier pieces, including Baltic German art. With sophistication and impeccable taste, Rõude picked masterpieces for his exceptionally diverse collection, but also collected sketches and studies, as these helped understand the artists’ creative processes. His purchases and commissions supported the artists financially. His role was particularly important in supporting and preserving the legacy of Eduard Wiiralt, the greatest of Estonian graphic artists.
Alfred Rõude could also be called a saviour of art because he searched for and found works of art in former homes of artists. Only due to his actions can we still enjoy some of Eduard Wiiralt’s and Konrad Mägi’s early works and samples of the artwork created by artists who died young at the beginning of the 20th century. Rõude dedicated himself to promoting Wiiralt’s work in Estonia by organising three major solo exhibitions, in Tallinn, Tartu and Helsinki.
Alfred Rõude started collecting art in 1926 in Tartu and continued later in Tallinn. His favourite artist was Eduard Wiiralt, so his collection includes anything from the artist’s random scribbles on matchboxes to some of the best works Wiiralt ever created. The collector also valued the works of his personal friend Andrus Johani, Konrad Mägi, Kristjan and Paul Raud, Aleksander Vardi, Ado Vabbe, Paul Burman, Jaan Grünberg, Oskar Hoffmann and Jaan Koort. Besides works by the mentioned authors, he acquired samples from other top painters and printmakers in Estonia for his collection. Distinct themes in Rõude’s collection are the national romanticism of the early 20th century, post-war prints and bookplates. There are some works by Russian and Western European authors as well. In addition, Rõude kept letters from artists, old photos and books, the oldest of which are from the 16th century.
The collector described his collection in the following words: “My art collection stems from my inner sense of beauty and inherited love of art; it does not speak of the owner’s wealth but rather of his enduring desire and assiduity and great love of and interest in Estonian visual arts.” The art collection is supported by Rõude’s valuable library, artists’ letters, documents and photos of cultural interest. All this proves that Alfred Rõude successfully completed his mission.
Since 1979, the majority of Rõude’s collection – more than 12,000 works of art (including more than 2,800 prints and drawings by Eduard Wiiralt) – has belonged to the Art Museum of Estonia. The permanent exposition of Estonian art at the Kumu Art Museum currently includes nearly two dozen pieces from this collection. Unfortunately, the name of a once well-known collector is unfamiliar to most people these days.
This exhibition and the book based on Alfred Rõude’s personal archive are a significant part of the programme dedicated to the centennial of the Art Museum of Estonia, as the history of the museum’s collections is one of the focuses of our anniversary year. Previous exhibitions of Alfred Rõude’s collection have taken place between the years 1967 and 1996. Now, over two decades after the last exhibition, we can tell visitors about this extraordinary collector here at the Mikkel Museum, which has its own mission: to study and promote art collectors and their role in our art life and art history.
Exhibition curator and author of the book: Anu Allikvee
Exhibition design: Mari Kurismaa
Exhibition graphic design: Mari Kaljuste
We thank: National Library of Estonia, National Archives of Estonia