Püttsepp began teaching art at the same time as he was studying it himself at "Pallas" art school, making a name for himself as a respected teacher in the decades that followed. He gained wider fame as an artist thanks to his landscapes and figural compositions, which are valued for their warm colouring and expressiveness – and which can be admired in all their glory in this exhibition.
The painter Juhan Püttsepp was born in the village of Rõhu in Tähtvere municipality in Tartu County on 5 August 1898. His mother Marie was needed out in the fields to harvest rye that day, and Juhan came into the world on the cattle track that ran alongside them. Meagre circumstances dictated the life the family led: with an affinity for the land, respect for working people and faith in the Almighty. When a job as a carter saw their father Jakob relocate the family to Tartu, Juhan and his younger brother Eduard had the opportunity to acquire a better education. In 1920, Juhan became one of the first to enrol in the newly established Pallas art school. However, he was forced to discontinue his studies for financial reasons: upon the death of his parents, he had to earn himself a living. He chose to teach. Püttsepp eventually graduated from the Pallas school in 1929. His greatest influences at the school are considered to have been Konrad Mägi and Ado Vabbe. After the war Juhan lectured at the Institute of Art, first in Tartu and then in Tallinn. He returned to Taaralinn as an artist in 1957, where he headed up the Art Department of the University of Tartu. Retirement allowed him to focus more on his work. His paintings were created in places the artist held dear: his summer home in Peedumäe, and the studio on the upper floor of the Artists House in Tartu.
Taking a prominent place in Püttsepp’s work are his brightly coloured landscapes of the Southern Estonia he called home: rolling hills, glittering lakes, sweeping fields and meandering rivers. His canvasses are also populated by local figures – people hard at work and going about their everyday business. “Landscape painting represents an opportunity to place your subject on a backdrop that’s rich in colour,” remarked art specialist Armin Tuulse of Püttsepp’s work, which he named at a 1939 Pallas exhibition “significant victories in the depiction of our landscape.”
Juhan Püttsepp died at his home in the Tähtvere district of Tartu on 18 September 1975 and was laid to rest in Nõo cemetery. This exhibition came about as a result of a wish on the part of the artist’s grandchildren to showcase paintings recently rediscovered in private collections alongside his better-known works. Juhan Püttsepp was a sociable man who enjoyed having visitors and would happily chat for hours over cognac or coffee – intimate conversations that were subtly indicative of his core values.
The works in this exhibition are from the collections of the Art Museum of Estonia, Tartu Art Museum and the Art Museum of the University of Tartu and private collections. A combined catalogue & calendar based on the paintings displayed in the exhibition can be purchased at the gallery.