During his brief creative career, the Lithuanian artist and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911) produced around four hundred paintings and an equal number of musical works. Čiurlionis stands as a unique figure in European art history. His distinctive talent makes him difficult to classify into any one school; some have called him a symbolist, while others point to his role as a pioneer of abstract art.
Čiurlionis’s biography includes striking parallels to the life of Vincent van Gogh. Both artists were driven by an intense search for the transcendent, and both threw themselves with abandon into the quest to express truths that they felt stemmed from a source beyond them. Both collapsed physically and mentally under the immense demands of this creative effort, and both died in their mid-thirties.
Čiurlionis began as a musician, attending the conservatories in Warsaw and Leipzig. Despite his achievements as a composer – his works for orchestra, piano, and string quartet are still performed – he developed a growing passion for expressing his visions through painting.
In the artworks he produced during the final three years of his life, he sought to portray the underlying and invisible reality of the world rather than merely its surface. Frequent themes include the beauty of the thoughts of the Creator as well as the struggle of two opposing forces in the spiritual realm. Romain Rolland, the French writer and Nobel laureate, sums it up: “There is a continent for the spirit, and Čiurlionis is its Christopher Columbus.”