In the late 19th and early 20th century, artists of Estonian origin developed into professionals not in Estonia, but by studying at various art schools in St. Petersburg, Pensa, Düsseldorf, Munich, Paris and other big cities.
The above might give the impression that there is nothing ‘genuine’ in Estonian culture: that everything has been borrowed and learned from the others. By closer inspection, however, several typically Estonian features can be discerned – features not found anywhere else.
In 1914, the Tallinn Arts and Grafts School was founded. Interest towards modern art and national themes increased. The expressive, colourful works of Nikolai Triik and Konrad Mägi, symbolistic and national romanticistic graphics and paintings of Kristjan Raud are a part of the most valued academical course of Estonian art.
In 1919, the art school Pallas was founded in Tartu. A large number of different movements appeared. Eduard Wiiralt, the most prominent Estonian graphic artist, created particularly imaginative and grotesque works while he was living in Paris from 1925 to 1938. Adamson-Eric was very versatile; initially his paintings were in the Neue Sachlichkeit style, and he was an innovator in metal and leather handicrafts. The intellectual atmosphere reigning at the school is rather difficult to define, since during those 20 years a fairly large number of strong personalities studied and taught there. Pallas focused on individuality and talent, along with spirituality, created by treatments of light and colour. The art metropolis Paris was a constant source of inspiration.
The next rise in Estonian art starts in the 1960s. The artists educated at the Estonian State Art Institute in Tallinn founded a group called ANK’64 which included Tõnis Vint, Malle Leis (1940), Jüri Arrak (1936). Their pursuits in art were connected with youth culture, liberal jazz and partly with op art, a small part of which reached Estonia. Looking back now, this work seems extremely romantic but at the time it must have looked insufferably radical and as breaking all restrictions.
Noteworthy of them is certainly Jüri Arrak with his expressive and symbolistic graphics and paintings. His themes are related to inner psychology, thoughts about mankind and eternity. His style is original as is to be expected from a creative and serious thinker. His colours are expressive and strong.
Another highly valued painter is Epp-Maria Kokamägi who, compared to Jüri Arrak, has a completely different style. Yet, still the same suggestive emotions appear through light and bright, often golden or silver tones. Poetic and wistful landscapes with ballerinas or angels are depicted in a womanly seek for beauty and peace.
Jaan Toomik is widely known as a painter and video-artist. His themes deal with the human being in different environments, gender-specific masculine constructions, different aspects of identity of a man.
The turn of the millennia witnessed the emergence of a new generation of video and web artists, although they are still in the process of seeking their true face and identity.